Buying waterfront property requires special research

Q. After living in Clayton near the mountain, I want to make a lifestyle change. I have a beautiful home here that I am going to sell and move to Southern California on the water. I don’t know much about what it will be like to live on waterfront property. Can you offer some guidance?

A. It’s easy to understand why waterfront property is so appealing, from breathtaking views to endless activities in your backyard. I came up with a few things that you should keep in mind when looking at property.

Do your research: Quite simply, waterfront property is more complicated than your typical piece of land. Elevation is an especially important issue to take into account to ensure that the house isn’t prone to flooding or, for oceanfront property, rising sea levels. Property lines can also be a more complex issue, as some locations consider the shoreline to be public land. This is why it’s crucial to do your due diligence in order to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Consider how you will use it: Waterfront property can vary dramatically and so too can the lifestyle that it delivers. Some homeowners prioritize a sandy beach where they can soak up the sun, while others want a deep water dock to keep a boat or yacht in the backyard or calm, protected waters for kayaking. If you find a home where you’ll want to add a dock, make sure it’s possible to get a permit beforehand.

Extra costs: Living on the water is expensive. From flood insurance to pricey stormproof windows, there are plenty of extra costs that come with the territory. Although a salty sea breeze is one of the perks of living on the ocean, it also takes a toll on the home and corrodes materials, which usually means upkeep and maintenance costs.

Work with a waterfront specialist: Navigating the complexities of waterfront homes can be daunting. It’s certainly important to do your own research, but as you might have heard, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” For this reason, the best resource you can have is a real estate agent who specializes in local waterfront property. Someone who is familiar with both the land and regulations will be the best advocate to have in your corner when searching for the perfect new home on the water.

Q: We are first-time home buyers. As home prices get higher, it becomes increasingly hard to come up with a down payment. How do people do it?

A. Monthly mortgage payments have become more affordable due to the low interest rates. However, down payments still appear to be a roadblock. Saving for a down payment is difficult, especially for first-time buyers. In fact, 40 percent of buyers rely on a gift or loan from friends or family in order to come up with the funds for a down payment.

Saving up 20 percent can be frustrating, but there are lower down payment loans. An FHA loan is 3.5 percent down. If either of you are veterans, you can get a loan with no down payment. Or you can ask the seller for a credit for your closing costs, which can be 1-3 percent.

There are also down payment assistance programs especially for first-time buyers. Find a realtor that can recommend a lender that offers them as these can really help.

It is worth doing whatever you can to find the money for a down payment as soon as possible. As you might sense, the path to homeownership, and the wealth creation and benefits that come with it, could slip away when interest rates go up.

One good bit of news is that the rates are forecast to stay low for most of 2021.

Good luck to you.

Lynne French is a Realtor with Compass Real Estate and captain of the Lynne French Team. Contact her at or 925-672-8787.