What You Need To Know Before Buying Waterfront Property

Everyone has fantasized about owning their own little slice of land by the water. While living next to an ocean or lake is appealing, buying waterfront property comes with complications that other land types don’t have. Here is what you need to know before buying waterfront property.

Buying Waterfront Property: Know The Rules and Regulations

One of the most important things to know about buying waterfront property is knowing the rules and regulations that control what you can (and can’t) do with the land.

“When searching for the right waterfront property, there are many things you should verify when doing your due diligence,” says Christina Asbury, ALC, with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage. “The first is that the land is buildable, and that you can meet any additional setbacks, buffers, or zoning requirements from local, state, or federal agencies.”

Regulations surrounding waterfront properties can be very tight, and can impact everything from what you can do in the water to what sort of structures you can build on the land. Here are just a few questions you should ask before buying waterfront property:

  • Do I have access to the water?
  • Are there speed or height restrictions for boats?
  • Can I build out onto the water?
  • Are there permits required for fishing on the water or using it for recreational purposes?
  • What are the insurance requirements?
  • Are water vehicles (such as jet skis) allowed on the water?

fishing boat on lake

You should also find out if you would be responsible for maintaining the bulkhead. A bulkhead is a wall that separates a property from the water. In some areas, the property owners are responsible for maintaining the bulkheads. This can be an expensive hidden cost that some buyers can’t afford. If you are expected to pay for the bulkhead’s maintenance, be sure to have an expert inspect the bulkhead to see what sort of condition it is in.

Buying Waterfront Property: Flood Risk

“Always consider [the property’s] flood risk and plan accordingly,” recommends Asbury. Properties by water have a much higher chance of being impacted by flooding or other natural disasters. Land in high-risk flood areas can stand to take a serious toll on their long-term value if disaster strikes. Because waterfront property is at such a high-risk for water-related damages, the insurance for these properties can be so high, the cost alone often drives buyers away.

Buying Waterfront Property: Understand That Things Change

Over time, rising or falling water levels can alter the shape of property and change how much land you have access to. Changing rules surrounding water use and endangered animals could also impact how you use your land.

“Waterfront properties are some of our most important natural resources and conservation buffers, so plan ahead for endangered species, wetlands, or other mitigating factors that could influence your plans for the future,” says Asbury.

Identifying parts of the land that could qualify for restrictions down the line can help you plan the layout of your land accordingly. If you are worried about water swallowing up all the usable land on your property, researching the history of the shoreline might give you a clue as to what to expect from the property in the future.

lake house

Between beautiful views and the chance for outdoor recreational fun, waterfront properties will always be in high demand. Being aware of the costs and risks that come with buying waterfront property can help you make the best choice for your when you buy your next property. 

If you are thinking about buying waterfront property, be sure to use our Find A Land Consultant tool to find a qualified land expert in your area to get the best deal on the land and make sure you are considering all factors.

About the Author: Laura Barker is a freelance writer based out of California for the REALTORS® Land Institute. She has been with RLI since October 2017.

8 replies
  1. Rachel Frampton
    Rachel Frampton says:

    I’ve been planning to purchase a house, that’s why I’m currently looking for a real estate company that may introduce waterfront homes. I’m glad you shared this; I’ll keep in mind to ask the following questions such as the water access and if there’ll be speed limitations for the boat since I love water sports so much. Also, I’ll make sure to plan ahead for endangered species, and wetlands that may affect my future plans.

    • Intrigued
      Intrigued says:

      Rachel, you seem to be quite busy. I’ve noticed your comments on so many blogs that lead to a site offering the exact service you’ve realised to now need. You use geotagging, commenting, and so forth so that the company you are associated with shows up on the results page- without putting in the work.
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      – because of your blog post- because of her comment.
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  2. Zoe Campos
    Zoe Campos says:

    Thank you for reminding me to check about the rules and regulations that surround our waterfront property. We live next to a lake, so we’re thinking of renting a fishing boat next week so we could enjoy this activity with our kids. I’ll follow your advice and check if there are any limits regarding water activities.

  3. Alice Carroll
    Alice Carroll says:

    You made a good point that the changing of the tides matters a lot when it comes to waterfront properties. I’ve always wanted to buy a home near a lake so that I can potentially go boating for fun. I think the changing of the tides would actually make things more interesting because it makes the appearance of the property more dynamic.

  4. Franklin White
    Franklin White says:

    Thanks for pointing out how waterfront properties will always be on high demand because of how much fun they are. I really want to get a beachfront property but I was going to wait a while to buy one. I don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity so I’ll go look at buying one now because of how high demand they are.

  5. karen neillands
    karen neillands says:

    I would like to know if there are any private 55+ communities with private resale homes with spectacular Lake views. Serenity is what I want, not a lot of motor boats. Anything close to Lake Lanier would be perfect.

  6. Lease
    Lease says:

    Last year my brother in law purchased a waterfront property in abudabhi but the authority restricted so many things like they are not allowed to go in water whenever they want they have access to the water for only certain amount of time in a day, which is not good. Thank you for the information.

  7. Calculator
    Calculator says:

    Thank you so much for this information. The post is very interactive, I read this on a train, and even with a lot of loudness, I was able to read the whole post. So great article.


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