Buying a Home by the Water

Things to Consider when buying Waterfront Properties

Here is a list of things to think about before you buy a waterfront property. There are numerous considerations that you should be aware of.

Make sure your real estate agent understands waterfront properties

Your average run-of-the-mill agent may not know about the specialized knowledge that comes with buying waterfront properties. If it sounds like a great deal it may have issues. A good agent will either know or will be queued to find out why.

Check out loans early

You will want to check with your bank on loans for waterfront properties since they are more expensive than other types of property. You may have to be qualified (pre-approved) for them prior to making an offer on a property, or have a certain amount to put down on the loan.

Think of the land more than the building

Many times people love the house but do not realize that the swimming area is nasty, or that it is difficult to get to the water, or is not private enough. It is easier to change out the house or upgrade it than to find more property, so ensure the land has the features you want, and then focus on the house.

It should fit your lifestyle

Make sure that the water activities that you love are convenient enough to access and do from your property. If the water is too far away then it may be best to search for a different place.

Water is not included in the sale

In Canada the water is not included as part of private property by law, particularly large bodies of water such as the ocean, or lakes, or even rivers. The part you own is to the water’s edge, at the high water mark.

Building a Dock

If you want to dock your sailboat at your waterfront property just make sure you follow the laws. Federal or provincial agencies can tell you what is required in terms of size, building method, and materials. There are guidelines you can review through your province’s Depart of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Also, become familiar with the changes in the Navigable Waters Protection Act (which is regulated by Transport Canada). Also, double check your zoning and by-laws (through your municipality) so you can choose the right kind of dock. Sometimes you will have to maintain an existing dock rather than building a new dock, so don’t tear that old one down before you find out as it may be grandfathered in.

Storm of the century

Know your storms, at least for the area where you choose to live. Pacific and Atlantic storms can be quite different in size and intensity, plus microclimates can have a unique effect, especially in convergent zones. Sometimes online records are available for viewing as to just how big storms can get for your local area. Weather can also help guide you as to which building materials you choose, whether you should have a basement, or extra strapping or tie-downs in the wall systems and roof-to-foundation during construction.

Consider the upkeep

Upkeep can vary with the weather and region. Sometimes a dryer climate is the case, whereas very wet climates or excessive moisture due to huge bodies of water can cause mould, or even affect the structure over time. Think about how much maintenance will be needed to protect the home against salt water or annual weather issues.

Consider insurance

Check into insurance and what it might cost for a home on a waterfront property. Sometimes wind, flood, and even general hazard policies may be required.

What can you do with the property?

Do some discovery on what you can actually do with your property by inquiring with zoning and the Environment department (if there is any protected land on or nearby your property). Ensure docks and seawalls or other alterations are possible before you buy. You can make an offer, and still find this information out through your due diligence period.

Talk to the neighbors

Sometimes the best information about the area or waterfront concerns comes easily through friendly neighbors. You can also sometimes get inside information about the property you are buying if they knew the previous owners, especially problems or other issues, such as flooding hazards.

Check out the utilities and amenities

Check to see if the property has sewer or septic, telephone and high-speed Internet and phone available, municipal water or a well, or if electricity is a problem if the house is old (such as having fuses instead of a breaker panel and copper wiring). Sometimes rural areas have extra costs associated with them, especially Internet or cell phone service coverage.

Public property considerations

Public property includes these kinds of areas: natural waterways, shorelines, or near parks. This governmental public land may affect where you can build or put a fence. If you want absolute privacy rather than talking to fellow passersby like fishermen, hikers, neighbors, or kayakers, then consider a home with a water view rather than waterfront.

Survey the property

If it hasn’t been done yet you may want to get an unofficial survey to find the property boundaries or get an official registered survey if you plan to build. The legal description and property boundary markers will tell you exactly where the boundaries of the property are so you do not accidentally encroach onto a neighboring property.


Contact Ryan Taylor from Sutton Group West Coast Estates for neighbourhood specific expertise.

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