A Shore Thing
How to choose a beach house
Here’s a recipe for the perfect summer cocktail: Take the worst winter in a hundred years, chase it with an extensive selection of shore properties from Ventnor to Rehoboth, add motivated sellers and realistic prices and shake well, then garnish with the lowest mortgage rates in decades. Now sit back in your chaise lounge, feel that ocean breeze and say AHHHHHH!
Avalon & Stone Harbor
Realtors used to say: location, location, location. Now they’re saying: financing, financing, financing. “The current 5% rate won’t last forever. People are going to look back at what a fantastic time it was to buy in 2010,” says Randy Leiser of Avalon Realty. “If you’re looking at a $500,000 property with a 20% down payment and a 5% mortgage, your monthly principal and interest is $2,148. If the mortgage rate goes up to 7%, your monthly fees would increase by 24% to $2,664. However, if you purchase a larger property for $550,000 with a 5% mortgage locked in for thirty years, your monthly payment only goes up to $2,362.” In other words, look at the big picture, not the price of the house but the financing fees.
Avalon and Stone Harbor offer enormous variety, from efficiency condos starting at under $200,000 to multimillion-dollar oceanfront and bayside single homes. Zoning also attracts buyers. “Avalon and Stone Harbor are zoned mostly for single-family homes, as compared to Ocean City, which is zoned for duplexes, so we are less crowded and quieter,” says Leiser.
Remember when Avalon was synonymous with singles who shared houses for the summer, that party that started when you graduated college
and ended when you got married? “We’re seeing much less of that,” says Leiser. “The island has become more expensive, attracting more families and empty-nesters.”
Lewes & Rehoboth
“There are some incredible buys,” says Jean Barrows of Ocean Atlantic Sotheby’s in Rehoboth. “Prices are affordable and mortgage rates are unbelievably low.” In the last 10 to 15 years, an influx of people from major metropolitan areas (DC, Philadelphia, and New York) have brought big city sophistication with them. “We have 50 phenomenal restaurants and boutiques in Rehoboth, plus theater, galleries, and concerts,” says Barrows.
“The best time to be here is in off-season in May and September,” confides Barrows, who describes Lewes as a “Victorian, maritime town on Delaware Bay,” connected to the more worldly Rehoboth by the six-mile Breakwater Trail for walkers, runners, and bikers.
A full calendar of events offers something for everyone, including a Writers Festival in March, Jazz Festival in October, and the Rehoboth International Film Festival in November. Another selling point is Rehoboth’s low taxes. “You can have a three-million-dollar oceanfront property and pay only $1,798 a year in taxes,” says Justin Healy, also of Ocean Atlantic Sotheby’s in Rehoboth.
South of Rehoboth, Bethany attracts empty-nesters and families with its quaint, small-town ambience, old-fashioned beach trolley, and boardwalk. “We have single-family homes in the $400,000-$700,000 range west of Route One on the bay,” says Vickie York of Ocean Atlantic Sotheby’s in Bethany. “People are buying older cottages at the right price and adding modern amenities, stainless steel appliances, and hardwood floors.”
Ventnor, Margate & Longport
“The rental market is more active than I’ve seen it in 12 years.” says Mitch Zitomer of Zitomer Real Estate in Margate. The majority of summer residents come to Ventnor, Margate, and Longport from Montgomery and Chester Counties, enjoying the fast commute of the Atlantic City Expressway and the easy access to AC glitz. The diversity of the housing inventory is another strong draw, from stately beachfront mansions, to contemporary townhouses; ocean-view hi-rise condos to quaint cottages with gardens.
Margate has received a major facelift in the last 15 years. Gone are the seedy bars, dance clubs, and rooming houses of what locals called the Old Barbary Coast. In their place, you”ll find upscale restaurants, bakeries, and boutiques. God bless her, Lucy the Elephant is still standing on Atlantic Avenue in Margate. This year is her 129th birthday! “It’s a great family environment with so much to offer,” says Zitomer, whose mother, Bea, started Zitomer Real Estate in 1988.
A Buyer’s Guide to Choosing a Shore House
- Do the math. Make sure your financing is in place.
- Determine your price range.
- Talk to a licensed real estate professional.
- Visit the area during high season.
- Check the beaches, traffic patterns, and noise levels.
- Set your priorities: How far do you want to be from beaches, shops, restaurants?
- Is the property in danger of beach erosion or floods?
- Know the zoning regulations and codes.
- How many rentals are on your block? How much are they charging?
- Make sure the house accommodates your future needs if you are retiring.
- Contact your tax adviser before concluding the deal.
- Hire a property inspector who is an expert in beach construction.