Living on the Edge – Quimby's Cruising Guide

Living on the Edge

For anyone who is passionate about boating, the idea of having a vacation home on the water – and near your boat – has probably crossed your mind. But with so many options out there for waterfront living, it’s important to think long and hard about what you want most in a waterfront property, and arm yourself with a checklist of your top priorities.

Likewise, there are some special considerations that are unique to purchasing a second home and waterfront property. As the director of sales and marketing for Heritage Harbor Ottawa, a marina resort community along the Illinois River in Ottawa, Ill., just 90 minutes from Chicago, I’ve helped a number of homeowners through the process of evaluating what type of waterfront home is best for their lifestyle. Here are some of the most important things I tell any buyer – and boater – to keep in mind:

Location: Your choice of location will certainly be directed by the type of boating you want to do. (River? Inland lake? Large body of water?) A good first step is to spend a day boating in any location you are considering to make sure the experience is what you are looking for – particularly if you aren’t already familiar with the area. Also, when purchasing a second home, think about how close it is to your primary residence, and how much time you are willing to spend traveling there. Is it an easy drive, or are you likely to encounter traffic and congestion? Is it close enough that you can comfortably make the trip for a weekend, or even an overnight stay, without feeling exhausted from time in the car?

Boating Amenities: Scope out the proximity of boating amenities, whether they are available within a community where you are considering purchasing a home or nearby on the body of water where you plan to boat. Where are the best options for fuel, pump-out, service and off-season storage? Are local marina facilities public or private? Of course, a marina-based community will offer boating amenities on-site, but be sure to check the age and condition of the facilities and costs for using them. Finally, are there interesting destinations to boat to, such as waterfront restaurants, festivals and events, islands or beaches?

Length of Season: Research the length of the boating season where you are thinking of purchasing. Case in point, while Heritage Harbor Ottawa is near Chicago, our boating season is typically one to two months longer than the city’s Lake Michigan harbors thanks to differences in weather and water conditions.

Home and Lifestyle Decisions: Look for a home that complements the lifestyle you want to enjoy on the waterfront. Does the home have decks and outdoor spaces for enjoying water views, and easy access to the waterfront? Do you plan to have friends and family stay with you frequently? If so, look for flexible spaces, such as lofts or dens, which can accommodate a variety of sleeping arrangements. Open floor plans, with the kitchen flowing into the living space, are popular in vacation homes since it makes it easy for large groups to enjoy time together.

Your storage needs may be very different in a waterfront home than your primary residence. Is there space on the property to store your boat and trailer during the off-season, or are there dry dock facilities nearby? Does the home have space in the garage or a storage closet for all the extra gear and toys you are likely to accumulate living on the water – from kayaks and paddle boards to tubes, skis and assorted rafts, not to mention outdoor furniture?

Nearby Recreational Activities: To get maximum enjoyment out of your second home, look for a location near other activities besides boating that interest you – from dining and shopping options to opportunities for hiking and biking. For example, at Heritage Harbor Ottawa, many of our residents appreciate that we are located within Starved Rock Country, a popular recreational region with four state parks, miles of biking trails, and quaint towns where they can try new restaurants for dinner or visit charming boutiques.

Financial Considerations: Make sure you are informed about additional costs associated with owning any waterfront home, such as requirements for carrying flood insurance, or HOA fees to cover maintenance of waterfront and boating amenities including docks, marinas and beaches. Also, investigate opportunities to offer your waterfront property as a vacation rental when you are not using it, which can be a great way to offset the cost of owning a second home. This can be a very turnkey process if the community has an onsite rental management program, such as the one we offer homeowners at Heritage Harbor.

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