Attorney, MLSA publish book on navigating the oft-tricky sea of buying, selling waterfront property

This article was written on behalf of the Oakland Lakefront website, www.oaklandlakefront.com

Today, there are how-to books for just about any and every topic: How to cook, how to sew, how to draw, and how to speak cat. There are even books called “How to Start Your Own Country,” “How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse,” and “How to be a Canadian,” to name only a few. Regardless of the topic, it seems like you can find a book to help you navigate just about any new terrain. However, there wasn’t really a comprehensive guide to buying and selling waterfront property in Michigan — until now.

Purchasing property can be a difficult and confusing process on its own, but when it’s lakefront property, there are even more pitfalls and confusing entanglements, which prompted attorney Clifford Bloom, a renowned riparian and water law expert, to write a book on the subject.

“There is no comparable book in the whole state,” Bloom said. “Over the years, I’d get a lot of questions on waterfront property, buying and selling, and other aspects of waterfront property. There’s a lot of interest in the topic, but there was no good resource that dealt with all of it.”

Bloom has been an attorney for the Michigan Lake and Stream Associations (MLSA) for the past 20 years, devoting his time to representing several lake associations on the west side of the state and providing legal counsel for many local governments.

The MLSA is a non-profit entity made up of organizations, corporations, associations, and individuals that “share a goal of preserving and protecting Michigan’s vast heritage of freshwater resources.”

The organization was created in 1961 and has grown to include 300-plus individual members and more than 250 lake, river, and stream association members that together have a statewide membership exceeding 100,000.

Bloom also regularly writes a column for Michigan Riparian Magazine, an MLSA publication, and has presented seminars on various water-related issues.

Over the years, Bloom has accumulated a wealth of experience with lakefront issues and has drawn upon his knowledge to write his guide to buying and selling lakefront property.

“Occasionally, I would go back and refresh my mind,” said Bloom, who mainly relied on his own experiences for the new book’s content. “After 28 years, you pick up quite a bit of information.”

This is not the first book he has written for the MLSA. In 2009, the association published Bloom’s book, “Michigan Lake Associations: The Nuts and Bolts.”

“That one is smaller and tells you everything you want to know about Michigan lake associations,” he said of the book, which is available for purchase on the MLSA website, www.mymlsa.com.

In its 251 pages, Bloom’s new “Buying and Selling Waterfront Property in Michigan” covers a slew of topics ranging from riparian property rights to financing, from encroachments to buildability and lake associations, while frequently referencing court decisions that have previously addressed these issues.

“It contains probably every major topic regarding waterfront property: What is it? What should you look for in a Realtor? What about the purchase agreement and the types of inspections you should do? It tells you how to deal with local municipal officials. And it explains dozens and dozens of words and phrases regarding waterfront transactions, such as pitfalls, easements and road ends,” Bloom said, adding that the book is written for laypeople and will help “anyone who has an interest in waterfront property.”

“I will admit the book is not exactly the most exciting reading in the world, but I think it fills an important information gap for people looking to buy or sell waterfront property in the state of Michigan,” said MLSA Director Scott Brown. It was the MLSA that published Bloom’s book.

“(This book) is an educational tool,” Brown said. “It’s one of the resources we make that will benefit MLSA programs and plans. Waterfront property is fraught with all types of complications and legal entanglements that people need to be aware of. This is a complete guide with checklists for people who want to do those types of transactions in Michigan.”

The back of the book contains an “Attachments” section complete with samples of deeds and purchase/sales agreement forms, as well as checklists for issues to look for before you buy and close on a waterfront property. There is even a checklist to help a buyer determine what they want in a lake.

Overall, it serves as a good reminder of the dos and don’ts for buying and selling waterfront property, especially highlighting potential issues that may arise.

One of the main topics covered in the book is due diligence — which is always important when buying new property, but especially if that property is on the waterfront.

“Don’t assume anything before you buy,” noted Bloom, who said one of the biggest mistakes a prospective buyer of waterfront property can make involves the purchase/sales agreement. “Check everything out. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to waterfront property.

“The most important matter in a transaction other than the price is the purchase agreement,” he said. “Some people call it the ‘buy/sell’ agreement. Some people think it’s a non-binding letter of intent. It’s not. It binds the whole transaction.”

Therefore, it’s important to make sure both parties are willing to live with all the terms of the agreement before it’s signed.

Other issues of popular concern involve access sites, easements, and building on vacant lots.

“It’s very common for people to want to build a cottage on an empty lot or to tear down a cottage, and they want to know what they have to do,” Bloom said. “They normally have to deal with local zoning ordinances and (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) DEQ permits before they can do anything.”

Another issue that is brought up frequently is the ownership of bottomlands — the bottom area below surface water.

“It depends on what direction and what shape the lake is,” Bloom said. “Normally on an inland lake, the lakefront owner owns the bottomlands extending from their property out to the center of the lake. On the Great Lakes, it’s only to the water’s edge. However, the only way to get a definitive answer about who owns the bottomlands is to file a lawsuit. Surveyors and engineers can give an opinion, but the only way to settle a dispute with a neighbor is to have a court decide.”

In addition to understanding the target property and what is and isn’t allowed there, who will be living next door is another important consideration for lakefront property buyers.

“It’s important to get to know your neighbors before you move in on the lakefront,” Bloom explained. “For instance, we get calls all the time from people whose lives have been turned into nightmares because they’ve gone to war with their neighbors over docks or lake access or allowing relatives to moor boats overnight.”

It’s important for waterfront owners to understand their riparian rights and to have insight about life on the waterfront — including the many possible legal issues that can arise.

Brown said he believes Bloom’s book provides valuable insight on waterfront living for all people, whether they are “buying or selling or not.”

“Lakefront property is fraught with a lot of potential pitfalls, which is why I think this book is so valuable,” Brown said. “It covers everything from A-Z.”

People interested in not only buying the book, but wishing to speak to Bloom can do so at the MLSA’s upcoming annual conference at the Boyne Mountain resort the weekend of April 27-28. For more information, go to the special event page located at the association’s website, www.mymlsa.org. You can register for the conference online, or by phone at 989-831-5100.

Proceeds from the book’s sales will go to the MLSA. The book costs $20 plus postage and can be ordered at www.mymlsa.org/books-publications, or by calling 989-831-5100.

“Buying and Selling Waterfront Property in Michigan” will also be available at bookstores around the state, including Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor and Schuler’s Books and Music in Grand Rapids.

“It’s a small $20 investment in a book that could save you a lifetime of grief and hundreds of thousand of dollars,” the MLSA’s Brown said. “Knowledge is a very powerful thing, and reading the book from either end of the (property sales) transactions can save you a lot of grief and money.”