‘It Wasn’t Paradise’: The Surprising Downsides of Living in a Beach House

by Garcia Chris
13 minutes read
‘It Wasn’t Paradise’: The Surprising Downsides of Living in a Beach House

When Brenda Christensen sold her software company, she decided to reward herself with the ultimate dream property: a house on the beach.

“It was a goal I’d cherished for years,” she says.

She paid $420,000 for a three-bedroom, three-bath house a short stroll from the Pacific Ocean on Oxnard Shores in Ventura, CA.

The contemporary 2,839-square-foot home came with a three-floor deck from which she could gaze at rosy-hued sunsets over sparkling waves.

Brenda Christensen with her dog at her Ventura, CA, beach house

(Brenda Christensen)

“It was everything I thought I wanted,” she recalls.

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But all too soon, her beach house dream started showing its ugly underbelly.

The surprising downsides of buying a beach house

Countless people dream of buying a house near the beach, and pay a premium for it: Realtor.com® data shows that homes on the ocean are priced roughly 29% higher than landlocked homes in the same area. While some of this markup is due to differences in home size (beach homes tend to be larger), on a per-square-foot basis, beachfront listings are still priced on average 15% higher.

Yet although people pay dearly for the privilege of seeing and hearing those crashing waves out their window, beachfront properties come with a surprising array of pitfalls.

“They come when the weather is beautiful and think, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is the place!’” says Laura Adams, a senior analyst for Aceable Agent, a leading platform for real estate education, who also spent 20 years as a Florida real estate broker and rents a condo on Vero Beach, FL. “They don’t understand.”

For Christensen, although she loved feeling the sand between her toes, she did not love it when the Santa Ana winds blew in and caused that sand to pile up to 5-foot mounds on her driveway and roads that left her more or less stranded at home.

“You’d have to hire someone to bulldoze,” she says. “And there were only a couple of people who did it, so you’d be on a waitlist.”

Salt was another silent but damaging element she hadn’t considered, causing her brand-new patio set to soon get covered in rust.

“My neighbor said, ‘Oh no, honey, you have to only buy plastic,’” Christensen recalls.

Another annoyance piercing her peaceful retreat was the fact that many people loved Oxnard Shores as much as she did, and flocked to the area for day trips—or, like her, to buy, rent, or renovate their own slice of paradise there.

At one point, she recalls, “The construction workers next door would look down on my courtyard where I’d be in my bikini and make catcalls. It was horrible. I could never relax.”

She stuck it out in her beach house for just two years before selling the place.

“It wasn’t paradise,” she says. “It was torment.”

How climate change is threatening beach homes

Christensen is hardly alone in her ignorance of a beach home’s various drawbacks. Today’s changing climate presents a whole new crop of problems.

“Recent years have seen a surge in natural disasters such as flooding and beach erosion,” says Adams.

Additionally, that sand erosion means beaches are getting smaller by the year.

“Erosion can dramatically change the safety of a building, and even your view,” Adams explains. “The government will ‘renourish’ the beach as much as it can, but it’s a losing battle.”

In fact, the news is full of horror stories of beaches where erosion was so extreme, the homes perched on these ever-shrinking pieces of land collapsed or were demolished as too dangerous to inhabit.

“Beach property owners who are attuned to these environmental shifts are scrutinizing how climate change might influence the value and ongoing costs of the homes they own or intend to purchase,” Adams says. “The hurricanes are deadly. The native Floridian knows that it’s part of life, to be prepared to pull up and evacuate. The newcomer may not realize this.”

Higher insurance premiums—if you can get insurance at all

In addition to the dangers of living near the beach, the expenses could make many a budget-minded homeowner nervous, too.

“The single biggest risk to beachfront property, at least if you’re on the ocean, is insurance: You’ll be vulnerable to flooding, hurricanes, coastal erosion, and sea level rise, all of which are getting harder and harder to insure,” says Martin Orefice, the CEO of Rent to Own Atlanta.

Many major insurers are pulling out of coastal states like Florida, Texas, and California entirely for this reason, he continues.

“Your beachfront property could be literally and financially underwater in a few years’ time, your insurance premiums will be sky-high in the meantime, and you’ll have a hard time reselling,” Orefice says.

“Buying a beach house sounds more idyllic than it actually is,” says Cara Ameer, a licensed real estate agent who has helped countless homebuyers in Florida and California. “You may also need to spend substantially more to get flood insurance … as well as a wind/hurricane policy. Be prepared for several thousand dollars with premiums increasing every year. A beach house could command insurance premiums well over $50,000.”

