Water views or frontage have consistently been desirable real estate attributes for as long as anyone can remember. Whether your home offers breathtaking vistas out upon the open sea or a tranquil setting with frontage to a babbling river, there aren’t too many who would object to owning a luxury, waterfront property. With this desire to be by the water, however, many buyers seeking frontage are finding that waves of change are taking place along the coasts in the form of rejuvenation and reconstruction.

By Kristen Ordonez

Photo courtesy of Soaring Imagery

Portland, Maine

Soaking in the views of Casco Bay, the greater Portland area offers much to be desired in the line of luxury waterfront properties — ranging from $2 million to $5 million — whether along the rocky coastline, open ocean or somewhere near the bay for easy boat docking. The highest sale in the greater Portland area in the last year was $4.05 million, according to Bob Knecht, Broker for Town and Shore Associates. Though the amount of waterfront space is limited, the possibilities to redesign and rebuild are fervent throughout the area.

“Maine is a very old state,” Knecht remarks. “It provides an interesting mix of old cottages and old estates with grand cottages, island cottages, new homes and remodeled homes.” People will often take an older waterfront home and renovate it; “you can’t change the location, but you can change the house,” says Knecht, a method that provides a lot of inventory and an overall healthy real estate market.

David Banks of RE/MAX By the Bay focuses on the towns of Harpswell and Brunswick, about 30 minutes north of Portland, which still present opportunities for waterfront properties under $1 million. He also notes that in the rocky coastline of Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, properties range from $3 million to $6 million, while in other towns north of Portland the waterfront prices range from $2 million to $6 million and include more areas for boating, dockage and privacy. Banks reports that the highest-priced waterfront listing is $11 million.

After “converting from a manufacturing state to an information state,” according to Knecht, Maine is the “number one luxury state in the country,” offering the largest income in tourism, great school systems and a “wonderful quality of life.”

Exquisite Shingle-style home with broad ocean views in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Photo courtesy of Lynne Dube.

Lake Burton, Georgia

Realtor Julie Barnett from Harry Norman, Realtors knows the ins and outs of Lake Burton, and how water frontage plays a major role in the Georgia real estate market. Located only 90 minutes from Atlanta, most buyers come locally from Georgia
or Florida, according to Barnett, to “escape the summer heat.”

“Lake Burton is a boutique situation,” says Barnett. “It is 2,775 acres with 62 miles of shoreline nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.” The location is very tranquil with cool, crystal clear water that lets you see straight to the bottom, as well as a 10-degree temperature difference compared to Atlanta. Apart from the lake are the properties in the vicinity, which according to Barnett vary in price depending on their purpose.

Similar to Portland, Lake Burton affords both tear-down lots and luxury new constructions. “Our properties range from $700,000 to $1 million for tear-down fishing cabins, and up to $6.4 million for a luxury estate,” says Barnett, a sizable difference from last year when the range was between $479,000 and $5.9 million. And with these lots becoming available, $3+ million homes are being built in their place. Because of this consistent remove-and-replace pattern of construction, each year the inventory of homes over $2 million increases.

The highest-priced home on the market in Lake Burton is one of Barnett’s listings, priced at $6.4 million. The 1.2-acre property features mountain, lake, and sunset views and belongs to country music star Alan Jackson. 

St. Augustine, Florida

For buyers in St. Augustine, the choice between either water frontage to the ocean or the Intracoastal Waterway is one of the easier decisions to make. This resort town on the northeast coast of Florida has a unique real estate market compared to the markets in the “big cities,” according to Stefanie Bernstein of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty.

Because of the large inventory of second homes that were built in the 1980s and early ’90s, “most buyers do not find what they want with a resale,” and turn to a tear-down and reconstruction deal. These kinds of opportunities provide cheaper options for those looking for new construction possibilities, which is appealing to those who are willing to build or pay higher prices for newer homes. Bernstein notes that because of its “small-town” status, many buyers are from Florida, while others travel down from states like Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and even Vermont.

Generally, the price range for waterfront homes starts at about $800,000 for properties with ocean frontage, and $550,000 for Intracoastal frontage. The average prices for the more expensive homes in the area are within the $3 million range. One of the highest priced homes in St. Augustine is over $4.2 million, according to Bernstein, and is reminiscent of the Taj Mahal.  

