6 Questions You Need to Ask When Buying Waterfront Property

Questions to Ask Before Buying a Waterfront Home

Waterfront property is a joy for many homeowners. The ability to walk out of the house and directly onto the water is quite appealing, and many want to make this living style a permanent option.

However, owning a waterfront property is not always easy. Waterfront homes can be more expensive to purchase, insure, and maintain. Some properties offer a lot of freedom for homeowners to do what they like, while others may set strict limits to water access. Here are six questions to ask before purchasing a waterfront home.

Can I Build a Dock if There Isn't One?

Building or using a dock on a waterfront might not be as simple as it seems. Even waterfront homes with a well-built, well-kept dock may not permit the use of one. Homeowners should investigate their options for building a dock and confirm that any existing dock has the correct permits.

Because government entities could control the water (and, in some cases, own the land near the water), homeowners may want to invest time in researching the rules before they start looking for a property. It is often easier to limit the search to properties that meet the buyer's expectations than figure out what is allowed after the purchase.

What Are My Waterfront Ownership Rights?

Buying a waterfront home does not necessarily guarantee water rights—it depends on the body of water and the entity controlling it. Water usage rights involve several concerns, such as:

  • Access to the water near the owner's land and beyond
  • Types of watercraft residents can put on the water
  • How much water landowners can remove for other uses

Homes on a lake may have different water usage rights than those on a river or stream.

What Is Waterfront Home Maintenance Like?

Ensuring good condition for a waterfront home can significantly differ from a house not near water. When buying a waterfront property, buyers may want to request additional inspections of the dock, sea wall, bulkhead, and other features next to the water, as these homes can be more susceptible to flooding and erosion. They are also more likely to sustain damage from excessive moisture or salt exposure. Therefore, homeowners should consider siding replacement options and roof maintenance more often than they would for other homes and treat outdoor wood features more frequently.

How's the Shoreline?

Different Types of Shoreline Appeal to Different Homeowners

Before selecting a property, buyers should decide on the type of shoreline they desire. Waterfront homes provide some degree of shoreline, but the quality varies significantly. Therefore, it is essential to examine the individual property, as the surface can change depending on where the home is located on the body of water.

For example, someone who wants a white, sandy beach to sit on and watch the sunset may not be as happy with a shore full of tall grasses and weeds. By comparison, a buyer looking for a classic riverfront property ideal for bird-watching or fishing might not be pleased with an open expanse of sand and rocks.

Will I Be Able to Do the Activities I Want?

Water activities depend on local guidelines and the body of water. Some waterways make finding a place to swim or boat easy, while others render it nearly impossible. The entity controlling the water could set limits on the types of watercraft. Protected bodies of water may not permit any access.

In some cases, buyers must decide based on factors that can change over time, like water quality. For example, someone who wants to see clear water for an enjoyable view or activities like snorkeling may need to view the water at various times throughout the day. Before planning to swim, fish, or spend time on the water, buyers might want to arrange for water testing.

Should I Get Additional Insurance?

Insuring a waterfront home can be more complex than other property types. For waterfront homes at higher risk of flooding, homeowners may need to carry a policy through the National Flood Insurance Program. Regular home insurance policies usually do not offer coverage for flooding due to natural disasters, so adding this coverage may be necessary.

While considering insurance options, buyers should research the type of compensation offered by their insurance. Some policies provide fair market value, while others will pay for a full replacement. The market value of the structure and the belongings inside it depends on age, condition, and other factors. Full replacement value often provides higher coverage and usually costs more.

Choosing a Waterfront Home

Selecting a waterfront home requires a lot of research from buyers. First, they must narrow down what they expect to do with the property. They should consider the activities they want to do on the water and the type of shoreline they need. Next, buyers must research the guidelines for each body of water and decide if it will be a good fit for their goals. Finally, buyers must examine the individual property to determine its limits and if they can do what they want within their water usage rights. This information can provide an excellent basis for a final decision.

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