Decades ago, when anything west of Boston was truly rural, Central Massachusetts was a summer destination for the wealthy.
Since then, the region’s many lakes have become even more desirable vacation spots. Many cottages have remained in the same family for generations, and as lakefront homes become increasingly attractive to city dwellers, new residents are looking to set down roots by the water. The wealthy-only label is long gone.
Families especially flock to lakeside homes because of the range of available activities. Full recreational lakes such as Lake Quinsigamond, Webster Lake and Indian Lake attract residents looking to enjoy summertime activities like swimming, boating and fishing with few restrictions.
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Real estate agents who list lakefront homes say with such low inventory, everything for sale is getting snatched quickly by buyers.
“Anything that’s swimmable, ‘boatable,’ anything that we call ‘full recreation,’ is in demand,” Jules Lusignan, a real estate agent and owner of Lake Realty in Webster, said.
Lusignan, who said he’s been a regular at Webster Lake since he was in diapers, has seen his fair share of waterfront home sales since starting his realty business in 1979. Part of the appeal for residents comes from the proximity to cities while still feeling like they live out in nature, he said.
“A lot of people are able to commute from work, so these can become a year-round home,” he said. “The idea of people that work in the area is that they can either use a waterfront home as a second home or make it their principle residence, so they can still commute wherever they need to. Providence, Boston, Worcester — it’s all reachable.”
He said lake houses are always popular and suffered no decrease in interest through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the pandemic, because people couldn’t travel, they stayed more local,” Lusignan said. “The lakes and ponds were probably in more demand because people couldn’t go elsewhere.”
John Colby, a real estate agent and owner of Colby Realty in Athol, said the pandemic made buyers seek waterfront homes even more than usual.
“The effects of COVID have made (these homes) tremendously desirable, because when COVID was at its worst people were very willing to do anything to get away from their situation and be outdoors and get some freedom from urban areas,” Colby said.
While lakes have always been popular, the whole market has been affected by the pandemic. Both Colby and Lusignan said they’ve seen fewer residents sell their lakefront homes as they’re more inclined to keep their special abodes rather than hightail it back to the city or even to Cape Cod.
“Last year the lakes became more popular,” Lusignan said. “People bought boats and docked them on the lake or put them in marinas.” He said more people bought boats during the pandemic as an escape in a similar manner to people who bought campers as an alternative to staying in hotels or traveling by plane.
Michelle Terry, a real estate agent with EXIT Real Estate Executives in Spencer, said buyers are attracted to lakefront homes not as vacation homes but as “staycation” homes.
Like Colby and Lusignan, Terry said the pandemic heightened interest in lake houses, especially as people from Boston, Hartford and New York started seeking houses in Central Massachusetts.
“This year has been really hot for waterfronts and properties with pools and outdoor activities,” Terry said. “People are working at home, spending more time at home, so even though the pandemic’s lightening up a bit we’ve had more people who are continuing to look at these waterfronts and staycation-type properties because now they’re home more often.”
“We’ve been seeing a huge trend with people with second homes moving to their waterfronts or vacation properties,” Terry added.
“There’s great memories created at lakes. If you can afford it, you can pull it off,” Colby said.
Here are 10 popular lakes for waterfront homes in Central Massachusetts:
Lake Quinsigamond, Worcester
Lake Quinsigamond is a main summertime spot for water-centric activities. The 4-mile long lake has a depth at between 50 and 85 feet and a surface area of about 772 acres, making it a popular boating, fishing and swimming destination.
Eight islands dot Lake Quinsigamond, mostly owned privately while Drake Island is owned by the state. Along the Worcester side of the lake is Quinsigamond State Park, another attraction for residents and potential buyers.
Kathy Luu, a broker with Skys Realty, said she sees the lakeside housing market fluctuate every year. Recently, Luu put a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house on Lake Quinsigamond up for sale for $1.18 million, which she said is on the higher side of the market.
Separating Shrewsbury and Worcester, the lake offers potential residents a choice between living on the Shrewsbury side or the Worcester side.
Luu said buyers usually prefer the Shrewsbury side of the lake, mostly for the schools and distance from the city, though not a lot of land is available. While she said she sees homes on the market at $800,000 to $900,000 sell quickly, usually getting offers after three days up for sale, some buyers prefer to purchase land for around $450,000 and build their own homes on the lake.
Lake Quinsigamond homes for sale have an average list price of $362,000, though high-end homes like the one placed on the market by Luu for over $1 million can be found as well.
