Ask the Expert

Waterfront homes

Q: Buying a home is always a complicated process, but throw ‘waterfront’ in the mix, and things get even more complex. Do you have any top tips that we should know or common mistakes we should avoid before purchasing our ‘dream’ home by the water?

When purchasing a waterfront home I would advise a buyer to thoroughly research the type of property that is being considered. Is it uplands, patented tidelands or leased tidelands? With uplands, which are pieces of land that sit at the edge of the water, you would own the land and water up to the mean high tide area. With patented tidelands, which are usually combined with an upland parcel, you would take ownership of the water as well as the upland lot. Leased tidelands would also most likely be combined with an upland property, but you would not own the water, and you would be required to pay annual lease payments to the State of Alaska. I recently sold a waterfront home that a portion of the house was sitting on the leased tidelands; although the lease was transferable, it had been written in the 1960s, and the terms were outdated and unacceptable to current lender requirements. It required that the state, city and lender agree on new lease terms and caused a significant delay in closing. I would also advise that a buyer be aware of specific permitting requirements for docks, septic systems and zoning requirements. Every Alaska coastal community is unique unto itself. When considering a waterfront home purchase, it would be prudent to choose a real estate agent with local knowledge and experience.

Mary Wanzer is the Broker and Partner in Coastal Real Estate Group. She has 17 years of experience in selling and listing homes and commercial property in Ketchikan. Visit