Whether on a river, bay, lake or ocean, waterfront living is often the goal of buyers looking for a relaxing escape from the daily grind. Although waterfront homes come in many shapes and sizes, they all share the common symbols of luxury and serenity.
“It’s like living in paradise all year ‘round,” says Michelle Vessels, associate broker with Long & Foster in College Park, Md. She says many homeowners are drawn to the relaxing sound of the water as well as sailing, fishing, crabbing or just soaking up the sun.
Living close to the water definitely has its perks, but buying a waterfront property includes special considerations.
While the view and the waterfront are valuable aspects of the property, Realtors advise buyers to research a waterfront home before making a decision.
They say it’s tempting to see a waterfront home and base all impressions and value on a “pretty view.” Buyers should understand that experienced appraisers say value is placed on such concerns as whether the home has an eastern or western exposure, how much waterfront the home has and the depth of the water.
“It’s hard to put a 63-foot boat in two feet of water, so the depth of the water has a lot to do with how the property is valued,” says Rich Cotton, broker and owner of Exit Realty Chesapeake Bay in Chesapeake City, Md.
Mr. Cotton specializes in waterfront homes and sells in Kent and Cecil counties on the Eastern Shore. Many of his buyers are looking for a second or third home that could evolve into their retirement home.
In addition to the view and the depth of the water, location also is a consideration when purchasing a waterfront property, says Lori Gough, associate broker with Prudential Carruthers Realtors in Annapolis.
“Location and elevation are important. Always ask how the home fared during Hurricane Isabel [in 2003] to help determine whether there may be issues in the future,” she says.
Miss Gough tells prospective homebuyers also to learn whether the home sits on protected waterfront, meaning new construction will never block it.
Russ Hughes, a broker with Wave Realty and MDReal.com in Middle River, Md., tells his clients that in addition to the depth of the water, the value of the waterfront property depends on its access to other bodies of water, such as the Chesapeake Bay, and the quality of the water.
In addition, prospective buyers often assume that the waterfront is theirs for the taking when buying a waterfront home. Sometimes, however, owning a property that’s on the water doesn’t necessarily mean you have exclusive use of the shoreline. Buyers should learn whether the property they’re considering has riparian or nonriparian rights.
Riparian rights refer to the rights the property owner has to use or restrict others’ use and access to the water. Nonriparian waterfront often means a homeowner has access to the water but it is limited.
“Some of the best deals are found with nonriparian waterfront properties, where the community owns the waterfront,” Miss Gough says. “You can enjoy the big views and allow the community to maintain the pier at the community marina, an alternative for some that can be less costly and easier to manage,” she says.
While the views may be captivating and the surroundings dreamy, waterfront homes are not insulated from the woes of the housing market. Miss Vessels says waterfront properties have faced the same challenges in recent years as other types of real estate.
Mr. Hughes agrees, adding, “Waterfront properties, like all properties, went through a bubble, and they escalated unrealistically pricewise.”
Some Realtors say the price decreases in waterfront homes have not been as significant as in other sectors, though. The current buyer’s market can mean there are good deals to be had on waterfront properties.
“While they’re nothing like the good prices of the ‘90s, the prices today are better than they have been in recent years,” Mr. Hughes says. “There are more waterfront properties on the market now, which makes it a good time to buy.”
In Maryland so far this year, 160 waterfront homes have sold and settled, according to Mr. Hughes. He says that number is less than half what it was at this time last year, when there were 363 transactions involving waterfront homes.
“If people have money and the confidence that they will be able to replace the money they spend, then they’ll spend. If they don’t have confidence, then they save it,” Mr. Hughes says.
Waterfront properties will always be in demand because you can’t make more waterfront, Miss Gough says. “Certain areas are more attractive than others, and the market will dictate the value accordingly.”
For buyers looking to purchase a waterfront property, Miss Vessels suggests that they determine their primary reasons for wanting a home on the water. “By determining your reasons, you can stay focused on the right body of water to accommodate your particular needs and interests,” she says.