These are the exact reasons that Adams has chosen to rent a beach condo rather than buy.

“It’s cheaper for me,” she says. “If you look at HOA fees, they’re very high. That’s from the insurance and all the maintenance.”

At some point, Adams says she can envision a future where only cash buyers and the uber-wealthy will invest in beachfront property, since the rest of the population won’t be able to afford the risks and the insurance. (Case in point: Jeff Bezos just increased his holdings on the island of Indian Creek, FL.)

Beach homes are high-maintenance properties

While many might love the smell of salty sea air, the reality is that it corrodes metal, requiring constant maintenance and repainting of beachfront buildings.

“One of the more unique properties of beach homes is that they are in the ‘sea spray zone,’” says Jameson Tyler Drew, president of Anubis Properties in California. “As waves crash nearby, they release water droplets into the air. Most of this is invisible to the naked eye. The water usually evaporates on a hot day, but the salt in it does not. That means your beach house is constantly under a shower of salt so long as there are waves and sun. This spray can also find its way into your house and evaporate as well if it’s not properly sealed.”

One client of Drew’s who owned a home in Newport Beach made the mistake of parking a classic Ferrari 250 in the garage.

“Even with the car covered in a locked garage, the sea spray found a way inside,” Drew recalls. “The car’s interior eventually became caked with a fine layer of salt, causing cracks on the leather. Salt had also managed to find its way into the frame and engine, causing serious rust damage on a six-figure car.”

“I don’t think many people really understand until they own a property and they see things always needing to be replaced,” adds Ameer. “Door handles, hardware, exterior light fixtures, and other hardware take a beating and constantly have to be replaced. The exterior materials of the home as well as the roof also need constant maintenance and may need to be changed to withstand the elements.”

Will people ever learn their lesson about beach homes? Probably not

Despite these many issues, Adams observes that people keep snapping up beachfront properties.

“The market is very healthy,” she says. “For true beach lovers, the downsides don’t deter them.”

Indeed, a home in Nantucket sold in February for $600,000 after being listed in September for $2.3 million—even though the beach house had lost 70 feet of frontage in a matter of weeks, according to the New York Post.

Despite the house being in jeopardy, the new owner told the outlet: “The home is amazing. The location is amazing. And the price mitigates the risk to a good degree.”

Christensen might be one of those buyers who just can’t give up on beach homes entirely. After selling her first beach house in Ventura, she moved to another beach house in the bay enclave of Point Roberts, WA, purchased for $420,000.

Christensen’s second try: her home in Point Roberts, WA

(Realtor.com)

A view of the beach in every window—which became a problem

(Realtor.com)

Surely, she figured, the picturesque little town would offer her more tranquility than Ventura. And at first, all was exactly as she’d envisioned.

“Bald eagles soared overhead, and I had the occasional sighting of Orca pods making their way past my windows,” she marvels.

But her idyll was cut short with the arrival of summer—when yet again more tourists descended on the tiny town like a tidal wave, straining its limited resources.

“For two months, it was crawling with people,” she laments.

A year later, Christensen sold her second beach home and vowed to never buy another one.

“I said, ‘I’m done with the water,’” she says.

But then she met her husband, who was also a water lover and surfer.

To join her parents in the state and to have a boat, she and her husband moved across the country to Florida to buy a third waterfront home in Cape Coral.

Third time’s a charm? Christensen’s home in Cape Coral, FL

(Realtor.com)

A dock for Christensen’s boat outside her Cape Coral home

(Realtor.com)

They snapped up a $350,000 four-bedroom home inland on a canal. Here, Christensen thought they could have a boat in their backyard, but wouldn’t have to deal with the negatives of beach life.

“People would tell me, ‘Don’t worry, we don’t get hurricanes here,’” she says.

Those people were proved wrong in 2022 when Hurricane Ian tore through the area, the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935. It destroyed Christensen’s dock, sunk her family’s boat, and damaged the house.

Christensen and her husband decided not to repair the dock or buy another boat. Dock insurance is prohibitively expensive, and Christensen figures they’re due for another hurricane at any time.

Hurricane Ian destroyed her dock and boat.

(Brenda Christensen)

Moving plans are being discussed, but Christensen says it’s not easy finding a place for a water lover like herself that doesn’t also come with problems.

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“It’s a love-hate thing,” she sighs about beach living. “I’m thinking Alabama. But I hear they have tornadoes.”

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