Waterfront Buying: Top 10 Tips from Agents

Before purchasing that dream home, master these tips from the experts.

From pre-approval to paying points, buying a home is always a complicated process. But throw “waterfront” in the mix, and things get even more complex. Fortunately, real estate agents who regularly deal with waterfront properties know the ins and outs of this process. These 10 tips from the pros will give you a heads-up on what to expect when purchasing a home by the water.
  1. Find a real estate agent who’s a true waterfront specialist. The average agent won’t have the detailed knowledge of waterfront properties in your area to help you find the best deal on a property that’s right for you, says Ramara Garrett, owner of Waverly Property Group in Daytona Beach, Fla. “You may think you’ve found a great deal, but the reason it’s a great deal is because there are oyster beds and people can’t get their boats in and out,” Garrett says.
  2. Consider the property more than the structure. “Oftentimes, people fall in love with a house, but after they buy it, they realize the swimming is mucky, the view’s not very good, it’s difficult to get down to the water, or the place is not very private," says Tom Ferent, a broker with Mr. Lakefront, which specializes in lakefront properties in Maine. You can change the house, but you can’t change the location, so buy a property that you really love.
  3. Choose a property that truly fits your lifestyle. You may find a beautiful property for sale, but it’s half an hour away from getting out to the ocean. “If you love to go out deep-sea fishing, that’s going to make a difference in how often you actually do it,” Garrett says. Focus on the activities you’re passionate about and choose a property accordingly.
  4. Look into loans early. Since many waterfront properties are more expensive than other properties, loans will often fall into the jumbo mortgage category, Garrett says. Lenders will therefore only consider very qualified buyers. “Buyers ought to start that process before they start looking for a property because that can take a lot longer than a normal home loan,” Garrett says.
  5. Make sure the structure can withstand the weather. Waterfront homes receive more abuse from the elements than the average home, so extra measures should be taken to protect them. For instance, Garrett recommends investing in storm shutters for homes in hurricane-prone areas and stainless-steel locks to avoid corrosion from salt air.
  6. Insurance can be costly and complicated. Look into this early to make sure you know what you’re getting into. For instance, Garrett says waterfront homeowners in Florida have to buy three policies (a wind policy, a flood policy and a general hazard policy) typically not all through the same insurer.
  7. Find out what you can do with the property. If you want to make any changes to your waterfront property, such as adding a dock or a seawall, start this process early to ensure that these alterations will be possible. “Government agencies are very strict to deal with, and you don’t want to commit to purchasing a million-dollar home without knowing that you can really do what you want to make it your own,” Garrett says. Also find out what kind of activities are allowed on the body of water, as some areas have restrictions on jet skis, speedboats and other watercraft, says Les Taylor, principal broker of Waterfront Properties of Maine.
  8. Talk to neighbors. Get insider information from neighbors by asking if they enjoy living in the community, if they have any issues with the property you’re thinking about purchasing, or if there are any waterfront-related problems, Taylor says.
  9. In rural areas, look into utilities. Waterfront buyers who are accustomed to the convenience of suburban life may assume that electricity, clean water, an adequate septic system, cable and Internet will be readily available at their new property, but this is not always the case. Bringing these services in to remote areas can be very expensive, says Taylor, so investigate these issues before buying.
  10. Get to know your responsibilities as a waterfront homeowner. If you’re part of a homeowners association, find out what kind of upkeep and maintenance of the property will be required from you by reviewing the conditions, covenants and restrictions, or CC&Rs, and talking to the HOA's management company, says Gordon Baker of Re/Max Elite in Chandler, Ariz.

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