From rental records to climate concerns, here’s what you need to consider before you buy.

By Caroline McKenzie
March 20, 2017

Get the look: Architects Charles Myer and Don Knerr, Charles R. Myer & Partners, Ltd. Interior designer Andra Birkerts, Andra Birkerts Interior Design. The home's front door is painted Clipped Grass by California Paints.

Some things are worth the wait—like a corner cottage in Rockport, Massachusetts, that Anne Kubik had eyed since childhood. "When I was a little girl, we lived up the street, and we'd walk and bike past it," says Kubik, who grew up spending summers in the beach town about an hour from Boston.

Photo: Francesco Lagnese; Stylist: Elizabeth Beeler

“How close is it to the water?” That’s the top question realtors receive about beach homes. But it shouldn't be the only one. We surveyed real estate agents who specialize in coastal properties to find what second homebuyers really need to know before signing on the dotted line. Asking these questions could be the difference between sinking or swimming as a beach homeowner! 

1. Can it be rented?
Many people purchase a vacation home with the intention of renting it as a source of secondary income. “If you fall into that category of buyers, you'll want to establish that the home can indeed be rented,” says Nic Svensson of Compass in Santa Barbara, CA. “Some areas, looking to cut down on tourists, will only allow a property to be rented a minimum of 30 days.” If short-term rentals are an option, ask for rental income records and the rental booking schedule for the previous two years. You'll also want to make sure you're familiar with any local taxes associated with vacation rental properties. 

2. Will it hold a crowd?
Vacation homes tend to draw a host of company. And while you'll no doubt take note of the number of bedrooms at a property, you should also consider how the other spaces will accommodate a large group, explains Judy Fairchild of Dunes Property in South Carolina. For example, can the kitchen and dining room sit eight or more people? Is it realistic for everyone to take a shower in the morning? Is there enough seating space for a large family movie night?

Related: More Questions to Ask Before Buying a Home:

3. How are the bugs?
“Pesky insects are an inevitable part of beach life, but wind and weather patterns can really work in your favor,” says Fairchild. Ask your agent about the climate where you’re looking, and to help pinpoint lots (for example, ones with standing water) that may attract unwanted tenants. 

4. Where's the closest pizza place?
A new beach house kitchen may conjure visions of gourmet seafood dinners. “The reality is vacationers want convenience. They want to pick up takeout or grab a cup of coffee from Starbucks,” says Sep Niakan a realtor with HB Roswell Realty in Miami. Double-check with your realtor how close a property is to amenities like restaurants and pharmacies to ensure you find a spot with the right blend of service and seclusion. 

5. Is there a flood in the forecast?
Flooding is a possibility at many coastal properties. “Make sure you ask about any past flooding that’s affected the home, and that you confirm with your realtor whether or not the home requires flood insurance,” says Connie Cadwell of Annapolis Real Estate in Maryland. Another weather-related inquiry: how'd the home hold up during the last hurricane? The answer may give you important insights into a house's roof, framework, and more.