Spring House Hunt

Your Second Home: 5 things to know before you purchase a waterfront home

Despite the challenges of purchasing and owning a waterfront home, most homeowners believe the rewards more than compensate for them.

waterfront-home-night-adobe-stock-
Despite the challenges of purchasing and owning a waterfront home, most homeowners believe the rewards more than compensate for them. Adobe Stock

Thinking of buying a waterfront home? Whether your new place fronts an ocean, bay, lake, canal, or creek, it will come with issues and challenges different from inland homes — and they start even before you close. You’ll need additional inspections, additional insurance, and you’ll have additional maintenance obligations to keep your home in shipshape condition. And even if you do everything right, expect the unexpected.

Just ask Sue Kindregan. In 2018, Kindregan and her husband, Kevin, were planning to purchase an oceanfront home in Quincy with “one-of-a-kind” views. The couple were under contract to purchase the home for about $900,000 and about to conduct their home inspection when a major nor’easter hit. The house flooded, water flowed through the windows and roof, and the tide entered the first floor, inundating the garage. “The house was designed to get wet at that level, but what scared me was the water coming through the roof,” Sue said. “It was enough to make me question whether this was where we wanted to be at that price point.”

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The Kindregans backed out of that deal and ended up purchasing a two-story town house fronting Boston Harbor — where the condominium association is responsible for maintaining the outside envelope of the property.

Purchasing and owning a waterfront home is not for the faint of heart. Here are just a few of the issues buyers should anticipate:

1. Lots of inspections. The due diligence on a waterfront home involves more than just traditional home and pest inspections. “I advise clients to go one step further and to hire a structural engineer to look at the structure of the home and also a coastal engineer to look at the seawall,” said Emily Flax, senior broker-associate at Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in Provincetown. In addition to the seawall, the dock and pilings need to be inspected to ensure they are structurally sound. And, because of the constant moisture a waterfront home is subjected to, an environmental inspector should check for mold as well. These inspections can add thousands to the cost of a home.

2. Lack of privacy. Be sure to investigate whether there are easements or rights-of-way on or near the property you’re buying. For example, there might be an easement on the edge that allows the public to access the water. That may affect your use of the property.

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3. High insurance prices — if you can get coverage. If your property is in a hazardous flood zone, your lender will require flood insurance. Even if you pay cash for your home, flood insurance may be a wise investment. But flood insurance can be expensive — ranging from several hundred dollars to thousands, depending on the flood zone, according to Spencer M. Houldin, president of Ericson Insurance Advisors, a broker in Boston. Houldin said that even a standard homeowners insurance policy may be hard to find today in certain coastal areas. “It’s getting really hard to get insurance in Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape,” he said. “A lot of insurance companies are pulling back, and the price of the insurance is escalating at a pretty fast pace.”

4. Frequent and continuous maintenance. Due to their exposure to the wind and water, waterfront homes take a lot of abuse. “The saltwater in the air attacks the wood, the windows, and even the synthetic materials,” said Andrew Franz, an architect in New York City who often works on projects in coastal Massachusetts and Maine. “The salt is highly corrosive, and that affects your brass hardware, your mechanical equipment, and your pipes.” As a result, waterfront homes require constant maintenance — year-round, not just for the summer months when you’re using the property. Mechanical systems, such as air conditioners, have a shorter useful life as well. Even homes on fresh water, such as a lake, are subjected to the elements and need more frequent repair.

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5. The need for professional management. Buyers who can’t check on their waterfront homes regularly — at least weekly, experts say — should consider hiring a property management company to inspect the property routinely. “The three months people tend to use homes are the better-weather months,” said Matthew Cole, president and chief executive officer of Cape Associates, a property management and custom-building firm headquartered in Eastham. “Having a property management company that can take care of the house and proactively schedule maintenance can make it effortless. Somebody’s got to do the work to keep the house in top shape because Mother Nature will take its bite whether you’re there using the house or not.”

Cole said he charges $200 per month to inspect a property weekly; any required work costs extra.

Despite the challenges of purchasing and owning a waterfront home, most homeowners believe the rewards — watching the sun rise or set over the water, an early-morning run on the beach, the serenity of hearing the waves or the tide lapping on the shore — more than compensate for them.

“Go in with your eyes open,” said Flax, the Sotheby’s agent. “These homes do require more maintenance that will cost more, but the benefits of living on the water typically outweigh that.”

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