Guide to Waterfront Properties

Guide to Waterfront Properties

There is a wide range of waterfront properties found around the Annapolis area and the Chesapeake Bay with many different variables affecting their desirability and value.  This guide is intended to assist waterfront buyers evaluate their preferences for the home they seek and help both buyers and sellers estimate the comparative value of different waterfront homes.

Riparian vs. Non-Riparian
The many intricacies of riparian law are beyond the scope of this guide; however, a simplified explanation is this:  If there is a property, without a dwelling and owned by others, between yours and the water, then your property is “non-riparian.”  Typically this other property is owned by a community or by a Waterfront Sunsetgovernment, possibly for a road.  You cannot prevent others from accessing the water in front of your home and the ability for you to build a pier out into the water is very remote.

Riparian waterfront properties are considerably more valuable than non-riparian properties.  For the budget-minded, non-riparian waterfront can be far more affordable.  Not only do you pay less to purchase the property, you’ll spend far less on pier upkeep, preventing erosion, insurance and property taxes.

Water Views
Generally, the larger the body of water you can see from a home, the more valuable the property.  The primary exception to this rule is that large bodies of water can be inhospitable to boats, piers and other structures.  The “holy grail” of waterfront real estate is a property with expansive views of water but also has protected water for boats.  Views of Annapolis, Spa Creek, and the Naval Academy come with a premium.  Wide water views to the east get the spectacular sunsets.  

Waterfront homes are in the “Critical Area” which means the removal of trees near the shoreline is heavily restricted.  The presence of trees within a waterview, and if they are evergreen can greatly affect a home’s view; and therefore its value.    Waterview of Round Bay

Other aspects of waterviews relate more to individual preferences and their effect on value is subjective.    Some prefer a quiet cove to watch wildlife.    Others enjoy the view of the many types of boats plying our waters.    Some prefer to look across their creek at other waterfront homes or businesses with docks and boats, while others prefer rolling countryside, woods or parkland.

Water Depth
The type of boater you are, if at all, affects the water depth you need at your dock.  Sailboats and larger powerboats require 5 or more feet.    Smaller powerboats can get in and out with 3 feet and sometimes less.    Paddlers only need inches.    The deeper the water is at a home’s pier, the more valuable the property.    Don’t forget the depth of the channel out to bigger water as well.    Checking the sizes of boats at nearby houses is a good indicator of what size boat you can keep at a particular property.

Elevation of the Home
In 2003, Hurricane Isabel surged water up the Chesapeake Bay and flooded the rivers and creeks.  Average flooding was about 6 feet above norm; however, at the ends of creeks the water piled up 12 feet or more.  Some storms blow water out of the bay, and some cause smaller floods more associated with rainfall.   The next “perfect storm” could be next year or not for a hundred years.  The elevation of a home determines if it will  unexpectedly require major remodeling sometime in the future and how often that could happen.  Rates for flood insurance are high and are expected to go higher in the future.  The most valuable waterfront homes are well above the flood zone, but not so high that they require exorbitant numbers of stairs or a tram to access the water.

In the early stages of considering a waterfront home, you can estimate the elevation yourself and ask neighbors “how high was the water here during Isabel?”  When you become serious about a property, you’ll contact yourWaterfront Guide good elevation insurance agent who will look up flood zones and will research the history of previous claims for the home.  The underwriter may require an elevation certificate.

Shoreline Quality and Amenities
Erosion is a big consideration in evaluating waterfront properties.  If you see a landscape suddenly end at a cliff down to the water, you’re most likely looking at a serious erosion problem.  Trees leaning towards the water are another indicator of unstable ground.  The most common forms of erosion protection in the Annapolis area are rip-rap and wood bulkheading.  A new type of erosion protection that is catching on is the “living shoreline.”  The pros and cons of these systems are for a different study; however, the point here is that none of them are cheap.  If you’re not sure if a prospective property might need erosion protection or repairs, consult an expert.

The foremost amenity to a waterfront home is its dock.  Docks come in many shapes, sizes, and qualities.  How big of a boat and how many boats can it accommodate?  Check the condition of the pilings and the deckboards.    First Boathouse on the Severn Riverclass docks have synthetic deckboards, shore power connections, lights, water connections, etc.  Some float independently from their pilings.  Is there a boat lift?  What weight is it rated for?  Are boat lifts necessary at this property because of waves or boat wakes?

Properties with a boat ramp or a nice sandy swimming beach are rare and more valuable.  Most structures such as boathouses, gazebos, storage buildings, and guesthouses can no longer be constructed in the 100 foot “buffer zone” by the water.  Pre-existing structures are “grandfathered-in” and are worth a high premium.

Contact Information

Evan Remele
Metro Referral Associates