Decades ago, when everything west of Boston was truly rural, central Massachusetts was a summer destination for the wealthy.

Since then, the many lakes in the region have become even more popular holiday destinations. Many cottages have been owned by the same family for generations, and as lakeside homes become increasingly attractive to city dwellers, new residents are looking for waterfront roots. The label for wealthy people only has long since disappeared.

Families in particular flock to the lakeside houses due to the range of activities on offer. Full recreational lakes like Lake Monomonac in Winchendon, Queen Lake in Phillipston, and Sunset Lake in Ashburnham attract residents who want to enjoy summer activities like swimming, boating, and fishing with few restrictions.

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Real estate agents selling lakeside homes say that with inventory this low, anything for sale is quick to be snapped up by buyers.

“Anything buoyant, ‘boatable’, anything we call ‘full recovery’ is in demand,” said Jules Lusignan, a real estate agent and owner of Lake Realty in Webster.

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 he started his real estate business in 1979, he said.

“Lots of people can commute from work so this can become a year-round home,” he said. “The people who work in the area come up with the idea that they can either use a waterfront home as a second home or make it their primary residence so they can still commute wherever they want. Providence, Boston, Worcester – everything is within reach. “

He said lake houses are always popular and have not suffered a drop in interest from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic, people stayed more local because they couldn’t travel,” Lusignan said. “The lakes and ponds were probably more in demand because people couldn’t go anywhere else.”

John Colby, a real estate agent and owner of Colby Realty in Athol, said the pandemic has caused buyers to look even more than usual for waterfront homes.

“The effects of COVID have made (these houses) immensely desirable because when COVID was at its worst, people were very willing to do anything to escape their situation and be outside and get some freedom from urban areas,” said Colby.

While lakes have always been popular, the entire market has been hit by the pandemic. Both Colby and Lusignan said they saw fewer residents selling their lakeside homes as they were more inclined to keep their special residences rather than bringing them back to town or even to Cape Cod.

“Last year the lakes became more popular,” said Lusignan. “People bought boats and moored them on the lake or put them in marinas.” He said more people bought boats as an escape route during the pandemic, similar to people who bought RVs as an alternative to staying in hotels or traveling by air.

Michelle Terry, a real estate agent with EXIT Real Estate Executives in Spencer, said that buyers of lakeside homes are attracted not as vacation homes, but as “residences”.

Like Colby and Lusignan, Terry said the pandemic had increased interest in lakeside homes, especially as people from Boston, Hartford, and New York started looking for homes in central Massachusetts.

“We have seen a huge trend in people with second homes moving to their waterfront or vacation home,” added Terry.

“Lakes make great memories. If you can afford it, you can do it,” said Colby.

Here are three popular local lakes for waterfront homes in the Greater Gardner area:

Monomonac Lake, Winchendon

When boating isn’t enough in one state, cross Massachusetts and New Hampshire on Lake Monomonac. The 711-acre lake is on the border between the two states of Winchendon, Massachusetts, and Rindge, New Hampshire.

About 200 buildings are on the Lake Monomonac side of Massachusetts, with about a third used as year-round homes.

There are currently two lakeside homes for sale priced at $ 377,000 and $ 399,000.

While there are no public beaches on the lake, New Hampshire has two dams on the southeast end and a marina on the northeast end of the lake with a public ramp for boat access for non-residents.

One of the unique houses on the lake is called Santa Maria, which was 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 avoid the public eye, though he later moved when his secret lake house attracted many fans.

Queen Lake, Phillipston

Queen Lake in Phillipston is technically a “big pond,” but the 139-acre body of water still offers plenty of waterfront home sales action.

Part of Queen Lake’s appeal is its size, real estate agents said. While larger lakes like Quinsigamond and Webster are popular, Queen Lake residents prefer the smaller towns.

In addition to being a real estate agent, Colby, who is also the president of the Queen Lake Association, said lake life appeals primarily to families as raising children while having a lake house is a coveted experience.

“Growing up as a child (at Queen Lake) is great because all of your friends come to visit you. As a parent, you like it when all of your child friends come to your home so you always know where your children are,” said Colby with a smile.

Although smaller, it is still a full recreational lake, allowing boating, swimming, and all other activities on larger bodies of water, although watercraft use is discouraged.

Colby said the more restrictions a lake has, the less popular it is.

A lakefront house on Sunset Drive in Ashburnham.

Sunset Lake, Ashburnham

Not too big and not too small, Sunset Lake is perfect for lake visitors looking for a waterfront location further from town.

“Not everyone wants Webster Lake because they feel like it’s too crowded and they want something quieter,” Lusignan said.

Maintained by the Far Hills Association, Sunset Lake is a 300 acre lake in Ashburnham. With more than 335 homeowners, the lake is a popular getaway just across the New Hampshire border.

Colby said the size of houses on the Ashburnham Lakes vary as some buyers want cottages while others are buying two neighboring houses to demolish and build into one larger house.

“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, you basically buy the land and tear it down to build a bigger one.” He said buyers are spending more than $ 250,000 per demolition and estimated the price of a year-round home at $ 500,000 to $ 600,000.