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A homeowner’s guide to owning a beach house in the U.S.

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Picture this: It’s 7 a.m. in the middle of spring, and you’re starting your day off with coffee on your back deck, listening to the sound of the seagulls as the sun rises over your backyard — the ocean. It sounds like a vacation, right? By owning a beach house, this vacation dream becomes a reality you can enjoy daily.

Due to the isolation of the pandemic and the rise in remote work, beach house and vacation home purchases spiked in 2020, and the trend continued into 2021. If you can work from anywhere, why not choose the beach?

Let’s take a step back into your current reality, where you’re likely wondering, “How do you even buy a house on the beach? How much is a beach house? Won’t my homeowners insurance cost more?” This guide will cover all you need to know to prepare yourself for buying a beach house, or you can check out the infographic below for a quick summary.

How to buy a beach house

Buying a beach house isn’t much different from buying a home away from the shore. However, it’s in your best interest to do a little more homework upfront before committing to a beachfront property.

1. Work with a realtor

Buying a home can be intimidating if you aren’t familiar with the process. A real estate agent’s job is to help you find and show you homes and guide you through the process. They, alongside your attorney, are your voice to the seller’s team.

When choosing an agent, you’ll need to find someone local to the city you’re looking to buy in who has experience buying and selling waterfront properties. This way, they know what to look for and which questions to ask.

2. Carefully inspect the property

When touring homes initially, try not to focus your attention on the breathtaking ocean views. Inspect and look for damage. It’s expected that beach houses require more maintenance than a home away from the water. You want to look for signs of corrosion from the sea air or unusual dampness on walls.

Depending on what you find, you might be able to work it into your offer that the seller addresses some of your concerns. If the damage is significant enough, it might be best to move on to the next home.

3. Hire a land surveyor

Once your offer is accepted on a home, you begin the due diligence process, starting with an inspection and appraisal. At this time, you can also hire a land surveyor.

There are two things to hire a surveyor for when purchasing a beach home — to check the stability of the shoreline and outline the property. You should research the shoreline’s history before putting an offer in on a beach house, but a surveyor can confirm if there is current erosion or rapidly changing sea levels.

Additionally, you might also request a property survey, or outline of your land. This is important so you know which trees are on your property, giving you the right to trim or remove them to avoid falling branches during hurricane season.

4. Visit the property multiple times

If you’re able to, visit the property during different times of the day and week from when you first toured the home. If you went during the morning on a weekday, drive by on a weekend afternoon or evening. You’ll be able to see the house’s outdoor lighting, get an idea of how busy the area is and potentially learn a little more about your new neighbors.

Pros and cons of owning a beach house

Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway from a busy urban life or a serene home to work remotely, owning a beach house could be a great investment. The perks might be obvious, but the disadvantages aren’t something to gloss over. If you’re considering this permanent vacation lifestyle, you need to know what you’re walking into.

 Pros and cons of owning a beach house

Advantages of owning and living in a beach house

For many, owning a beach house is a lifelong dream, and it’s easy to see why. There are many perks of living on the beach, even if only for vacations. Let’s cover a few pros:

  • Improved mental health: People who live on or near water face less stress and anxiety and are generally happier. The phenomenon might be partially explained by color psychology. Blues and cool tones, similar to the shades of the ocean, induce serenity.
  • Increased vitamin D: Forty-two percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient. So long as you protect yourself with sunblock, the sun’s rays are great for boosting vitamin D levels.
  • Positive physical health benefits: The sea air, full of salt, iodine and magnesium, aids in asthma symptoms, respiratory health, skin issues and allergies.
  • Plenty of things to do: There’s always something to do — swimming, beach yoga, surfing, dolphin watching and so on. Unless your beach is private, you’ll have many entertainment opportunities right in front of your house, like beach concerts, boardwalks, etc.
  • Cutting utility costs: You might be able to cut summer cooling costs and avoid running air conditioning 24/7 by letting the ocean breeze blow through open windows.
  • Growing market value: In most cases, the already high property value continues to grow over time, meaning if you ever sell, you should walk away with a profit.

If you are purchasing a beachfront property as a second house or investment property, there are a few additional benefits:

  • You always have a vacation spot with free accommodations
  • You can earn passive income by renting the property out
  • You can claim business tax breaks for owning a rental property
  • You don’t need to pack extensively when vacationing

Disadvantages of owning and living in a beach house

At this point, owning a beachfront property likely sounds like a no-brainer. However, it’s not always as peaceful as the ocean breeze blowing back the curtains in an open window. It’s essential to be realistic about the disadvantages of buying a beach house to determine if it’s the best decision for you. A few cons are:

  • Higher property maintenance demands: Typically, this includes lawn care, replacing air filters, retiring broken appliances and so on. However, maintenance is much more involved for houses on the beach due to environmental factors.
  • Higher mortgage rates: For second homes or investment properties, rates are typically higher since lenders view the property as risky since it’s not occupied full time. Even if you live in the beach house full time, you might have a higher rate than you would for a home inland. Condos also have higher rates as well as single-family houses right on the beach.
  • Higher home insurance rates: Insurance rates are also higher on beach houses. This is because the location is riskier, requiring more coverage than a house not on the coast. Plus, if your beach house won’t be your primary residence, second home insurance policies have special considerations that might also make coverage more expensive or come with specific criteria.

