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Waterfront Property in Northwest Florida

By Tom Neubauer, Pres/CEO ERA Neubauer Real Estate, Inc.


One of the greatest benefits to living in northwest Florida is the direct and convenient access to the beautiful bays, bayous and the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, there are some beautiful lakes as well if salt water with its own unique list of considerations is not your preference.

There are many things that affect the use, enjoyment and, ultimately, market value of waterfront property. Before making a substantial investment in a waterfront property, it’s important to consider the key issues that affect value and marketability. The most important considerations are:

  1. site elevation, flood zone and availability of flood insurance
  2. water depth, navigability and access to major waterways, considering all tidal ranges throughout the year
  3. erosion and containment of the shoreline (bulkheads and seawalls), permits for docks and seawalls, ground-water table (septic tank permits)
  4. navigation obstacles such as bridges or any channels that require ongoing maintenance.

It’s important for purchasers to do a little homework in advance. Most people buy waterfront property as an investment. The investment value is affected by location, view, topography and navigability. Of course, the most valuable properties score highly in all of these areas.

  • View: The opportunity to enjoy a breathtaking sunrise or sunset overlooking the water from your patio is one of the primary reasons for living on the waterfront. There are many buyers who care little about boating access and simply want a beautiful view, extra privacy and a prestigious neighborhood.
  • Location: Many residential waterfront areas are part of the most prestigious communities in the area, where developers plan for construction of attractive homes and neighborhood amenities.
  • Boaters: For some, the most important aspect of the property is navigability of the water for boating, access to major waterways and distance from your property to the most productive fishing spots, Gulf of Mexico or popular recreational areas such as Shell Island in Bay County or Crab Island in Destin. If fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is most important to these buyers, it would make sense to select a property with the shortest distance to the Gulf to save time and fuel. The same applies to weekend recreational boaters – why spend an hour or more each way traveling to a popular recreational area if you can live fifteen minutes away?
  • Navigability: Property value is significantly affected by navigability for boaters. Is there sufficient water depth to leave your dock even in the lowest winter tides range? Are there low bridges that limit the passage of sailboats or channels which must be dredged from time to time subject to environmental permitting and dredge funding?
  • Insurability of Improvements: In recent years, there has been much controversy about the government subsidy of the Federal Flood insurance program. This is especially important because bank financing requires improvements located in a Federal Flood Zone to be insured. It simply does not make sense to build a home with a base floor elevation that is likely to flood due to storm surge. This can often be remedied with a different construction design and/ or fill.

The best and most expensive properties may have most or all of these attributes. Accordingly, marketability is also impacted by these features since the buyer-pool grows to include both those who seek a beautiful view and good boating attributes.

Before settling on a waterfront property, it’s important to visit by boat, check out the water access, distance to waterfront attractions such as restaurants, fishing or recreational locations. It’s also important to discuss with a knowledgeable waterfront real estate specialist the issues of dock and seawall permits, flood insurance, water tables, soil geotechnical issues and impacts on future marketability.


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