Ten Valuable Tips You Should Know Before Buying Waterfront Property in Maine
These tips are intended to be a check-list for you to consider before purchasing Maine waterfront real estate, hopefully helping you to become a better informed buyer.
Most of these tips are just common sense suggestions that any careful buyer would be concerned about anyway – but we are talking about Maine and waterfront property, and there are a few twists and turns you may not be aware of – so perhaps these will spark a few new thoughts for you to consider…
They are not intended to discourage or scare you away from buying Maine waterfront property – as we firmly believe this is the most solid segment of the Maine real estate market you can invest in.
But buying ANY real estate is a significant undertaking – and there is a term we use in this industry called “doing due diligence”, which just means doing your homework before making a final commitment.
So, if you are contemplating buying waterfront property in Maine, here’s your homework assignment:
TIP# 1 – Find out WHERE the property is, EXACTLY
In Maine, town offices usually have maps showing the outline, size and location of every parcel. While they are not always 100% accurate (usually Deed descriptions have the final say on what a property consists of) they are a good starting point. So get a site plan for the property from the town office or the listing broker, and personally take the time to “walk” the property. Try to locate the property lines and corners. Keep an eye open for potential easement problems, such as trails, roads, fences, power lines, etc. Not all properties are surveyed (and many are sold without surveys, but with just a “meets and bounds” physical description) but you should definitely feel comfortable with the physical location of the real estate you are buying.
TIP# 2 – Try to find out the HISTORY of the property and area
What was on this land before and how did it come to be developed? Talk to the neighbors to find out if they have any issues with the property in question, and its development, or the structures — or if there are any waterfront-related problems — and if they enjoy living there.
TIP# 3 – Find out if and how much of the property you are contemplating buying is USABLE for your purposes.
Its usability can be affected by:
- State Shoreland Zoning and Local Waterfront Ordinances. They can determine land uses within 250 feet of the water on some lake and ponds, some rivers, some wetlands and most tidal/coastal waters. These ordinances cover minimum lot standards, building setbacks, height and lot coverage, parking areas, driveways, erosion controls, septic systems and clearing of vegetation. You can learn more about this on our website www.WaterfrontPropertiesOfMaine.com under “Common Questions”, or from the Handbook for Shoreline Owners, published by the State of Maine.
- Town Zoning. The zoning can determine the property’s uses, such as Residential, Commercial, etc.
- Deed Restrictions. Get a copy of the existing deed to see if there are any further restrictions.
- Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. (CCR’s) If the property is part of a development, there may be CCR’s that further restrict the property’s use, such as no mobile homes, no home occupations, etc. Look at these carefully to see if they will impact your intended use.
TIP# 4 – Investigate all ACCESS issues.
This is very important for both roads and the body of water involved.
- Is there an existing road to the property? Is it public or private? Will you own it, share it or just have a Right of Way?
- Particularly if the property is remote, find out who is responsible for maintaining the road, if there is a Road Maintenance Agreement and what the fees are?
- The waterfront itself can also either be owned, shared or the parcel may just come with a Right of Way access to the water.
TIP# 5 – Make sure you will have access to all the UTILITIES you will need.
- Water. In Maine, some of the more primitive camps draw their drinking and cleaning water from the lakes and rivers they are on. Is it potable? (Banks may not finance without potable water). Is the system just seasonal (non-functional when the lake freezes over)? Most waterfront properties use drilled wells. Find out the quality and quantity of the well water. Having the quality (potability) tested is relatively inexpensive. If you want the quantity checked, this will require an extensive pumping procedure by a well company. In the case of buying bare land, find out the cost to drill and the probability of success before buying the property.
- Electricity. If there is no existing electrical service to the property, bringing it in, particularly to remote parcels, can be very expensive. Check this out.
- Sewage. You need to find out the setback requirements for septic systems from bodies of water. Then determine the local requirements for soil tests and permits. If the property has an existing system, it is definitely worth the expense to have it pumped and tested. (If it was constructed in recent years, there may be a plan on file at the local town office.) Rebuilding a “grandfathered” system that is closer to the water and/or or has shorter leach lines than modern requirements allow might be very problematical.
- Electronics. Do your personal requirements include access to cable or high-speed internet service? Is it available?
TIP# 6 – Understand your rights with regard to VEGETATION on a waterfront parcel
The clearing of land, the opening up of views and the removal of some vegetation might not be possible.
- Depending on the type of waterfront, shoreland zoning laws prohibits or restricts the removal of vegetation within a prescribed buffer zone, usually within 75 to 100 feet of the water. Get familiar with these regulations.
- Timber harvesting is also restricted, both by the Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act and possibly by local municipal ordinances.
- Shoreline weeds and reeds, if extensive, can affect the desirability and market value of waterfront land, and removing them might not be allowed. Also be aware that weeds may not be visible at certain times of the year.
TIP# 7 – Be sure to investigate WATER LEVEL issues
- The reason Maine has over 3,478 miles of shoreline in just 228 linear miles is that the coast is made up of dozens of long peninsulas and bays. The further up into these bays you go, the greater the effect of ocean tides. Over 90% of coastal property is TIDAL, so very little of it is “bold” or “deep water.” The parcel you are viewing at high tide, on a pretty little cove, may turn into a not-so-pretty mud flat at low tide. Therefore, it is important to visit a coastal property at both high and low tides so you can decide if the tidal differences are acceptable.
