Tips for Buying a Vacation Home on the Beach

Oceanfront Vacation Homes Have a Downside

vacation home on the beach
Hire a local neighborhood specialist to buy a vacation home. © big stock photo

Water. It’s the best thing and the worst thing about buying a vacation home on the beach. You can’t always control Mother Nature. Storms can cause ocean waves to move with such force they can slap even a brand new home to the ground. Waves can climb high enough to scale the roof of a three-story home. If you're buying a vacation home on the beach, pay close attention to the possibility that your home could flood.

If flooding is improbable due to high elevation, consider the fact your home could slide down the hill into the water. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because the home was constructed on the side or on top of a hill that it is safe. It might be safe for 40 years until the day you buy it.

My home fell into the ocean in California. A brutal winter storm in 1981 claimed my oceanfront residence on the Rincon in Ventura. I woke early, around 6 AM, to the sound of rain pelting the windows. It was still dark. Waves slapped the deck a bit harder than usual. I glanced out the window and in horror watched my neighbor’s one-story home suddenly collapse. The weight of the ocean’s waves pummeled the house to smithereens.

Earlier in the week, friends helped me board-up the windows. I called my insurance company to inquire about flood insurance but was told there was a waiting period before it would take effect.

Never did I believe that my home was unsafe. I offered shelter to the neighbors as we all stood in the rain, helplessly watching the waves destroy our coastal homes.

The fire department showed up to check on the utilities. The fire chief shut off the gas and ordered us to evict the premises. Shortly thereafter, the walls of my home along the sea gave way and caved into the ocean.

I grabbed my guitar and typewriter and was heading out the door when I saw the water smash through my living room ceiling.

There are certain people in this world who feel a need to live on or near the water. It’s not always possible, given the logistics of living near where one works. So, when a home buyer decides to buy a vacation home on the beach, location plays an important role. You might want to consider buying a vacation home within driving distance from your primary residence.

If you’ve always wanted to buy a vacation home on the beach, you can take certain precautions to help to ensure the safety of your home. Especially if it’s not a rental but instead will be your weekend getaway. Water isn’t your only problem. Depending on where you buy, you could be in danger of:

  • Lava flows from a dormant or inactive volcano
  • Wind damage from high winds
  • Heavy rains flooding nearby rivers or basins
  • Earthquakes and / or liquefying sands
  • Homes on a hill above you crashing down
  • Cliffs giving away or hillsides shifting

While insurance can help to reimburse some of your losses after a catastrophic event, it never really makes you whole again. There is mental anguish associated with these types of things that can stay with you for the rest of your life.

It’s part of the price you might want to consider if you’re buying a vacation home on the beach. Ask yourself if you are prepared to deal with a tragedy, should it happen. On the other hand, uninsured home losses could be tax deductible.

Tips for Researching a Vacation Home on the Beach

The good news is there are affirmative steps you can take to lessen the chance of a natural disaster, short of buying a vacation home elsewhere. Some of the information you will need is obtainable from a real estate agent who specializes in your targeted community.

  • Research the area where you plan to buy at the public library.
  • Examine photographs of the shoreline over the years.
  • Hire an engineer to prepare a report about erosion, including safety of your structure.
  • Talk to the neighbors. They will tell you things you’ll never hear from your agent.
  • Visit a variety of real estate offices nearby and talk with agents who have been around for a while.
  • Ask your insurance agent to conduct a visual inspection.
  • Get a CLUE report from your insurance agent.
  • Talk to county or city employees who oversee the maintenance of the roads into the beach community.
  • Search a newspaper archive to find information about the weather along the coast over the years.

Home Inspection Tips For Buying a Vacation Home on the Beach

In addition to a basic home inspection, a prudent home buyer would also hire specialists to inspect certain elements of the home not really covered by a general home inspection.

  • Being close to the water causes rust, and I don't mean that in a Neil Young sort of way. Salt deposits eat away at metal. Ask a plumber to inspect the water lines and all metal items.
  • Verify the source of your water. Is it from a public or private well? Is it connected to a city water system? How is strong is your water pressure? Do you need a water pump to ensure a consistent flow? Test the water.
  • Inspect the sewer. Are you connected to a public sewer? If not, how old is the leach field and septic tank? How it the septic tank constructed – is it wood or cement? How often do you need to pump out the septic tank?
  • Ask questions about the utilities. Do you have solar panels? Are the solar panels owned or are they leased? If the solar panels are leased, can you buy the solar panels at the end of the lease or do they revert to the company?
  • Is there a furnace? Some beach homes have no furnace. Is there AC? Is the furnace operated on propane or do you have natural gas? Is the furnace eroded or compromised? Where is the furnace located? How old is the furnace?

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.