Waterfront homes on the Chain O' Lakes are now in reach
There is something relaxing about living on the water. Watching the sun rise or set over a lake or ocean is one of the great pleasures of life - one that instantly makes your stresses melt away.
So it is no surprise people repeatedly tell Realtors in the Chain O' Lakes area of Lake and McHenry counties that they have always wanted to live on a lake but haven't because it was too expensive or seemed to be out of their reach.
In today's real estate market, that is no longer true, says RE/MAX Advisors Realtor Pat Kappeler, based in Lake Villa.
"The Chain O' Lakes now offers something for everybody. The opportunities are endless with lakefront homes starting at $374,900. We haven't experienced lower prices like this since before 2002," Kappeler said.
And if your image of the Chain O' Lakes is one you still have from your childhood, it's time to take a second look.
"The Chain O' Lakes is not just your 'Grandma Cottage' anymore. Times have changed. You can choose a lake home with a knotty pine Northwoods feeling or a luxury lakefront home with superb upgrades and finishes," she said.
What hasn't changed are the lakes and the pleasure you get from living near them.
"Owning a home on the water means always having a different view from your yard. During both summer and winter, the scenes are breathtaking. And now, besides enjoying all the seasonal water sports, we occasionally enjoy watching seaplanes take off and land on the lake," Kappeler said.
Kappeler has sold real estate in the area for 12 years and has never seen the property on the Chain O' Lakes more affordable.
"Lakefront property up here used to be way out of many people's range. All they could do was dream about it," she said. "But now they can have their dream. Prices have dropped enough that homes are within people's range now. And interest rates are low, too.
"There is nothing like living on the water. We are all so stressed out today with the economy and things going on in the world, but here you can go out on the water when you get home and you just feel the stress leaving your body," Kappeler said.
And what makes the Chain O' Lakes so nice, she believes, is "you can be out there on a boat for weeks and still not see everything. Lake Geneva is nice, but you are just going around one lake. Here we have 15 lakes. And it's not really a bad commute from anywhere. We are an hour from Chicago and Rockford and 45 minutes from Milwaukee. So we are getting more and more permanent residents every year."
The Chain O' Lakes is the busiest inland recreational waterway per acre in the United States, according to the Fox Waterway Agency that oversees the area. It is comprised of 7,100 acres of water in 15 lakes and 45 miles of river.
The area is well-known for water-based activities like swimming, boating, water skiing, fishing and ice skating, as well as for hunting along the shores. It is also popular thanks to its two state parks, great restaurants and unique entertainment like the Blarney Island boat races.
The Chain O' Lakes' popularity as a tourist destination actually began in the 1890s. It was known as quite a wild and hopping place until the Great Depression hit in 1929. Even Al Capone apparently enjoyed frequenting the area.
After World War II, weekenders and vacationers began returning to the area. Today the Chain O' Lakes area boasts 70 percent permanent year-round residents and 30 percent part-time residents, Kappeler estimates.
Michael Lescher of RE/MAX Showcase in Gurnee has sold homes in the Chain since 1988.
"Back then it was truly a resort community. There was very little shopping, too," he said. "Today the area is the edge of suburbia. The schools have matured and shopping is convenient.
"Most of our permanent residents travel a lot and want to be able to get to O'Hare or Milwaukee, or they are able to telecommute or are retired," Lescher said.
Prices in the area have dropped between 15 percent and 20 percent for homes on a waterfront and more like 20 percent to 25 percent for properties without waterfronts, Lescher estimates.
"Those who are strong financially and don't need to sell are choosing to ride out the market," he said. "But those who can't afford to wait are selling at discounted prices."
And savvy buyers know there are bargains available.
One of those bargains is Lescher's listing. Located at 36910 Stanton Point Road in Ingleside, the 2,353-square-foot home on Fox Lake is a remodeled chalet on one-quarter acre. It lists for $374,900. Built in 1955, the home features four bedrooms, two baths, hardwood floors, new granite kitchen, master suite overlooking the lake, three-car garage, steel sea wall, sandy beach and lakefront deck and pier.
Lescher also has a grander, more expensive home with an in-ground pool, listed on Dunn's Lake in the community of Fox Lake. The 4,484-square-foot home is listed for $799,900 and sits on a one-acre lot. It features four bedrooms, 41/2 baths, walkout basement with a second kitchen, formal dining room, living room with cathedral ceiling, hardwood floors and custom cabinetry throughout and a three-car garage. It was built in 1998 by a cabinetmaker, hence the gorgeous woodwork.
The home is located at 987 N. Westshore Drive in Fox Lake.
Not every house in the Chain O' Lakes comes with rights to access the water, Lescher cautions, so research that before buying a house that is not on a lake. However, some subdivisions have private beaches and boat ramps in common area parks for use by those residents without lakefront footage.
Pat Fabry of Prudential Rubloff in Libertyville has a bargain listing on Pistakee Lake in the community of Fox Lake. Brand new in 2001, it is a two-story home on a hill that feels like a treehouse and is listed for $489,900, Fabry said.
"The home faces west to catch the beautiful sunsets over Pistakee Lake, yet there are lots of trees to block the hot sun. The master bedroom on the top of the house allows you to look over those trees, however, and see the sun set each evening," she said.
The home features a very open floor plan with a living room, kitchen/dining area, two bedrooms, 21/2 baths, a 11/2-car garage and a pier. "And since it has city water and sewer, it could easily be added on to," she said. It is located at 98 Lake Lane in Fox Lake.
"Prices now are much better than they were a few years ago," Fabry said. "But the prices up here haven't dropped as much as homes in other areas of the suburbs. As a rule, homes on lakes don't drop in price as much as other houses do."
Fabry has been living on Fox Lake for 16 years and is an avid boater.
"But many of the people I know up here don't even have boats. They just enjoy looking at the water and swimming and fishing. There is just something relaxing about living near water," she said.
"People tell me that they are looking for a $200,000 cottage on a lake that they can fix up, but you won't find many of them still left. They have already been bought up and redone or torn down. The only place you may still find one is on a channel, not a lake," Fabry said.
Kappeler has two unique homes currently listed. At 26675 W. Michigan Blvd. in Antioch, she has the old Ackerman estate home built in 1923. The 2,400-square-foot, four-bedroom, 21/2-bath home features a sweeping front porch and is set well back from the road with gorgeous landscaping.
"It looks like the kind of home you would see in a movie with a front porch swing," Kappeler said. "Inside there is a formal dining room, new granite kitchen with the original glass-pane cabinets, enlarged master bedroom and a very open living room with fireplace. And everything has recently been renovated, but the 1920s flavor has been faithfully preserved."
The home has 87 feet of deep channel frontage and has a pier. It lists for $499,900.
Kappeler also has the listing for a new home at 26155 W. Sunset Road in Antioch. It lists for $799,000 and was completed last year.
Built on formerly vacant land by Adams Custom Builders of Antioch, the 3,900-square-foot Craftsman-style home faces Channel Lake and has plenty of room for a pier or harbor, but neither has yet been built.
The home features four bedrooms, 31/2 baths, a walkout basement, living room, dining room, beautiful kitchen and three-car garage. There is also a whole house audio system with security cameras and big windows which afford a wonderful view of the lake.
"When we started in 2006, the bank appraised this house at $1,050,000 and now we are selling it for $799,000, so it is a bargain," said Dan Adams, the builder.
"Living on the Chain is phenomenal. I was raised here and you cannot beat the sights, entertainment and activities like skiing, skating in the winter, hunting, fishing and boating," Adams said.
"The prices up here are better than they have been in years. I'm surprised the investors haven't come along and snapped these up yet."