Real Estate

Laura Clements, Thomas J. O’Neill, Donna Gemborys

A waterfront home on Cape Cod has long been viewed as a luxury, and given the limited number of available waterfront properties and the high price of real estate here, that is truer than ever. But environmental concerns and accompanying regulatory hurdles make this a challenging issue for buyers and agents alike.

Thomas J. O’Neill, president of O’Neill Real Estate in Mashpee, says waterfront purchases often involve contingencies, as buyers want to be sure that what they want will be permitted. “We try to get approvals or reassurances from governing bodies,” O’Neill says, “and we always check with a civil engineer.” He has the advantage of a design-and-build business he launched 25 years ago before opening his real estate firm six years ago.

Asked what buyers are seeking with waterfront purchases, O’Neill says, “Usually the factor they want is a viable dock. So we’re looking to see whether it has a dock or if it can have a dock.”

In terms of location, O’Neill encourages would-be buyers to get creative. “Obviously, Osterville is top dollar,” he says, but relative bargains can be found in areas like Mashpee and East Falmouth, which has a great deal of coastline. “You have to be a little bit of a pioneer.”

While Falmouth has a lot of coastline, waterfront properties are harder to come by in other areas of the Cape. “Most waterfront properties that are on the market are not all shiny and new,” notes Laura Clements, owner of Cove Road Real Estate in Orleans. “It’s all about location and potential. And it’s dealing with conservation commissions, setbacks, septic systems—everything that’s involved with sensitive land.”

Another issue of concern for buyers is if a property is in a flood zone and would need flood insurance. Erosion is also a factor, Clements says, and buyers “want to make sure they have an opportunity to protect their private beaches. Sometimes it is possible to build a revetment.”

Clements says in recent years there has been more interest in “second row” properties, which are not on the water but just slightly removed.

Donna Gemborys of Kinlin Grover Real Estate in Orleans has seen that trend as well. While many buyers are interested in water views and water access, they don’t necessarily want to be right on the water. “I have noticed a trend to be sort of one row back,” she says.

Another change Gemborys has seen is a shift from buyers who are willing to work on a property to those seeking properties that need little or no work. “The more turnkey it is, the more it flies off the shelf,” she says. Waterfront properties can be “problematic,” she says, as some do need work.

O’Neill says buyers these days seem prepared to spend more money on waterfront projects than in past years. The formula he once saw as a pattern was a buyer spending no more than $1 million on a waterfront parcel, with the understanding of putting another $1.5 million into building on it. “Lots up to $3 million are selling in the same way we used to sell $1 million lots,” he says. “It’s continuing to go up because of the limited inventory.”