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Important Considerations for Waterfront Vacation Properties
The following information is provided by the Center for REALTOR® Development (CRD).
 
Whether located near an ocean, river, or lake, real estate practitioners should know the considerations that go into choosing waterfront vacation properties.
 
Proximity and Access
Proximity and access to the water are main value determinants. Property that abuts the water, without another lot or a road between it and the waterfront, can command a premium. Waterside property, separated from the waterfront by a road or easement, ranks second in value. Water-view property ranks next; it may be separated from the actual waterfront by roads or other lots but still has a view of an ocean, river, or lake. A semi-view property has a partially obstructed view.
 
Riparian Rights
Riparian rights, based on old English common law, define the rights of access and use enjoyed by an owner whose property abuts a natural body of water. Generally, owners (called riparians), have the right of access, the right to install a dock, anchor a boat, use water from the lake or river for domestic purposes, and control access across their land by others (nonriparians). Uniformity of riparian rights among the states cannot be assumed, and some states do not recognize riparian rights at all. It is important to know about local regulations regarding public and private access to water. It will impact the value of a property if it has a water view, but the owner has to drive several miles to reach an accessible swimming beach or launch a boat. On the other hand, if local regulations require access to the water across private property, the owners must be comfortable with others crossing their land, as well as swimming and boating in front of their properties.
 
Matching the Location to Intended Activities
Intended activities must be a good match for the environment. For example, if a property owner plans an active lifestyle of water skiing and sport fishing, an area that restricts the use of powerboats will not be suitable.
 
High Ground
Elevation is a factor for high water, storm surges, and drainage (including septic drainage); a gentle slope down to the water's edge is best because it eliminates the need for retaining walls.
 
Dock Space
Dock space is a sought-after amenity for boat owners. Even buyers who do not own boats attach high value to this feature because it increases the value of a property.
 
Water Levels and Temperature
Changing water levels can be a factor in choosing a property. High and low tides are a natural and predictable part of oceanfront living. Rivers and lakes, on the other hand, depend on springs, snowmelt, and runoff for maintaining water levels. If a system of locks and dams controls a river's flow, opening of dams downriver can cause dramatic drops in water levels upstream. Low water in channels can restrict navigation, expose mudflats and rocks, as well as leave boats and docks high and dry. Exposed gravel beaches and sandbars can damage boats. In addition, water temperature is an important factor for swimmers. Lakes fed by snowmelt can be too chilly for swimming even in warm weather.
 
Navigation Obstructions
Navigation obstruction is a major consideration for boaters. A low bridge, underwater tunnels, spillways, or overhead power lines all can obstruct boat navigation or limit the size of boats. Some obstructions are not so obvious, like low water, silted canals and channels, or shifting sandbars. Buyers should check for obstructions upstream and downstream for several miles and at access points to larger bodies of water—the ocean, inlets, rivers, and bays.
 
Beach Erosion and Migration
Imagine selling a beachfront home to a buyer who wakes up one morning to find the beach has been washed away! Beach erosion and migration resulting from development or seasonal variations are ongoing problems in many oceanfront locations. Beach alteration can vary from a few inches to several feet per year. In addition, some seasonal ocean beaches narrow in the winter and widen in the summer when wave action is gentler. Practitioners who know about natural beach cycles can help buyers understand natural environmental occurrences.
 
Boat Mooring, Anchorage and Navigation
State and local regulations on boat anchorage, navigation rights, no-wake zones, and moorings are an important issue for the recreational boaters who may be your clients. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers maintains inland waterway navigation and the U.S. Coast Guard maintains the security and safety of coastlines. A combination of federal, state, and local laws regulates coastal and inland navigable waters. Which law prevails? Experts in the area of marine law would say all regulations, whether federal, state, or local, must be observed.
 
Houseboat Communities
Another aspect of the anchorage issue is live-aboard houseboat communities, which tend to use berthing sites intensely. In some areas, such as Seattle and Sausalito, floating homes are an established part of the housing scene. These floating homes, which have no means of self-propulsion, pay a monthly berthage fee to dock in marinas and have permanent hookups to utilities, water, and sewer facilities. At the other end of the floating home spectrum are the "guerilla" houseboat communities that grow informally in coastal inlets and marinas, such as along the Florida Keys. Social tensions can flare up when houseboat and neighbors' lifestyles are separated by a wide social and economic gap.
 
For more education about the second-home and resort market, check out this month's featured online course at the Center for REALTOR® Development, Home Sweet (Second) Home: Vacation, Investment, Luxury Properties, which is the educational requirement for NAR's Resort and Second-Home Property Specialist (RSPS) certification.
 
For more information, visit onlinelearning.realtor.

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