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Ultimate Guide to Buying Waterfront Properties

Waterfront properties offer a lifestyle that is second to none. In today’s digital age, it’s easy to get bombarded with requests and obligations around the clock, leading to difficult stress levels that can seem almost inescapable at times. So what is the ultimate escape? A gift that keeps on giving? How about knowing that each and every day magnificent waterfront sunrises and sunsets await you? Wouldn’t it be wonderful knowing that the calming sounds of gentle waves are a part of everyday life instead of a limited vacation? In fact, why not make life feel as though it is one big vacation? For those looking for the dream life, buying a home on the water is often the best single purchase that can be made to improve the overall quality of life.

Like any home purchase; it is essential to determine what your wants and needs are to make a highly educated decision. However, waterfront homes are not a typical, run-of-the-mill houses. Special additional factors must be taken into careful consideration to ensure the property suits your personality and lets you enjoy the activities you love. Here are a comprehensive list tips on how to buy the best waterfront home.

house on the water

Get Your Finances in Order

A beautiful waterfront property won’t be cheap. You may be able to find a good deal with proper market timing and due diligence, but you won’t escape the fact that waterfront property is priced at a premium when compared to other landlocked alternatives. Any boat docks or piers could end up alone could end up being quite costly. Consequently, the first step toward making your acquisition is to determine budgetary parameters. It is wise to ‘back-in’ your desired purchase price range by first thinking about the structure of the deal. Are you looking at an all-cash transaction or do you anticipate a need for financing?

If you are looking at buying in all-cash, your target purchase price will be more straight-forward, while if financing is involved you’ll want to spend some time experimenting with various down payment amounts and interest rates. As an example, you can take a look at this waterfront house located on the Venetian Islands and click on the monthly expenses tab to experiment with how downpayment and interest rates affect the transaction, along with the other noteworthy homeowner expenses.  Once you have your financial house in order, it’s time to look further into the exciting details.  You should make this home buying process fun.  Look at every step as an opportunity to take you one step closer to your dream.

kayaking from a waterfront home

Know Your Needs and Wants

Think about how you would like to use the property. Brainstorm what your passions are, what you care about and what your priorities are when it comes to waterfront living. To know your expectations well, consider the following factors:

· Types of activities you enjoy

Go for a property that allows you to enjoy your favorite pastimes. If you love fishing, you will want to stick to homes with dockage and easy access to water. For a large variety of fish, look for deep bodies that support cold-water fisheries. If you want to go canoeing or kayaking, choose a home on large, active water body.

· Lifestyle Needs

Aside from allowing you to enjoy the activities you love, your waterfront property should meet other lifestyle needs. For example, if you have medical needs, ensure your home is located near a hospital. If you often travel on business, look for waterfront homes that are near the airport. Consider other core social amenities, such as schools, hotels, and shopping centers before making your purchase. It may be wonderful to own a secluded lake home away from the civilized world, but if the closest hospital is hours away, you may have to curtail a base jumping hobby.

· The Period You Plan to Live There

Some waterfront homes are not meant for year-round use. Homes on private islands are often ideal for summer, spring and fall, but not winter. By understanding the amount of time that you’d like to spend at your new waterfront house, you’ll be able to better gauge the depth of the expenditure. If you are only going to use a home for two months out of the year at most, it would be unwise to stretch yourself out too far financially, irrespective of how seductive the waterfront property might be.

perfect location for a waterfront home

Choose the Right Location

After you have determined your needs in a waterfront property, visit different areas to see what feels best for you. Once you focus on an area, look at specific properties. Place a bit more emphasis on the property rather than the house. Note that for waterfront homes, the real value is in the land, not the house. Plus, all waterfront properties are not created equal, some homes have unique attributes that make them more valuable than others. Some critical aspects to take into account when choosing a location for your waterfront home include:

· Sandy shoreline

If you have young children, they will want to play in the sand. For seniors, it will be easier for them to enter the water. Mucky shorelines are not pleasant to walk on. Sandy shores are preferred for non-boaters, and property values will have outstanding growth potential.

