What to know before buying a waterfront vacation home

Waterfront property, like this one at 313 Dune Road in Bridgehampton (yours for $24.95 million), is highly desirable—but know your responsibilities before buying right on the ocean.


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We don’t have to tell you about the wonders of owning waterfront property: the views, easy access to swimming, sailing, surfing, the views. But owning a piece of paradise is not for the faint of heart. Here, a few important factors to consider before buying a house by the water:

Water access: Just because the property belongs to you, doesn’t mean the water does, too. The deed to the land will define how much of the water—and the sand in front of it—is “yours,” but you will need to confirm with the municipality in which the house sits what ownership entails. If your broker hasn't supplied your with a deed, you can obtain one from the county clerk. "If you’re buying on a lake or creek, for example, can you install a dock? Floating or moored? What about a boathouse?" says Jerry M. Feeny, a New York real estate lawyer. "Ocean and bay beaches are usually public access (though not via your property) but if you buy on or near a reservoir, you may or may not be able to access the water at all (say, for example, if it supplies a nearby city)." 

Flooding: Waterfront property is especially vulnerable to rising water (think flooding). Since standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding, if you buy a home in an area that's high risk, and have a mortgage from a federally insured or regulated lender, you must have flood insurance. But even if you don't have a mortgage, it’s a good idea to have it. (Insurance in a lower-risk areas runs about $750/year.) Insurance in high-risk areas, however, are determined on a case by case basis, taking variables such as elevation and building construction into account. "Most waterfront communities in New York State participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, which is administered by FEMA, and offers flood insurance to homeowners," says Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage, an insurance firm (and, fyi, a Brick sponsor). That said, flood insurance is typically limited to the building itself and the mechanicals (furnace, hot water tank, etc.), not necessarily its contents or amenities such as decks, pools, tennis courts, and the like. And if the land on which the house sits should become compromised (too waterlogged to build upon or, worst case scenario, under water) you may not be able to rebuild at all.

Building: Want a pool or tennis court to go with your beachfront property? Make sure to check into whether you can actually build or make changes to your waterfront home. Waterfront properties are dealt with individually, says Arlene Reckson of Corcoran in Amagansett. Just because a neighbor has a pool doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to have one, too. "Buying a waterfront fixer-upper may be better than purchasing virgin land as it may have structures or clearing that is grandfathered onto the land while virgin land may not be as buildable by current codes," she says. To find out, obtain a survey of the property from the town. Besides accurate info about the size of the property, it will outline the boundaries of the main house as well as any accessory structures, like a pool, garage, pooh house, shed, etc.  

The elements: Moisture in the air, bright sunlight, strong winds, and saltwater can all take a toll on the house itself (not to mention your belongings inside it), subjecting it to corrosion, mold and mildew that may require more frequent maintenance and/or replacement in order to keep your home in good condition—and enjoyable for years to come.  


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