Buying Waterfront Properties – What You Should Know Before Taking the Plunge
Living on the Water Is a Lifestyle
Enjoying direct and private access to the water is typically the primary motivator for buyers seeking a waterfront property. As such, it’s really important to consider how you intend to use your waterfront. For example, if you’re a boater, evaluate the moorage at the property. Is the water deep enough for your particular type of boat? Is there a boat lift to keep the boat out of the water when not in use, or do you plan to dry dock for the winter? If you’re a swimmer, is the lakeshore accessible to wade in, or do you have to jump off a dock or platform? If you have jet skis, sail boats or other water toys, is there a place to store them or moor them? If you’re looking forward to peaceful days on your stand-up paddle board, is the water in front of your home typically choppy or calm? When you entertain, is there ample parking for guests or space for visitors to tie up their boats on your dock?
Your directional orientation will also impact your waterfront living experience. East-facing waterfront will allow you to enjoy wonderful sunrises. If you prefer sunsets, west-facing waterfront is preferable. South-facing properties generally enjoy light all day but can also experience more direct weather.
Focus on the Property More than the House
The golden rule of real estate, “location, location, location,” is even more true when considering a waterfront property. The ratio of land value to total property value is generally higher in waterfront properties. You can always update and change your home, but you cannot change the location. Consider especially the following features of the property:
- View. One of the great perks of being on the water is enjoying the beautiful views. Understand if your view is protected by CC&Rs or view easements. If there are any view-obstructing trees or structures, identify whose property they are on and your ability to maintain your view.
- Proximity to the Water. If the home is not close to the shoreline, consider how you’ll access the water. If you plan to entertain lakeside, think about how you’ll get food, beverages and supplies down to the waterfront easily.
- Privacy. The property’s feeling of privacy usually corresponds to its waterfront frontage. The larger your waterfront frontage, the more buffer you’ll have from your neighbors.
- Topography of the Land. Is the waterfront property on a level lot or a steep slope? Access to the water is easier on a flat lot – many lakefront lots are steep and can be difficult to get up and down to. Again, this impacts the value of the property.
Understand What You Can and Can’t Do with the Property
Waterfront properties are subject to additional regulations and codes from various local, state and federal agencies. There are very strict regulations on shoreline development. If the property requires a new dock or bulkhead, it’s important to know that this can be a very challenging process given the multiple government agencies involved. These limitations are likely to get even more restrictive in the near future as the shoreline regulations are being updated. Sooner is better than later in applying for any permits related to docks, bulkheads and changes to the shoreline.
Finally, if you’re planning to build or significantly remodel, do a thorough feasibility analysis given city codes and shoreline regulations. New construction often cannot be built as close to the water as the existing structure under current code. In addition to meeting with the city, engage an architect and builder who have significant experience building waterfront properties in your area to help advise you about what likely limitations there are on your particular parcel.
Every Waterfront Property Is Unique – Learn the Nuances
Living on the water means that you have an additional set of factors to consider concerning your waterfront experience. For example, what is the boating traffic like in front of your home? Is it a busy channel or near a favorite fishing spot where boaters tend to congregate? Look closely at the properties of your waterfront neighbors: is there a tear-down next door so there will likely be a construction barge in front of you for the next few years? Does your neighbor have a huge yacht moored all summer that blocks your view? Is there a public beach nearby or community club that will cause noise late into the evenings?
If you’re considering shared waterfront, be especially thorough in understanding your rights and ownership interests. Some shared waterfront properties have a specifically deeded boat slip, though many others share an interest in a community dock. The system for moorage assignment and rotation can often lead to contention among neighbors, so it’s important to learn as much as you can about how the shared waterfront and is handled in your neighborhood.
There is a reason that owning a waterfront home is a life-long dream for so many people – it brings an extraordinary lifestyle. As a significant financial investment and very unique type of real estate, it’s especially critical to engage professionals who understand the complex issues inherent in waterfront properties. Equipped with the right expertise, guidance and knowledge, you’ll be ready to turn to your waterfront dream into a reality.
Kelly Weisfield is a Premier Properties Director and works out of the Windermere Real Estate Mercer Island office. She has the privilege of helping her clients with waterfront, view and luxury homes on both sides of Lake Washington. Prior to becoming a real estate agent in 2011, she was an attorney for 11 years.
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