· Proximity to the water

Most municipalities have strict rules that govern setbacks and the construction process for homes on the water. Thus, if you are planning to rebuild or renovate the home, you need to put these guidelines into consideration. Also, you will want to research the lot lines. In some instances, surveys may provide you with more submerged land than you initially thought to be part of the property at first glance. Submerged land ownership rights can get complicated, but they may provide some additional upside for future development of structures or dockage.

· The Level of the Lot

It is wise to select a property with as much of a flat leveled area as possible. Flat lots are easy to maintain and make access to the water less challenging. Elevated lots are more expensive to build on and maintain due to the added cost of retaining walls.  However, if you have the proper financial resources, some elevated lots can possess outstanding future upside with the proper elevation. Real estate developers see that gentle elevation slopes can significantly improve water views while still making the terrain of the lot navigable. So don’t completely write off a waterfront property with gentle slopes; you could have a diamond in the rough.

aerial waterfront home view

Review the Legal Restrictions that Affect Waterfront Homes

Carefully, go through the legal restrictions that affect the shoreline. Begin with the community’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC &Rs). The CC&Rs contains rules set forth by the community’s homeowners association (if there is one). Check if there are any guidelines on the bulkheads, docks or piers. You will also want to know if there are any Resource Protection Areas (RPAs), tidal wetlands on the property as well as understand the various types of activities permitted in these zones. Ask the local government about the steps you will have to take to have docks and piers constructed, and consider making a purchase contingent upon that approval.

More importantly, confirm that you would own the area extending to the water, and that there are no community easements permitting your neighbors to use the shore without your permission. You can hire a real estate lawyer to find out the legality associated with ownership of the property. This will enable you to know if you are actually purchasing a waterfront home or not.

waterfront property

Ensure the Property is Equipped to Withstand Harsh Climatic Conditions

A variety of elements can damage waterfront properties because of their exposure to weather and storms. Thus, check to be sure that the property is well equipped to withstand harsh climatic conditions. If you live on the beach, corrosion from the salty air can cause rusting on metal parts, and so, stainless locks are necessary. Storm shutters and impact resistant windows are also an important component in protecting the home from rough rain and weather.  Homeowners within the hurricane-prone coastal areas need to think not only about making their property hurricane proof with the proper barriers, they also need to think about their boats. Is the dock at home situated in a safe harbor with minimal surge risk or are you going to need to move the boat with each tropical storm or hurricane warning?  If that is the case, costs for moving and safe harbor mooring need to be calculated in as a contingency expense. You will also want to speak with the neighbors, current homeowner or an inspector about what to expect from changing water levels, and how this can affect your waterfront home.

waterfront pool

Get Accurate Insurance Quotes

Since waterfront properties are exposed to extreme weather risks, insurance is usually higher than you might expect. There are various types of coverages and policies that are vital when buying a waterfront home. You may have to purchase a flood policy, wind policy, and general hazard policy to abide by the obligations of owning a waterfront property. These important policies will ensure that your home is repaired if the damage is suffered when any of these uncontrollable events occurs. Your insurance agent, condominium association or real estate agent can help you determine what coverage you need to have to protect your property. It is essential you take into account the insurance requirements for your waterfront home so that you are not surprised by the extra costs down the road.

island home on the water

Ask About Erosion Control

Erosion is a major concern for most waterfront homeowners. Over time, you can lose your home if the shoreline has not been buffered and protected appropriately. If there is an already existing bulkhead or seawall, hire an inspector to determine if it is sufficient, has been maintained properly and whether it is secure, sturdy and durable. There are many ways of controlling erosion, and they should be explored and added to your renovation budget. Some techniques that can be used to lower risks of erosion include building land banks or allowing for run-off drains.

beach house view

Examine Dockage Quality and Type

For boating enthusiasts, the presence of a dock is an important factor when choosing your property. Be sure to explore waterfront home options that have dockage large enough to accommodate the size of your vessel. Keep a watchful eye out for the quality and type of dockage on he property. Floating docks are excellent alternatives for homes that are adjacent to waters that experience the rising and falling of tides, like oceanfront or bayfront property. Their repair and upkeep aren’t overly difficult either. While homes on rivers and creeks need dockage that is better for handling moving water. Piling docks are a common alternative to floating docks. They are well-suited for shallow waters and more calm seas, like lakes and protected bays.

waterfront properties

Consider Water Depths and Tides

If you have a boat, water depths and tides are important elements to take into account before making your purchase. Depths for different boating preferences, whether pontoon boats, power boats or sailboats vary widely. Look for a waterfront home where you can get your boat out easily or monitor tides. It is also important you inspect the property for both high and low tides to determine the difference in the view. Similarly, you will want to see images of the property during winter months when water views are expansive and during summer and spring when vegetation fills out.