- Most lakes and ponds in Maine stay at fairly constant levels – but not all. Some have dams, and water levels can be controlled for various purposes by man. The differences in water levels can be significant, which can affect the desirability of the waterfront.
- Find out if the property has any flood plain restrictions. If you buy or build in a flood zone, you may find it expensive or maybe difficult to obtain insurance.
TIP# 8 – Investigate the USE restrictions for the body of water involved
- For either the coast or lakes — can you build a permanent dock, a seasonal floating dock or no dock at all? What permits are needed and how difficult are they to obtain?
- Does the lake allow jet-skis, speedboats or waterskiing? Many lakes in Maine have a limit of 10 H.P. for outboards. What’s your thing? Water sports or quiet enjoyment?
- If you are a fisherman, find out about the species of fish and shellfish available. (for lakes explore www.pearl.maine.edu ).
TIP# 9 – Understand the SEASONALITY of the property you are looking at
In Maine, many waterfront properties are intended for seasonal use only. If you are looking for a year-round home find out:
- Is there road access year-round?
- How do different seasons or weather conditions affect the property?
- If the property is on a pond or lake, when does it typically freeze over, and when is “ice out”?
TIP# 10 – We now live in an era of SELLER BEWARE!
For most of the recorded history of real estate, it was “Buyer Beware” or the doctrine of “Caveat Emptor” (Latin) — it was the buyer’s responsibility for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying Other than a personal desire to be honest, sellers had little motivation to disclose any of the defects of their property. In the last 20 years, in response to the increasing numbers of lawsuits, the pendulum has swung — now sellers, by law, are required to fill out a Property Disclosure Statement, where they are supposed to disclose certain specific information and any other defects they know about and/or reasonably should know about – and thus it has become “Seller Beware.” IMPORTANT: expect to receive, and please study carefully, the Property Disclosure Statement for the property you are looking at. This will give you pointers to those items that need more careful inspection.
Three Bonus Tips
Bonus TIP# 1 – Never buy without INSPECTIONS!
Any offer you make should be conditioned on resolving certain issues: for instance, if you need financing, make your offer contingent upon your ability to obtain financing. Sometimes physical problems with a property lie deep (such as radon or lead paint) and can only be detected by a qualified inspector – so make your offer contingent upon those inspections you feel are needed to make your purchase comfortable, insurable and financeable. Most inspections are relatively inexpensive when compared to the purchase price. And, if you find problems with the property, you may want to negotiate with the seller to lower the price, or to pay for certain repairs.
Bonus TIP# 2 – Plan for local LEGAL representation
Some “awayers”, particularly from the Western states, are used to having Title Companies handle all the various aspects of a real estate transaction. In Maine, and many other Eastern states, attorneys handle these transactions.
- The Seller’s attorney is responsible for drawing up the new Deed, the Transfer Tax Form and the Real Estate Withholding Tax Form.
- The Buyer’s attorney is responsible for examining the Title for any problems (actually searching the records at the local County Court House), drawing up the Mortgage, Notes, Closing Statements with prorations – and in most cases, presiding over the actual closing itself, where both Buyers and Sellers are usually present to sign all the papers, and the checks from the proceeds are disbursed.
Bonus TIP# 3 – Know who is in YOUR CORNER
It used to be simple – if you wanted to sell a piece of real estate, you listed it with a real estate agent (your agent, obviously) who would hopefully find a buyer for it, draw up their offer for you and put the deal together.
Then in the 1980’s, along came Multiple Listing Systems, co-operating brokers, and the increasing numbers of lawsuits – in this case trying to determine who was representing whom – with the current result that in Maine there are at least 6 kinds of agency relationships recognized (most states settled for 3 or 4): sellers agents, buyers agents, sub agency, transaction agents, disclosed dual agents, and appointed agents.
It has become so complex that brokers themselves have trouble understanding all the issues and ramifications involved.
What you, as a Buyer, need to know is:
- That all agents, before the start of any kind of relationship, are required by Maine law to furnish you with a “Form #3 – The Real Estate Brokerage Relationship Form” – which is designed to hopefully explain the different kinds of agency to you…
- That the Listing Agent for a property always represents the Seller’s interests first, although this agent can represent the Buyer also as a Disclosed Dual Agent in a transaction.
- That if you, as a Buyer, want an agent to put your interests first, and negotiate the best price and terms for you, you should have a Buyer’s Agent.
- That although Buyers Agents sometimes ask for (and get) a fee for their services from a Buyer, most usually a Buyer’s Agent receives their compensation from the Seller, as an offered split of the Listing (Sellers) Agent’s commission. So typically, it costs you nothing to have a Buyer’s Agent represent your best interests.
SOURCES FOR ANSWERS:
- Listing Agent – the Seller’s broker should know the property best.
- Buyer’s Agent – your agent should “go-fer” any information he/she can reasonably find out for you.
- Local Town Code Enforcement Officer – the most authoritative source for all kinds of information.
- “Handbook for Shoreland Owners” – published by the Maine DEP, an important overview of issues that may impact waterfront property.
- Neighbors – there’s nothing better than local knowledge.
- Your local Attorney – for title and legal issues.
FINALLY, as you can see, there’s a lot to know about buying waterfront property in Maine. If you would like to have exclusive representation by a qualified professional specializing in this area of real estate, who will be loyal and confidential, who will help you locate and investigate the best property that fits your requirements, who will negotiate to get you the best price and terms, please give us a call at Waterfront Properties of Maine.