Additionally, if you plan on leasing out your beachfront property as a vacation rental and don’t live nearby, you’ll need to pay someone else for day-to-day property management. Their responsibilities would be regular property maintenance and cleaning after guests.

How much is a house on the beach?

Beach houses typically have higher price tags than you’d find inland, but the elevated rates don’t end at the purchase price. The extra costs you’d expect to pay for a house anywhere, like maintenance, taxes and insurance, are often higher for a beachfront property. Let’s go through some of these fees and what they might run you.

 Costs of buying and maintaining a beach house

Market value

Location is a major factor in a home’s market value. Where a house is located in the country and particular state and city is part of the equation, as is the home’s surrounding area, like whether it’s on a beach or even has surf break access.

Houses on the water on the West Coast are typically priced higher than those on the East Coast. The most affordable beach houses can be found on the northern East Coast, as the location is not ideal compared to houses on Florida’s southern beaches.

For example, you can find single-family homes in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for less than $200,000, whereas small condos on the beach in Miami, Florida, could cost around $1 million. However, all states have more affordable beaches in less populated areas.

Within California itself, the northern beaches are more affordable to live on than the southern ones. You’ll likely spend at least $1 million for a house on the water in California, but the most desirable views can reach $50 million to $100 million.

Beachfront property insurance

Homeowners insurance coverage for beachfront properties is much more expensive than policies for a house inland. This is because insurance providers consider beach houses risky due to extreme seaside weather and coastal erosion.

Beach houses often require additional or special coverage. For example, mandated flood insurance is common due to hurricane possibilities, especially on the East Coast. Your beachfront property might also qualify for high-value homeowners insurance, which in some cases includes higher liability limits.

Maintenance costs

For a primary house, it’s recommended to put aside 1% of the home’s value for annual maintenance costs. However, for a beach house, which requires more regular maintenance, you might want to consider budgeting for a little more.

Being exposed to the ocean’s elements can take a toll on a house. The salty air and humidity can rust metal doors, windows, motor vehicles and outdoor equipment. Strong winds can damage the house and outdoor equipment over time, and the humid air and coastal rains can trap dampness, resulting in mold. The costs of preventing or fixing these issues vary. Every year, set a time to run through a home maintenance checklist to minimize worsening problems.

Additionally, living on the beach means you need to anticipate natural disasters and severe weather and the damage it can cause to your home. Tropical storms set records in 2020. U.S. coastlines were hit with seven Category 3 or higher hurricanes, four Category 1 or higher landfalling hurricanes and 16 other tropical storms in the same year. Hurricanes bring strong wind damage and major flooding that you need to prepare for.

 How to prepare yourself and home for coastal weather

Extra costs

When buying a house, it may seem like costs just continue adding up. Thankfully, many of these costs are initial fees. However, you might face some recurring costs depending on the property you purchase.

  • Homeowners association (HOA): An HOA is a self-governing group within a community that makes and enforces the rules in their neighborhood. An HOA’s goal is typically to maintain a particular image within the community. Homeowners in an HOA community are expected to pay monthly fees, which averaged $250 for a single-family home in 2021.
  • Boat and dock fees: If you own a boat but don’t have a private dock at your property, you’ll need a slip for your boat at another dock or even a yacht club membership. Slip fees cost at least a few thousand dollars each year. If you have a private dock, your HOA might still charge a boat fee.
  • Property management: If you plan to use your house as a vacation rental, you’ll need to pay someone else to maintain your property. Expect to pay property managers between 8% and 12% of the monthly rent.

Where to buy a beach house

So now that you’ve decided you’re ready to fulfill your dream of owning a house next to the sea, it’s time to figure out where you’d like it to be. Where you buy is likely to be influenced by what type of weather you’re looking for, what you can afford and what special neighborhood amenities you’d like. Let’s look into the different coastal regions in the U.S.

  • North Atlantic Coast: This area covers Maine to Maryland and all the states in between. It’s ideal for those who love winter but want to be near the ocean during the summer months. The most affordable beach homes in the country are located here.
  • South Atlantic Coast: From Virginia to eastern Florida, beaches here are full of golden sand and cool, refreshing water. If you live somewhere with harsh winters you’d like to escape from, this area might be for you.
  • The Gulf of Mexico: Surrounded by western Florida all the way to Texas, the Gulf of Mexico’s beaches boast white sand and warm, clear blue water. This area is another great option for more affordable beach houses but with beautiful weather year-round.
  • South Pacific Coast: The only state along the southern Pacific coast is California, which is known for its massive and expensive beach houses. Beaches from San Diego to Santa Barbara are full of secluded homes along the sand and rocky cliffs.
  • Pacific Northwest Coast: The coastlines of Northern California, Oregon and Washington are all very different — from pebble-lined shores to sandy beaches. If you love wooded hikes and a slow pace of living and are looking for an affordable beach home, the Pacific Northwest might be perfect.
 Three affordable places to buy a beach house

While some regions are more affordable than others to buy a beach house in, it’s to be expected that owning a house on the beach is not cheap. The house itself comes with a higher price and the necessary maintenance and insurance costs are higher than you’d find on a home inland. To save on insurance policies, compare homeowners coverage rates online.

 Your guide to buying a beach house

Sources: Ready | Realtor

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