What Would You Pay to Live by the Water?

Waterfront living doesn’t hold the allure it once did. Or is it just that living everywhere else has gotten so expensive?

Homes with access to a body of water commanded a 36% premium in the first quarter of 2018, down from a peak of 54 percent in Q2 of 2012 and below the average of 41% since 1996, according to a report released by Zillow.

Why the decline? Zillow blames “catastrophic hurricanes, climate change, people’s changing tastes -- or the tremendous bounceback in non-waterfront homes since the housing bust.”

Prices for waterfront homes mostly held up during the bust but haven’t returned to their pre-recession highs as the rest of the market has.

So that house on the roaring Pacific will still enjoy a premium, though a muted one because “the rest of the housing market is really, really strong and rising quickly,” Zillow economist Sarah Mikhitarian said in an interview.

It isn’t just real estate on the ocean that people are willing to pay more for.

The latest report lists metros by average waterfront premium since 1996.

Of the top 10, ranging from Jacksonville, Florida, with a premium of 72%, to Dallas, at 41%, only three are by the sea: Jacksonville, Baltimore and Seattle.

The rest, besides Dallas, are Cleveland; Denver; Milwaukee; Sacramento, California; Austin, Texas; and Indianapolis.

Hot tip for buyers: In eight of those 10 high-premium markets, either prices in general have been low or the waterfront homes are on smaller bodies of water, such as rivers or lakes.

Sand Dollars

Inland waterfront houses have historically commanded high premiums

The shrinking waterfront premium might have something to do with the threat of rising sea levels.

A June report from the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that homes across the country with a total value of $117.5 billion are at risk of increased flooding over the next 30 years.

The group also estimated shorter-term risks.

Swimming in Risk

Coastal hot spots have a lot to lose in view of rising sea levels

“Some buyers might be more cautious about which homes they consider purchasing,” Mikhitarian said.

“We could see this trickle-down effect of people worried about rising sea levels and storm surges.”

Scarcity might help support prices. Of all the real estate transactions in a given year, Zillow reports, only about 0.4 to 0.6% are for houses on the water.


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