The lousy economy has been tough on real estate. High unemployment and tight credit have driven down sales volume and prices. This is especially true with second houses on lakes. A discretionary market doesn’t boom when no one has discretionary income.

But then there’s the other side of the equation. If sellers are having trouble, then buyers who’ve kept their powder dry have a good shot. Jason Burnham, who runs the Lakes of Texas Realty website (lakesoftexas.com), thinks the market has hit bottom and is on its way back up.
“Right now, we’re seeing buyers coming back into the market,” Burnham says. “Some are getting out of the stock market, are a little concerned with what’s going on, and are trying to get their money in order. It’s an excellent time for somebody who’s in the market for lake property because we’ve seen most of the drop in values. We’ve still got sellers who aren’t realistic and absolutely refuse to believe it’s a buyer’s market. But it is.”

Texas has 170 lakes. We’ve narrowed that list to 10, choosing beautiful lakes within a short enough drive from Dallas that they qualify as weekend retreats. Yes, there are closer lakes we didn’t include. But who wants to escape Preston Hollow for, say, Lake Grapevine? Most of the lakes we chose are not owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which prevents property owners from building docks or boathouses. The two lakes on our list that are owned by the Corps—Lake Texoma and Lake o’ the Pines—are worth making an exception for.

When talking to potential clients, Burnham gives them a Lake Property 101 guide, asking them everything from how far they want to drive to how much they like to socialize with neighbors. “They’ve got their city home, and they have different goals for their second home,” Burnham says. “On a regular basis I hear, ‘We live in a highly restricted subdivision in town, and that’s not what I want.’ The nature of people who are coming to the lake, no matter what their background, is they want to relax a little.”