Buying Lakefront Homes
When Buyer’s think of owning a year round or seasonal waterfront residence, Vermont is not often the first state they look. But those who do, soon discover what a natural wonder and under utilized resource Lake Champlain is. From the long winding channels and locks that serve as your approach from the Hudson River to the multiple "gunk hole" anchorages throughout the Lake Champlain Islands, sailing, kayaking, fishing and boating this wonderful waterway is as varied and diverse as the homes that you will find scattered along its shores. Many of these "homes" started as seasonal cottages or "camps" as they are called by the locals. The origin of the term camp most probably originated from the fact that the original use of the lakeshore lots that these structures now occupy was nothing more than a camp site with a tent platform to provide a dry level spot for your trusty war surplus canvas tent. While you won’t find any tent platforms for sale these days, the homes that are offered will run the spectrum from seasonal, un-insulated cabins with little or no luxuries to large year round luxury homes complete with all the amenities you could imagine.
Just as the structures and homes will vary - so will the quality of the lakeshore itself. Some homes, while located on lots that go right to the waters edge, will have such steep banks that there is literally no way to get from the house site to the water without negotiating the bank on your hands and knees or installing an actual staircase to the water. The depth and quality of the lake water off the shore line can also be different from one bay or beach to another. True sand beaches, as you would normally picture them, are rare and hard to find. More likely the "beach" being offered in any advertisement will be horizontal slabs of ledge or "skipping stone" quality rocks mixed with large to sand size particles. Once you have re-adjusted your definition of beach, this wildly diverse lake offers everything from shallow slow flowing marshland teaming with waterfowl to extremely well protected deep water mooring spots. All of these things are possible; you just have to know where to look.
Addison County Lakeshore
So now that you are ready, let me give you some key towns to explore and what you can expect to find there. The Lake to the south has one major landmark that is often used as a point of reference, the Crown Point Bridge. Located in Addison Town, Addison County Vermont, it links the central part of that county to New York State, Ticonderoga and provides the quickest access south by virtue of NY Rt #87 or the Northway. Lake Champlain to the south of the bridge, while still very wide by most standards, starts to behave more like a river with a defined channel for navigation and broad expanses of shallower bays and natural marshland. North of "the Bridge" the Lake is totally navigable from bank to bank and one of the most unused parts as far north as Basin Harbor on the Vt shore and Westport on the New York side. The homes you will find both south and north of the bridge will be either seasonal and very rustic in nature, with some old style summer cottage communities , to full fledged year round homes but mostly modest in size and price. The towns you want to include in any search of this area would be Shoreham, Bridport, Addison, Panton and Ferrisburgh.
Located in Ferrisburgh, you will find Basin Harbor Club, named after the small protected harbor by the same name. It is the center of summer activity and a real attraction for year round and seasonal homeowners alike. Though it’s name makes the place sound exclusive and closed to the public, it is actually a very open resort offering reasonable family social memberships for complete us of their water front , pool, and tennis courts. For an additional fee you can also play their 18 hole golf course complete with cart. For the few members of the flying public there is a well maintained and often used grass air strip for quick day trips in and out or extended stays. Boaters can also reserve dock space by the day, week or season and North Harbor has a mooring field for transients and seasonal users alike. As you might imagine, all residences within a few miles of this great resort carry a higher value when offered for sale and the extra premium for this location is well worth it for the added summer fun and activities. Many families purchase multiple properties along this part of the lake to create an informal family compound kind of situation for all generations to enjoy. Assisting buyers in this quest during the summer is truly one of my favorite things.
As you leave the Basin Harbor area, the natural and expansive marshland formed by the confluence of Otter Creek as it empties into Lake Champlain forces you inland and through the City of Vergennes. One of the most historic cities in Addison County, it was instrumental in the US victory during the War of 1812 and the birthplace of the small armada of ships built by Admiral McDonough to take on the British. Once through Vergennes, the next significant lakeshore communities you come to is Long Point. Originally settled as a seasonal lakeshore community for the local Vermonters at the turn of the century, this area is populated by over 70 camps and cottages from rustic to completely updated all nestled in a mostly wooded enclave. While 12 of these homes are permitted for year round use, the majority are strictly for summer use only and offer a quiet lazy summertime spot at an affordable price.
Chittenden County Lakeshore
Working your way north towards Chittenden County, the first lakeshore town that you come to is Charlotte, VT. This town is the home of one of my personal favorite summer lakeshore community: Thompsons’ Point. The land that is Thompson’s Point is still owned by the Town of Charlotte and leased for 20 year terms to the individual "camp" owners. There are no year round homes allowed by the terms of the leases and community water system is turned off by Thanksgiving and back on in May to insure that the rules are adhered to. The south side of the point has original homes that were built back in the 1800’s when Thompson’s Point Rd ended at the town steamer dock were the old post office and tavern turned camps still stand today. The North shore was developed during the 1920’s to the 1950’s and tends to have more modest structures with more abrupt and hard to access shorelines. Roughly a half dozen camps are made available for sale on either the North or South Shore areas and the prices range from $500,000 to over $1,000,000 depending on size and shoreline quality. While that may be a lot of money for only seasonal use, those who have experienced the magical environment of this summer community from another time, do not question the value.
I have rented various camps by the week from their owners in past summers and still hold fond family memories from those treasured but all too brief stays. My favorite is the Annual Forth of July Parade complete with hand pulled red wagons, participants of all ages banging pots and carrying on as they march to the old steamer dock for an appropriate speech delivered by one of the "Old Timers" followed by rousing version of the National Anthem. Good clean fun!!