The allure of lakeside living might be a pull so strong you’d think you have to leave Long Island for bucolic upstate and its vast reservoir system in order to fulfill it. But many would be surprised to learn that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation lists nearly 900 freshwater lakes and ponds dotting Long Island. Many of these offer spectacular nature and serene scenes right outside the front or back doors for those who live on their shores.
"This spot is a hideaway from the hustle and bustle of daily life," says Roseann Chiuchiolo Callister, who has lived her entire life on West Lake in Patchogue, a 20-acre oasis on the South Shore. "I know it’s just a sliver of water here in our neighborhood, but it makes me feel like I’m living in a small, quiet town somewhere upstate. I appreciate the scenery, the wildlife and the daily serenity, especially in the morning and evening hours."
Callister, a retired buyer for Brookhaven National Laboratory, was born in her parents’ house on the east shore of the lake and grew up swimming, rowing and paddle boating on its waters. "Soon after getting engaged, someone from the opposite shore swam across to my parents’ house, where my fiancé and I were visiting, and told us there was a home for sale on the other side of the lake," she says. She and her husband-to-be, Bob Callister, snapped up the three-bedroom Cape with a water view for $58,000. The couple is now divorced, although still friendly, and Roseann Callister has been living there for 38 years. She estimates the home’s value at a minimum of $550,000.
"I love the lake," Callister says, "but I also love the community, and that’s just as important if you are considering buying a lakefront home."
These days West Lake is very weedy, so it’s no longer a swimming hole, but Callister still enjoys kayaking on it. "My son has already told me he’d like to buy it and keep it in the family, but I’m not finished living here yet," she says.
‘Off the beaten track’
Ken Morse considers his family extremely lucky to live on a lake as well. The proprietor of Tight Lines Tackle and Bait in Sag Harbor, Morse lives on Big Fresh Pond in Southampton, known locally as Lake Missapogue, with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two teenage daughters. It’s one of Long Island’s larger lakes, at 64 acres and 53 feet deep.
"It’s amazing how few people are aware this lake exists," says Morse, "and that’s key; being off the beaten track. It’s also important that the lake is clean — it has never had a major algae bloom as far as I know." He and his family swim in the lake, fish in it and ice skate on it. "My perfect day is to come home from work on a sultry hot summer afternoon and dive right into the lake with my kids or two dogs," Morse says. "It just doesn’t get any better than that."
The Morses had been renting a house on the lake in 2004 when their landlord told them he couldn’t extend their lease. Soon after, Elizabeth spotted a new For Sale sign on a nearby lakefront parcel. "She hid that sign in the woods," recalls Morse, "and we closed on that half-acre in a matter of weeks — just before home prices in our area took a really big jump." The family paid $99,000 for the half-acre lot, and $275,000 for the 2,400-square-foot modular home they plunked on the site. Zillow now estimates the property value at $1.615 million.
The Morses access the lake from a small patch of woods across the road from their house to which they have deeded access. Much of the shoreline is still undeveloped, and neighbors take stewardship of the lake seriously, Morse says. "We have buffers of native plants between our yards and the water, and we shun the use of commercial fertilizers in favor of natural compost. The lake itself is thriving, but we realize we have a responsibility to keep it that way."
Of course, a house right on the shores of a lake or pond doesn’t come cheap. "Waterfront is more valuable than water-view, and water-view is more valuable than no view," says Adele Kuczmarski, a real estate salesperson with Coldwell Banker American Homes in Manhasset. Limited supply can be a problem when searching for a lakeside home, too, as happy homeowners are often reluctant to sell. For these reasons, some home-seekers simply try to get as close to the water as possible.
Shannon Kutner and her family win the award in that category. Their home has a full view of Merritts Pond in Riverhead, but their backyard comes up about 25 yards shy of direct access to the water, as the lake’s shore takes a sharp turn right behind their house.
"It’s lakeside enough for us," chuckles Kutner, who purchased the 1,080-square-foot, two-bedroom Cape with her husband, Carl, in 2004 for $159,000. "I don’t have direct access to the pond, but my neighbors are really good about letting us cut through their backyard if we want to take out our kayak or get up close to the water to look for frogs, turtles and other nature." Redfin.com currently estimates the home's value at $345,000.
A social worker at Riverhead Community Awareness Program, Kutner found her house on a real estate listing website while pregnant and living in a 450-square-foot home. "With this house we could get really close for an affordable price, so we took the plunge," she says. Their home, built in 1940, features arched doorways and old-fashioned doors with glass handles.
Kutner says she loves winter sunrises over the lake, the vivid colors during the change of seasons, and all the wildlife that thrives around the water. "I love everything about living here," she says. "I don’t even mind doing dishes that much because I can see the whole lake from my kitchen. It really provides a peaceful backdrop."
Big views, big ticket
At the other end of the spectrum are David and Wendy Miller, who have listed their 7,500-square-foot Great Neck home sitting on 1 acre on Lake Success with Coldwell Banker American Homes for $3.699 million. Their home has a lakeside patio with lush vegetation surrounding the lake, and a golf club on the opposite shore.
In 2009, the Millers were looking for a house with an easy commute to their jobs in Manhattan, David running a media management software company and Wendy heading an esports company, when they found the Great Neck home on the water. "We were immediately drawn by the serenity and the peaceful lake," Wendy Miller says.
That Lake Success is a natural spring-fed lake means the moving water stays clean, David Miller says. "It’s not that hard to find a home on a lake, but if the water isn’t moving or refreshing itself, it can become stagnant, grow algae, smell bad and fester mosquitoes."
Over the years, the Millers enjoyed seeing fish, frogs, turtles, hawks and even bald eagles in and around the lake. "Some mornings you’ll wake up and it’s shrouded in fog, while the rest of the neighborhood is clear," David Miller says. "It appears different from one day to the next, and each change of season is spectacular."
His advice to homebuyers seeking a similar lifestyle: "Always look for a lake or pond that’s unmistakably alive, and then build or remodel your dream house from there."
Tips for lakeside purchases
If you have the opportunity to buy on a lake or pond that is thriving and alive, you might want to jump on it, but be sure to do your homework first, says Diane Polland of Coldwell Banker American Homes.
Check with your county health department and the NYS DEC Harmful Algal Blooms page (dec.ny.gov/chemical/77118.html) to see if the freshwaters have had significant algal blooms. Look for blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), since they can cause illness in humans, pets, waterfowl and other animals.
Look for mildew and mold issues, plus signs of water intruding into the basement due to a high-water table. Surveys and water quality tests are important.
Check for deeded access to the water if the property is not situated directly against the shore, and make certain to inquire about flood insurance.
Choose a real estate agent who specializes in waterfront properties. It will help with questions of structural issues and regulations that may require a natural buffer zone between the water and yard or limit building, access, planting and other options.