Top tips for buying the beach house of your dreams

Do you fantasize about getting a place on the water? A lot of people do, whether it’s a bungalow, cottage or luxury home.

Transforming that dream into reality requires the same skills as buying any other home — along with some specialized knowledge.

If it’s going to be a second home or vacation home rather than your primary residence, you’ll need a solid credit rating — and enough cash flow to comfortably make 2 mortgages, along with a nice cash cushion.

You also need to keep an eye out for issues that are beach specific:

  • Is the home in a flood plain?
  • Will you need additional insurance?
  • Do coastal laws allow you to rebuild if the house is lost to the forces of Mother Nature?

You might even be able to make a little money by renting to other vacationers who dream of a summer place at the beach. But this income may be offset by new expenses, such as hiring someone local, perhaps a caretaker, to look in on your property from time to time.

Rent before you buy

You’ve found the perfect beach village. But do you want to be on the ocean, the bay or a few blocks away in a wooded area?

One good way to find out before you buy: Rent, says Mary Ann Cinelli, real estate agent with Brown Harris Stevens of the Hamptons.

Some summer dwellers who sail prefer the bay side of the Hamptons — located on Long Island in New York — while those who enjoy shelling want to front the ocean, she says. Family beaches often have lifeguards in the summer while other stretches are more secluded. And dog owners may prefer being on or near one of the many dog beaches, she says.

“Rent for a month,” she says. “Try one or two areas at the beach and see what you really like.”

Scope out the community

It’s one thing to fall for a stretch of beach. But it’s just as important to investigate the area surrounding it.

Find out about development plans nearby and in the community. And verify ecological or environmental provisions designed to protect the house.

Ownership is a year-round proposition, so look at the community in the off-season, too, says Andrea Ackerman, associate broker with Brown Harris Stevens.

“I would be surprised that anyone would buy in an area if they haven’t seen what goes on after Labor Day,” she says.

Use the aerial views available with internet search tools to see exactly what else is nearby, says Laura LeFevre, broker with Southport Realty in North Carolina.

Take the time to view as many properties as you can to make sure the decision is right for you.

Look for a home that fits your needs, and your budget

It’s amazing how popular you become once you acquire a beach house.

So take a good look at how many bedrooms and bathrooms you’ll need, just as you would with a primary home, says Cinelli. “Will you be doing some entertaining, especially in the summer?”

Other factors to weigh: the style of the house, how easy it will be to maintain it (especially in light of sand and salt water), and the repairs or renovations the place will need, she says.

“Is it something you’re going to use enough to invest this kind of money and carry this kind of debt load?” says Ron Haynie, senior vice president of mortgage finance policy for the Independent Community Bankers of America.

Ask yourself, “What else would I do with this money and would I enjoy that more?” he says.

A ‘beach house’ doesn’t have to overlook water

LeFevre’s secret to getting a better price on a beach house: Look for one that isn’t directly on the water.

Beachfront or bayside property is more expensive. And it’s also pricier to insure those waterfront homes against storms, wind, erosion and other potential threats, she says.

But if you go one or two blocks off the beach, “The insurance costs a little less, and you have a little protection from storm surges,” says LeFevre. Plus, “You save a little on the cost of the home.”

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