Agent

9 blunders to avoid when buying waterfront property

Doing a little homework pays off big in the end
  • Waterfront properties require extra due diligence.
  • Rely on experts when in doubt of next steps.
  • Mistakes made in the buying/selling process can be costly.

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Waterfront property in Virginia offers one of the most desirable places to live. In Hampton Roads, we have an ocean, huge sprawling rivers and scores of smaller lakes, streams and ponds.

Activity on the water can range from the very active to the actively relaxed. Surfing, fishing, boating and sunbathing — pretty much anything you could want is available to you.

So it’s really no surprise that so many people want to invest in their dream of buying waterfront property. And while there are definite deals to be had, due to the demand, waterfront real estate generally has a higher price tag.

In addition to the increased price point, there are also more factors and variables that can complicate a waterfront transaction. So with that in mind, here are our nine most common mistakes made when buying waterfront property.

1. Not getting bulkheads inspected

A bulkhead is a barrier wall that separates the water from the property. The buyer may be responsible for building or repairing a bulkhead, so you will want to hire a certified bulkhead specialist to inspect any bulkhead, or area where a bulkhead should be, to get an idea of what costs are associated.

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For a large bulkhead, the cost can be in the tens of thousands or more.

2. Not being proactive with financing

A typical waterfront property will be more expensive than a similar property that is landlocked. Because of this, many lenders will place waterfront property in the specialty loan category.

These loans will typically take longer to underwrite, so waiting until the last minute to obtain financing will drag the sale out and could jeopardize the deal altogether.

3. Buying a house that is not built to withstand the waterfront

Homes on the water take twice the abuse of a regular home. Homes on the ocean have it especially rough. The salt actually gets thrown into the air when the water evaporates, causing massive rust and oxidation.

Some things to keep an eye out for: Anytime you see metal outside at all, it should be stainless steel (the grill, the gate hardware, the nails on the siding, etc.).

Keep an eye out for features that can help protect the home from weather like storm shutters and homes with a taller foundation.

4. Neglecting to consider flood insurance

Flood insurance can be downright expensive. You should consult a qualified insurance provider to get a quote on flood insurance before making an offer on a property.

A real estate agent who specializes in waterfront property will likely know several good insurance agents to choose from.

Also, be aware of whether the sea level in the area is rising. Will the home require flood mitigation? Take into account that flood insurance premiums will likely be rising.

5. Neglecting to find out if buyers can make improvements to the property

Part of the appeal of waterfront real estate is being able to use the property recreationally. But research should be done to find out what the city will allow regarding construction.

If a waterfront home needs a new dock, but water isn’t deep enough to float a boat, you might be out of luck.

Check and make sure brush and trees can be removed if you want to improve the views. And if the buyers are planning on building a pool or a tennis court, it might be a good idea to check with the city for approval first.

6. Not talking to neighbors

Speaking with neighbors might not seem like an obvious choice, but you might want to consider the opinion of someone who has lived on the same water and understands the issues associated with it.

Neighbors might have some information about a home that your buyers are looking at that could make or break a deal. Check if you can swim in the water and partake in activities that interest your buyers.

7. Not looking into utilities

Many of us take our creature comforts for granted. We buy a house in the city or suburbs and expect adequate sewer, water and electrical services in addition to others.

If buyers are considering a home on the water in a rural area, a huge part of your due diligence should be inquiring about the access of these basic utilities.

A septic tank is usually required by a lender, and a new tank can cost thousands.

8. Not knowing the responsibilities of a waterfront homeowner

If the home is part of an HOA (homeowner’s association) or a POA (property owner’s association), homeowners will have certain responsibilities that are expected of them.

Some of these include what color they can paint the home, whether or not they can install a fence and what type of landscaping is acceptable.

An HOA is not for everyone, so be sure to read the rules and regulations.

9. Not pulling permits on docks and outbuildings  

Just because a dock conveys with the property does not mean that it was permitted and doesn’t necessarily mean that homeowners can use it.

Another big part of due diligence is making sure the dock and any attachment to the land are properly (and legally) permitted.

Take the time to do your homework, and you will be well on your way to helping your homebuyers find the home of their dreams.

Frank and Krissie Cole are Realtors with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate NAG in Virginia. Follow them on Instagram or Twitter.

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