Perhaps an obvious favorite, Lake Chaubunagungamaug, better known (and better pronounced) as Webster Lake, is another full recreational lake popular for its size and range of activities.
“The market for waterfront homes on Webster Lake is typically always very strong, and exceptionally strong in the last few years,” Lusignan said, adding that the area sees more demand than supply.
Webster Lake is the largest natural body of water in Massachusetts, stretching 1,442 acres, and boasts clean water and an active lake association that keeps the lake clear of invasive species and preserves the surrounding environment.
Lusignan said the majority of properties around Webster Lake are single-family homes, with some condos and townhouses available at Beacon Park and Treasure Island. The lake also hosts some commercial sites, such as restaurants on the marina.
House sizes on the lake range from summer cottages to 10,000-square-foot homes. Lusignan said he estimated the average house size on the lake to be 1,500 to 3,000 square feet, and the price for a single-family home to range from $500,000 to $1.2 million, with some spikes at $2 million to $3 million.
Indian Lake, Worcester
Another popular lake in Worcester, Indian Lake’s 193 acres of water provide a centralized location for families and residents looking for a lakefront home closer to the city.
Also known as North Pond, the smaller lake is the largest body of water located completely within Worcester and has two public beaches, Shore Park and Indian Lake Park.
Homes on Indian Lake are in a similar price range of homes on the Worcester side of Lake Quinsigamond, with an average of $300,000 to $400,000 for a single-family home on the water.
Coldwell Banker Realty real estate agent Lucie Lemke said she put a lakeview house on the market at Indian Lake — a two-bedroom listed for $299,000 — and in two days already had offers. Lemke said she expected the house to be on deposit by the end of the week.
She said the lake’s proximity to Worcester, Bancroft School and UMass make it attractive to homeowners, in addition to the overall benefits of living on a lake.
“When you live on a lake, you’re not paying for a house — you’re paying for a waterfront,” Lemke said. “When you leave your job and go home, it’s just like you’re on vacation. All the stress goes away.”
Sugden Reservoir, Spencer
Sugden Reservoir in Spencer is a lesser-known destination for lakefront home buyers, but still seeing a lot of action this year, according to Terry.
Though only 92 acres, residents still enjoy boating and swimming in the clean water, which is also stocked by the state for fishing.
Terry said in Spencer the average lakefront home price she sees is just shy of $500,000, at about $492,000, with an average square footage of 1,956. Looking at those numbers, Terry said the average home price “sounds like it’s on the lower side,” as she’s been seeing more homes in the range of $500,000 to $600,000.
Even as a smaller body of water, homes on Sugden Reservoir don’t last long on the market. In this brutal sellers’ market with such limited inventory of homes, buyers are snatching whatever they can get.
ERA Key Realty Services real estate agent Donna Flannery said she’s lived on Sugden Reservoir her entire life. She said she’s sold three homes on the water in the past six weeks, two smaller homes and one larger one, with all of them on the market for less than 10 days and sold for far over asking price.
“I think that the lake itself — because every lake is different, some are shallow, some are full of weeds — we don’t have any restrictions here on this lake,” Flannery said. “And everybody here keeps their property in excellent condition.”
She said most Sugden homeowners live on the lake year-round, which is a change since she was young when most families living on Sugden stayed there only part time.
“Who would not want to live on a lake year-round if you could?” she said. “Once you live on the water, you can’t live anywhere else. That’s it.”
Lake Monomonac, Winchendon
If boating in one state isn’t enough, cross between Massachusetts and New Hampshire on Lake Monomonac. The 711-acre lake sits on the border of the two states, in both Winchendon, Massachusetts, and Rindge, New Hampshire.
Approximately 200 structures sit on the Massachusetts side of Lake Monomonac, with about a third being used as year-round homes.
There are currently two homes for sale on the lake, priced at $377,000 and $399,000.
While there are no public beaches on the lake, there are two dams at the southeast end and a marina on the northeast end of the lake in New Hampshire with a public ramp for boat access by nonresidents.
One of the unique homes on the lake is called the Santa Maria, built by a priest in the 1940s with the bow of a ship protruding from the house into the water. Country singer Kenny Rogers lived in the Santa Maria during his career to get away from the public eye, though he later moved when his secret lake house attracted crowds of fans.
Glen Echo Lake, Charlton
While the small town of Charlton sees less activity than other Worcester towns, Glen Echo Lake remains a popular body of water for those looking for lake houses.
