Best Waterfront Living and Property: Lake or Ocean?

Many baby boomers dream of owning waterfront property to use as a vacation homeor as a place to live full or part-time in retirement.  Mrs. GoTo and I purchased a lake house six years ago as a pre-retirement vacation home so we know something about the advantages and disadvantages of living on a lake.

Over the years, our family has spent many vacation weeks on the ocean, mostly in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  We also have friends and family who have owned waterfront homes in Florida.  So we know a little something about oceanfront living as well.

So what is best for baby boomers who want to live on the water:  lakefront property or oceanfront property?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Living on the Ocean vs. Living on a Lake

1.  Fulfilling the dream. When many people dream of living on the water, they dream of palm trees, endless water vistas and sunsets, and rolling surf.  Only oceanfront property can provide that.  Lake living provides its own dream-fulfilling properties if you are more inclined to a more natural or rural lifestyle.

2.  Proximity. This is an advantage for oceanfront living if you already live in or near a coastal city or town.  It is a disadvantage if you don’t.  On the other hand, there are so many lakes located in so many different regions, you can almost always find some lakefront property near where you live now or near where your children and grandchildren might live.  Keep in mind that one advantage of living on any kind of water is that it is easier to get friends and family to visit you.  (That might be a curse or blessing, depending on your mood.)

3.  Weather. Assuming that you don’t live in New England, most oceanfront property will have moderate weather either because it is in the south and/or is protected somewhat by ocean breezes and currents.  Living by a lake can actually bring worse weather if it is in the snow belt.  The big problem with coastal living in many areas comes from storms and hurricanes.  That problem is so severe in my mind that we ruled out oceanfront living automatically.

4.  Cost. This is a huge disadvantage for oceanfront property which is much more expensive than most lakefront property.  There are some options for affordable oceanfront real estate that I have read about.  These are on the Canadian coast or if you would consider retirement living in Panama or some other foreign country with waterfront property at bargain prices.  Otherwise, unless you are looking at a small unit in a high-rise condominium or a small coastal home that was used as rental property, a house on the ocean will likely cost you seven figures.  Property insurance on oceanfront real estate is also much higher.  Real estate for building or buying a lake house is less expensive.  There are nice lakefront lots near us that are selling for less than $100,000.

5.  Isolation. This factor varies from place to place but many oceanfront communities are primarily focused on tourists.  Often-times the property owners are rarely using their property.  Thus, it can be hard for a retiree to establish a consistent network of friends.  I have read about this problem existing even in well-established areas such as Hilton Head, S.C.  Some lakes are located in remote areas that are hard to get to or, because of weather, no one lives there except in the summer.  Other lakes (like where our lake house is) has full-time residents.  In my opinion, a baby boomer will need other people around, particularly in retirement.

6.  Traffic and Noise. I think overall that this is an advantage for lakefront living.  So many coastal towns are just jammed with tourists and their cars in the summer that the residents of the town want to leave.  Also (and this may sound strange) I cannot get used to the non-stop sound of crashing surf.  It may be soothing to some but after a few days, the noise drives me crazy.

7.  Recreation. If you like to boat, fish, or engage in other water sports, I think it is much easier and more affordable to do these things on a lake.  First, it is easier to build and maintain a dock on a lake because you are not exposed to surf and severe ocean storms.  Second, it is easier to boat on a lake with a smaller, less expensive boat.  Third, it is easier to go out for a relaxing day of fishing on a lake.  To catch fish in the ocean, you need to know how to surf fish, you need to go on a fishing pier, or take a boat out perhaps several miles to find the fish you like.  On a lake, you can drop a line from your dock and be catching fish in a few minutes.

8.  Maintenance. Everything that I have read and been told says that salt water and salt air creates tremendous maintenance problems for your oceanfront house, particularly outdoor mechanical equipment.  The same problem exists for watercraft used in salt water.  Huge advantage for lake front living.

I’m sure there are lots of other factors that I have overlooked.  If you think of any, please leave a comment.

If you want, you can read how we selected our lake house before buying it and where you can find vacation home property.

If you want to learn more about oceanfront living, a fellow baby boomer blogger has put together a nice series on retiring by the water, starting with Dunedin, Florida.

Photo credit:  Ned Horton


  1. Oregon Coast says

    Why do baby boomers think they are the first to encounter every situation such as choosing where to live? Anyone who did not previously understand this information will never be able to retire, either on a lake, or on the oceanfront.

    • Mr. GoTo says

      Baby boomers don’t think that we are the first, but for everyone who is considering the issue, it is the first time for them. There are 68 million boomers, many with considerable wealth so why not pass the information along?

      • Oregon Coast says

        That’s just it though – I find it extremely hard to believe that all baby boomers who are now retiring are now finally considering, for the very first time in their lives, where to retire. In fact, such a conclusion is not only unlikely, it would be dowright odd. It seems like a generation which has to be told not only how to do everything, but what to think and feel. Hopefully I am incorrect about that, but I am starting to have my doubts.

        • baby boomer says

          Oregon Coast: It’s so wonderful that the baby boomers are finally taking over the coastal areas of the Oregon Coast…some very thoughtful and considerate changes are finally being made.

        • says

          It’s not that “Baby Boomers” are just now thinking about where to live… many are being forced from their native states ie: California, New York, Mass. etc. because of lame, BUM, pocket lining, flaming liberal, weirdo politicians!!! Now, I’m not even sure if I can stay in the country with that BUM in the Oval Office wrecking the country as fast as he can!!!

  2. says

    That was a well written article with some good points. I live in Washington, in a development on a twelve mile long lake. Saltwater is also 20 minutes away. I’ve thought saltwater frontage would be great, but the additional costs and the deterioration from saltwater probably make staying on the lake a wiser idea. Since I can’t afford the price of saltwater frontage anyway, I guess I won’t be in danger of making that mistake.

  3. Claudio says

    I have a house near the ocean (few yards away)…the problem it is damaging all the electronis inside the home…salt water…any ideas. please

  4. mark langford says

    We have property on the coast and the maintence is expensive but the fishing is great. We are currently looking for a lake front property to retire on so the saltwater wont eat up the machanical on the home equipment or our boat

  5. says

    Here in South Florida we have a great ‘happy medium’ for the Lake – Oceanfront dilemma – it’s called the Intracoastal Waterway. Actually, it goes by many names around here (Loxahatchee River, Lake Worth, among others) but the experience is the same. There are hundreds of homes of all shapes and sizes that reside directly on the waterway (which is up to 1/4 across in some places) or any of the dozens of ‘finger canals’ that extend off of it. Here you can live on the water with ocean access, and also have miles of protected navigable water to explore. Granted, there are some areas with fixed bridges that limit the size of boat one can park in their back yard. Even so, the area provides you with many options for waterfront living.

  6. Andrea says

    Thanks so much for this article. I suspected that the ocean was for me and this is helping to confirm it for me. I plan to live in Nova Scotia so i’m pretty excited!

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