Furthermore, if you are a boater, it is imperative you know where the channels are located as well as any sand bars that may present water depth challenges. If possible, go for a boat ride before making your purchase. Determine how long it takes to get to your favorite cruising or fishing spot. It pays off, in the long run, to be extremely diligent as you examine a potential waterfront homesite for purchase.

waterfront home view

Ensure the Waterfront Home Provides an Uninterrupted Views

Uninterrupted views are vital ingredients to maximizing the value of waterfront properties. Therefore, you should make sure that you are comfortable with any buffer requirements and restrictions on thinning or clearing trees. Mangroves on the shore provide their own set of unique challenges as they carry special protections in the majority of municipalities.  Here in my home of Miami, waterfront properties often have mangrove areas that stabilize limestone sediments and provide a natural protection to storm surges that can happen during tropical storms and hurricanes.  They are tropical trees that have adapted to the salt water and serve as a vital part of a harmonious ecosystem.

Clearing limitations can vary depending on the locality and proximity to the water. To improve your views, consider maximizing your windows on the sides of the home that face the water. The trend of expansive sliding glass floor-to-ceiling windows is here to stay.  They might make climate control costs more expensive on a monthly basis, but they add significant overall value to the property along with an awesome clear view of the water, which many feel is priceless.

lot orientation

Take into Account the Orientation of the Building Envelope of the Lots

Sunrises and sunsets are a valuable waterfront perk, so, make sure that you can situate the footprint of your home to take full advantage. Consider factors such as the lot’s topography, how close to the water you can build, and ease in accessing water. There are pros and cons of a high lot and a lot that slopes gently down to the shoreline. A study of the soil’s contingencies is vital to ensure you have accounted for septic system expenses or additional foundation or footing costs. It is also advisable you request your builder to walk the lot with you before making your purchase. This will ensure that issues not readily apparent are pointed out early.

beautiful pool

Inquire About Maintenance Costs

Aside from initial purchase price, a waterfront home also requires considerable ongoing maintenance. Determine if the maintenance costs are affordable to you. Some people can afford to buy the home, but may have difficulties spending money on emergency or routine maintenance.  Press the seller of the property to be forthcoming with all of the maintenance expenses that they have endured through the years.

sunset on the water

Check the Water Quality

Before buying your waterfront property, make sure the quality of the water meets your personal standards. Remember, while the landscaping of your land can be changed to meet your specifications, water cannot. If you plan to do fishing, find out the native species of species that can survive within your water body. You should also check whether the water is clean and well maintained. Some water bodies emanate bad smells and become a breeding place for mosquitoes and other pests.


Work with an Experienced Realtor

This critical item will help you save money and time.  The realtor should know the fair prices in the neighborhood and be willing to communicate with the listing agent and negotiate the price on your behalf. An experienced real estate agent can help you sort through the complex issues, and help you locate the right waterfront home. They should be organized, detail-oriented and love to negotiate.

Investing in waterfront properties requires common sense, quality research, and an active, investigative mind. With a solid understanding of this guide, you will no doubt have an improved experience buying the waterfront home that is most suited for you without any undesirable surprises.  Follow these steps, and arm yourself with the key knowledge to negotiate the optimal pricing and terms for the acquisition of your dream home.


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About the Author

Kaya Wittenburg

Blog Author and CEO

Kaya Wittenburg is the Founder and CEO of Sky Five Properties. Since the age of 10, real estate has been deeply ingrained into his thoughts. With world-class negotiation and deal-making skills, he brings a highly impactful presence into every transaction that he touches.

He is here to help you use real estate as a vehicle to develop your own personal empire and feel deeply satisfied along the way. If you have an interest in buying, selling or renting property in South Florida, contact Kaya today.

Feel free to call me at: (305) 357-0635
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