Want lakeshore property? Local realtor workshop ties dreams with reality.

Once upon a time, there was a Minnesota family. Tom and Joan both have a deep love of the outdoors, largely formed by childhood memories of ‘going to the lake’ in northern Minnesota. They have two children under the age of 4. While they live in the Twin Cities, Tom and Joan have decided to buy a lakeshore property in greater Minnesota, eager for their children to grow up with a similar outdoor experience that was so impactful to their own lives.

The family tells their realtor that they are interested in lakeshore property that they can build on or remodel. They want their kids to be able to swim and play in the lake and also be able to enjoy their large motorboat – Tom really loves water skiing.

What does your ‘ideal’ lakeshore experience include?

The realtor is eager to pair this family with the lakeshore property of their dreams, but how does the realtor go about figuring out which lakes and lakefront property would provide the experience the family is looking for?

This hypothetical scenario is exactly the question that Tiffany Determan, District Manager of the Isanti Soil and Water Conservation District, posed to a room of 45 realtors at a lakeshore workshop recently in Center City, Minnesota. Hosted by the Lower St. Croix Watershed Partnership, a collaboration of fifteen local government units to help protect and restore the water resources in the Lower St. Croix watershed, and the St. Paul Area Association of Realtors (SPAAR), the workshop was offered to provide realtors with information about how and why shoreland is regulated and what information is key to help match clients with their dream lakeshore property. Speakers from the Minnesota DNR, Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources, Chisago County, and the Chisago Lakes Lake Improvement District also participated in the workshop.

Minnesota faces a significant water impairment problem due to pollution, excessive nutrients, and other contaminants. It is estimated that upwards of 56% of the state’s lakes and streams are classified as impaired, which means they do not meet state water quality standards. Excessive nutrient levels in water bodies, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, promote harmful algae blooms, which can be toxic to humans and aquatic life.

One significant source of pollution is tied to land use changes and lifestyle practices introduced by those living on lakefront property. While Minnesotans prize their access to lakes and rivers, lakeshore homeowners can negatively impact lake water quality by using fertilizers and pesticides on their lawns, having septic systems too close to the lake, increasing stormwater runoff by building additions or decks/patios that increase the amount of impervious surfaces, and creating erosion by removing natural vegetation.

The Shoreland Management Program, created at the state level and adopted by local governments, regulates shoreland land use changes by setting development standards and guidelines for vegetation removal. However, lakeshore owners still lack a clear understanding of how their actions, such as installing a beach or dock, building an addition to their house, or removing trees for a better view, can potentially impact water quality and get them into trouble with state or local government agencies enforcing their ordinances.

This is where the realtor can play a crucial role. In building an understanding of state and local ordinances that apply to lakeshore property, they can better prepare their clients about what’s possible on a piece of property and provide tips to help them protect lake water quality (which in turn preserves their property values). Furthermore, realtors can go a step further and use Minnesota’s lake classification system and an online classification map to help narrow down which lakes can support the recreational uses desired by their client.

In the imaginary scenario involving Tom and Joan, their desire for a swimming area for their children and a sizable motorboat would lead the real estate agent to seek out properties located on lakes labeled as ‘recreational development’ or ‘general development.’ Such lakes are usually larger and deeper (>15 ft), resulting in fewer challenges with aquatic plants along the shore and less negative effects caused by motorboat use. However, the family should steer clear of ‘natural environment’ lakes as they are too shallow for motorboats and contain copious amounts of aquatic vegetation, making it almost impossible to swim.

Snapshot of the DNR Shoreland Classification Map showing local lake classifications in Chisago County

‘It’s so important to match your clients with property that can support their dreams versus letting them think something is possible when it in fact, isn’t,’ says Determan.

In Oxford Township in Isanti County, several local healthy natural environment lakes monitored by Determan’s team at the Isanti SWCD have started being plotted for development. She worries that incoming landowners might think they are getting lakeshore property that will support boating activities or swimming beaches versus lake views, a quiet setting, and wildlife viewing.

A video featuring Tiffany Determan speaking about the unique qualities of natural environment lakes. Drone footage taken in Oxford Township, Minnesota by Patrick McNeil.

“Most recreation development and general development lakes have been fully developed – now we’re turning to these lakes whose health is very sensitive to disturbance and development. We want to make sure we are attracting lakeshore owners who know what they are getting into. Realtors play a huge role in making sure we get that message across,” says Determan.