NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As the old saying goes, they're not making any more real estate. And the supply of waterfront property is especially limited, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that homes on oceans, lakes and rivers are pricy.

But are they worth it?

Zillow, the home listing and data firm, has just released a report showing that waterfront homes generally cost twice as much as other homes — a median of $370,900 versus $171,600. 

But wait, it gets worse. In Tampa, you could pay seven times as much to be on the Gulf of Mexico as you would for a home that's not. The oceanfront premium in Honolulu is 334.5%, and in Long Beach it's 321.6%.

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"Waterfront properties are both relatively scarce and highly coveted, and that high demand and limited supply leads to higher home prices," says Zillow's chief economist, Stan Humphries.

The glib answer on whether high prices are worth it: If that's what buyers are willing to pay, that's what these homes are worth

But potential buyers are nonetheless wise to consider some issues. 

The nature of the community is one. Prices can be especially volatile in vacation communities, because buyers can put off purchasing a second home or investment property when the economy is weak. In good times, prices can soar, exposing new owners to losses if the market tanks. Of course, soaring prices are great if you buy ahead of the boom.

Communities filled with primary residences are more stable, because everyone needs a home.

Even a luxury market is not immune from downturns, because the wealthy, even if they remain wealthy in a slump, don't like to buy a property that will lose value.


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Experts warn waterfront shoppers to plan to pay more than usual for upkeep, especially for oceanfront properties. Humphries says "added insurance, floods, environmental mitigation and infrastructure costs are often part of the tab when buying a waterfront home."

A number of years ago a Wall Street Journal story headlined Seaside Struggles noted that oceanfront owners could pay heavily for the constant upkeep from corrosion caused by salt air and spray. And it wasn't just the outside that was damaged — inside, things such as light fixtures and wiring needed frequent replacement. Such problems were much less severe only a short distance off the beach.

Some oceanfront homeowners said they'd spent thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, to replace sand dunes washed away by nor'easters. A few even said their vaunted ocean views turned into unpleasant black voids at night, and that living on the heavily used beach meant giving up privacy.

Despite that, there's nothing like seeing the kids burst out the back door and head straight for the surf. The question: Do you want to pay two, three or four times as much for a home that offers that when cheaper ones can be had if you can stand a short walk, bike ride or drive?

By Jeff Brown for MainStreet