Waterfront Living in Iowa? The Prices Could Sink You


If it’s winter, and you want a vacation, you head to warm and dry Arizona or Palm Springs. Summertime treks are closer to Des Moines, and involve a nice lakeside cottage at Panorama, Clear Lake or Okoboji-Spirit Lake.

Yes, some people will go to Missouri and the Lake of the Ozarks. And many travel to Minnesota — after all, there are a lot of lakes there. But for the sake of convenience alone, these three Iowa lake sites are the bigger draws.

Panorama wins the prize for convenience, as its eastern shore lies within an hour’s drive from Des Moines. With 1,160 acres of water, Panorama is the largest private lake in Iowa. There are beaches, but recreational boating appears to be its big draw. It also has a good golf course.

Panorama is the newest of these three lakes, and as such it still has some open lots. Dave Ryan, owner of Country Realty LLC in Panora, estimates that about 100 waterfront lots remain available. Prices range from around $150,000 upward.

For developed properties, Ryan says $305,000 appears to be the cheapest currently available. You can spend up to $1.2 million if you’re in the mood. Some townhomes and condos are available at the south end of the lake, but availability is limited.

Clear Lake and Okoboji-Spirit Lake have way more inventory for rentals, but as they are both considerably older than Panorama, they have virtually no undeveloped waterfront property. So you’ll have to buy an existing home, and prices at both places are at a premium.

Mike Jensen of Jensen Real Estate in Arnolds Park says the lakes that make up the Spirit Lake complex stretch over 21 miles of shoreline. Each of those miles is sold off in 50-foot chunks, at $13,000-$20,000 per foot of shoreline.

For this price you can dip your toes into some of the clearest waters around. “The water quality is spectacular,” Jensen says of the spring-fed lakes, with depths of more than 100 feet and a rock bottom.

Clear Lake is much shallower and just a single body of water. It’s just as popular a destination with Des Moines vacationers, and likewise has no undeveloped waterfront property left.

Jennifer Kopriva, with Triad Realty in Clear Lake, says the demand for property has remained solid for years — the area barely saw a slowdown during the recession of 2008-2009. Average waterfront home sale prices in 2017 topped $600,000, and Kopriva said there currently are eight homes listed at more than $1 million.

Serious money, indeed. But it all goes to a serious cause enjoying life.

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