So you want to live on the water? What does that mean to you? For some people, especially here in Maine, it means oceanfront. For others it may mean lakefront and some are not picky, they just want water, even a stream will do! Obviously the cost of buying a lakefront home might be much less than that of a shorefront home, especially if you intend to buy a “camp”—what we Mainers call a seasonal cottage on a lake or pond. Will this be your primary residence or a summer getaway? Do you have a boat? A yacht? A kayak or canoe? I’ll tell you one thing, if you plan to swim you might want to stick with a home on a lake or pond; the ocean temperatures around Acadia National Park, in Bar Harbor, Maine, rarely get above 62 degrees Fahrenheit…and that’s in AUGUST! These are all things you might consider before searching for waterfront property, but there are many more things to think about.
Here are 5 issues worth considering:
1. Fresh water or salt water?
Fresh water can be anything from a stream to a river or a pond to a lake. Maine has many beautiful lakes of varying size that offer a myriad of housing options. A popular choice for a Maine summer getaway is a "camp." Generally this is a seasonal structure on a lake or pond that may be rustic in style, offering a bedroom or two, perhaps a sleeping loft, and a kitchen and living room. Often camps also have a porch that may be screened-in to keep the mosquitos and black flies out. Believe me, you'll want a screened-in porch in Maine! Many have bathrooms, but some do not. People generally use camps in the summer but those that have a woodstove or fireplace to take off the spring and fall chill are considered three-season cottages. Owners of these camps sometimes use them in the winter for a hunting or snowmobiling trip.
Lakefront homes can also be used for year-round living and while some retain a rustic aesthetic, there are many that offer the latest amenities and modern designs.
Salt water is obviously the ocean, and Maine sure does have a lot of oceanfront—3,748 miles! That’s more than California! Oceanfront homes are usually pricier than lakefront homes. Here on Mount Desert Island, there are entire villages that come alive in the summer when people return to their shorefront homes. In fact, Bar Harbor became well known as a popular summer colony filled with hotels and wealthy Americans who built massive Oceanside homes. These days there are many options for living on the ocean both here on MDI, on the outer islands, and in nearby villages.
There are generally two types of oceanfront properties: one with a beach and one with a rocky shore.
If you choose a tidal property it often includes some kind of beach. Here in this part of Maine that beach is usually rocky, although the size of the rocks can vary. And even the rocky ones have nice sand to walk on at low tide. There are some really beautiful rocks along the coast, interesting tidal pools, and even the occasional seal or porpoise sighting.
If you choose a property perched high up from the water you will often have dramatic vistas and the fun of climbing, if you are into that. If you are lucky, you might even have a trail carved out that leads from the shore up to your house.
2. Docks and moorings
If you have or plan to buy a boat, you will definitely want to consider how you will store and use that vessel. Many freshwater locations already have an existing dock, and that is good news if you like to canoe, kayak, or fish. If you are purchasing a property without an existing dock be prepared for a comprehensive approval process. Installing a new dock usually involves DEP and town planning board approval, hiring an engineer, and paperwork. Your buyer broker can help you with the details or even make your contract contingent on dock approval.
If you have a larger boat you’ll need to consider the boat draft—the distance between the waterline and the keel—in determining whether you can use a plain old dock or if you will need a deep-water dock. You can walk from your boat to your house by way of a deep-water dock.
Again, this would be an option for a larger boat. A mooring secures the boat off shore and will require a small tender to bring you to the shore.
While everyone from away (those folks not born in Maine) thinks Maine is part of the Arctic Circle, it really isn’t. It is often more temperate that many other New England locations, especially here on Mount Desert Island. For sure, Maine is not nearly as harsh as states that border the Great Lakes. So while we do have the occasional harsh winter, like the one we had this year, it is more often rather uneventful.
That being said if you are considering a seasonal home on the water, there are issues with which you should concern yourself. Be sure to board up windows before winter, especially on your lakeside cabin. This is for security from intruders and protection from the elements and falling trees. You may also want to winterize the home which may include steps like pouring anti-freeze in your drain to prevent the pipes from freezing.
If your home is oceanside a maintenance plan will be predicated on your location. For example, if you are close to the water you may need a regular exterior cleaning to wash away salt deposits. Or perhaps you will have certain storm tasks that involve moving/securing boats or equipment.
Not only do you want to know how much you’re getting, you’ll want to understand your town’s Land Use Zoning Ordinances. Zone ordinances are used to control and direct development in a particular municipality. Fortunately your buyer broker will be aware of restrictions or allowances for any property in which you might be interested. Frontage zoning becomes particularly important if you ever want to build on to the existing structure or divide the property. So it is very important to communicate your intentions with your buyer broker and visit the town's Code Enforcement Office.
5. Is the property on a floodplain?
Definitely something you will want to know especially when it comes to purchasing insurance. Floodplain mapping is based on statistics from 100 years of flooding. Your broker will work with you to determine if a property is in a floodplain or you can go to FEMA or Maine.gov to learn more.
If you plan to buy waterfront property in Maine, these are just a few things to consider. Of course the best thing you can do to make the process go smoothly is hire a broker who is familiar with the particulars of waterfront ownership. Every location is different and will have its own pros and cons; the right broker will help you to understand your options.