Rick Stockhaus, a real estate agent at Lakefront Living Realty, said the 116-acre full recreational freshwater lake attracts buyers with its proximity to the Massachusetts Turnpike and Sturbridge.
Stockhaus is selling a three-bedroom Glen Echo Lake waterfront home, on the market for $839,900. He said the house has been on the market for about two months and is the only one currently for sale on the lake’s waterfront.
“The market is extremely hot for lakefront properties, and I think COVID might have something to do with it,” Stockhaus said. “People can’t travel so they want to be by a lake, and if they work from home they can be by a lake.”
The Glen Echo Improvement Association, the lake’s devoted community association, keeps the lake clean and free of unwanted plants and waste.
Singletary Pond, Sutton
Singletary Pond, also known as Lake Singletary, is a 346-acre great pond located on the border of Millbury and Sutton.
The full recreational lake features a 6-mile-long shoreline with 163 homes. Residents are attracted to Singletary Pond’s beach in Sutton, called Marion’s Camp, and its public boat ramp in Millbury.
The lake’s location places it far enough from the city for a rural vibe but close to Route 146 for commuters, and residents still enjoy either Sutton’s or Millbury’s restaurants and shops.
The Lake Singletary Watershed Association keeps the water clean for swimming and activities while prioritizing the restoration and protection of the lake.
Singletary Pond also attracts avid fishermen as it is stocked each spring with trout and hosts annual fishing tournaments.
Wickaboag Lake, West Brookfield
Another lake seeing a lot of activity over the past few years is Wickaboag Lake, which at its deepest is 11 feet deep and stretches 320 acres.
According to the Wickaboag Lake Association, a 2003 community development plan survey of West Brookfield identified Lake Wickaboag as one of the two most significant assets of the town.
Century 21 North East real estate agent Dorrinda O’Keefe Shea said she’s seen “quite a bit of interest” on the four-bedroom home she’s selling on Wickaboag, currently priced at $469,900.
Waterfront homes on the lake vary from smaller single-family homes priced at around $300,000 to newly renovated tear-down homes that can cost upwards of $900,000.
O’Keefe Shea said Wickaboag is one of the most popular full recreational lakes in the area, mostly because of the range of activities and the location in West Brookfield. She said the small town, with a population of 3,785 in 2018, draws people to its lakes to get away from the city.
“They have wineries and microbreweries in the area, they have a nice common, great little restaurants,” she said. “And it’s so close to Sturbridge, Route 9, the Mass Pike. There’s just a lot of things that West Brookfield has to offer someone.”
Like others, O’Keefe Shea said working from home while living on a lake offers the prospect of a “vacation at home.”
Queen Lake, Phillipston
Queen Lake in Phillipston is technically a “great pond,” but the 139-acre body of water is still seeing lots of action for waterfront house sales.
Part of the appeal of Queen Lake is the size, real estate agents said. While bigger lakes such as Quinsigamond and Webster are popular, residents of Queen Lake prioritize the smaller locale.
Colby, who in addition to being a real estate agent serves as the president of the Queen Lake Association, said lakefront living appeals to families especially, as raising kids while having a lake house is a coveted experience.
“Growing up (at Queen Lake) as a child is a great thing because all your friends come to visit you. As a parent you like it bc all your children friends come to your house, so you know where your kids are all the time,” Colby said with a chuckle.
Though it’s smaller, it’s still a full recreational lake, allowing boating, swimming and all other activities allowed at bigger bodies of water, though the use of personal watercraft is discouraged.
Colby said the more restrictions a lake has, the less popular it is.
Sunset Lake, Ashburnham
Not too big and not too small, Sunset Lake is just right for lakegoers looking for a waterfront spot farther from the city.
“Not everyone wants Webster Lake because they feel it’s too busy and they want something quieter,” Lusignan said.
Maintained by the Far Hills Association, Sunset Lake is a 300-acre lake up in Ashburnham. With more than 335 homeowners, the lake is a popular destination right across the border from New Hampshire.
Colby said the size of homes on Ashburnham lakes varies, as some buyers want cottages while others purchase two neighboring homes to tear down and build into a larger home.
“Some of the lakes in Ashburnham weren’t developed until the 1960s, so the lots are bigger,” he said. “But for anything with older cottages on it, you’re basically buying the land and you’ll tear it down to build a bigger one.” He said buyers spend upwards of $250,000 per tear-down, and estimated the price of a year-round home around $500,000 to $600,000.