Lake Arrowhead, California

Nestled in the hills of San Bernadino National Forest, luxury homes scattered along or near the shores of Lake Arrowhead tend to fill the vacation home capacity, according to Vicki Smith, Broker Associate at Coldwell Banker Sky Ridge Realty. “We have such a variety of luxury homes here, the plan is to match the buyers with homes that work for them,” Smith says. According to her, a large percentage of these homes are vacation homes for people who live in other parts of Southern California, especially Los Angeles/Beverly Hills, Orange County, San Diego County and the desert areas of Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.

While there are enough high-end lakefront listings, Smith notes that all the areas around the lake are already built on, so not many new homes can be newly built and not every buyer gets exactly what they are looking for. Instead, most of the older, vintage homes are getting remodeled or refurbished in order to keep up with buyers’ needs. “We could use more lakefront homes on the market between the $2 million to $3 million range,” says Smith.

At this time, the highest-priced home in Lake Arrowhead is an $11.8 million listing by Smith, which is “an extraordinary home on its own private peninsula.” For those looking for luxury properties in the area. but not necessarily on the lake, these homes start around $500,000. Prices for lakefront homes are broken up differently depending on the remodeling process.

“For $900,000 to $1.5 million you can purchase a small (1,500 to 2,000-square-foot) vintage home that probably needs some work. For $1.5 million to $2.5 million, you can purchase a larger lakefront home (3,000 to 4,000 square feet) that has had some remodeling done, but today’s buyer will probably want to do additional upgrades. And for over $2.5 million you can get a beautiful home,” says Smith.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

The tear-down, rebuild construction plan is how most buyers get away with finding or creating their perfect luxury home along the shores of Lake Tahoe. According to Shari Chase of Chase International Real Estate, there are no subdivisions or new developments for the most part in the waterfront area of Lake Tahoe due to the land preservations and protections.

“On the Nevada side of the lake, over 95 percent of the land itself is owned by government agencies,” Chase states, affirming that the land is “very precious.” Due to these protections, the only way to really create new luxury home opportunities is to buy older homes and either refurbish or tear them down to build new.

Chase notes that most of these buyers, like so many others looking for waterfront properties in the U.S., are looking for a secondary home, or a third or fourth in some cases. Based on the location, most buyers of these properties hail from the San Francisco Bay Area and even Los Angeles.

Price points vary depending on home distinction, such as a condominium or townhome compared to a single-family home, according to Chase. On average, in today’s market, the minimum on-the-water price is between $4 million to $10 million. The newest home on the market in the Lake Tahoe region is one of Chase’s, a $75 million residence in Crystal Pointe, Nevada with 525 feet of waterfront and the highest price in the area.

The captivating views from this $75 million listing in Crystal Pointe are what Chase refers to as “epic, energetic and empowering.” Photo courtesy of Jeff Dow.

Pines Lake, Wayne, New Jersey

Northwest New Jersey is a region that provides many popular lakes and private lake communities with memberships to private beaches, tennis courts, sailing and an assortment of other social activities. Two popular communities in particular, Pines Lake and Packanack Lake, are found in Wayne, New Jersey, and have been around as early as the 1930s, according to Carole “Lynn” Brescia, broker/sales associate for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

Originally starting as summer lake communities in the ’30s through the ’50s, these places have evolved over time into year-round communities, Brescia states. “Older homes are now being renovated and expanded, or torn down and replaced by larger, new homes that focus on the water views and lakefront access,” Brescia says.

Keeping with the trend of buying a vacation home close to home, most buyers are local and move up to a lakefront location for the views, the water access and the lifestyle. Many of them have specifically identified the community, Brescia notes, and “wait for the right location or property.” Some buyers are occasionally from out of state and “fall in love with the beauty of the lakes area and choose the lifestyle of being able to enjoy kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding and swimming.”

On the water in Pines Lake, the starting price for a rebuild or redesign is just under $1 million, depending on the size of a lot. A recent piece of land sold for over $3 million, and according to Brescia there are more opportunities up for grabs. “Currently there are renovated and newer homes between $1.3 million and $2.8 million,” says Brescia.

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Summer 2017. 

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