How to find and buy a house on a river

Whether cruiser, jet skier or canoeist, avid boaters and thrill seekers love living on rivers. The freedom and expansive boating area appeals to the maverick in us. For weekenders and permanent residents alike, just the mention of owning a river property will induce conversation with friends or total strangers.

While there is nothing more rewarding than finding a river property that suits your needs, the following choices will help you avoid a watery nightmare and enjoy riverside living.


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  • decide distance from home or family
  • find an agent who actually lives waterside
  • get to know riverside living
  • understand the flooding and floodplain

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  • buy the boat before the home
  • drive and seek For Sale signs
  • think the land always comes with the home
  • let the seawall, shoreline or dock be a surprise expense
  • forget the service of a good Marina

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do decide distance from home or family

With a wide variety of choices, the first decision in finding a home on a river is how far you’ll want to be from your primary home, family and/or friends. The consensus is that two to three hours is acceptable to many. Buyers that have purchased six to eight hours away admit that they don’t use it as much or family and friends don’t want to make the drive to visit for a weekend. Watch your drive time. There is nothing worse than spending a relaxing weekend at your river house and getting caught in hours of stressful traffic on your way back home.

Do find an agent who actually lives waterside

An absolute must is to use an agent who lives waterfront fulltime. Many who represent waterfront properties have never lived on a lake or river. Experience with boating on a river is even more important than other bodies of water, due to the nature of navigating the perils that only rivers have. Information about rivers from these people may be inaccurate.

I can’t stress this enough finding a professional agent who knows the bow and stern of waterfront living will ensure a smooth transaction, proper information and the best property for your lifestyle and family!

Do get to know riverside living

In every home buying process, I always suggest the buyer uses professional inspectors, mortgage companies and real estate attorneys. Unfortunately, the burden of knowing the river is on the buyer. Where available, an agent that is a true waterfront specialist will be invaluable in understanding: Is there an undertow?  How can one keep their children and pets safe?  Does your shoreline need work? What length and motor of boats are the safest for the river? Who controls the ebb and flow of the river? How busy is the river? Are there barges on your part of the river? Can you swim in the river? What is the river like at night? How active are bugs and snakes in the area?

Do understand the flooding and floodplain

With riverside living, this is so important that it deserves a special section all by itself. Every river will overflow its banks. It is just a matter of time. Tributaries are funneling more and more water as areas become developed. In my estimation, 100 year floodplains can’t keep up with all the progress. Flooding affects your insurance, property, shoreline and home. Do your homework to determine how prone the property is to flooding. Properly constructed seawalls may protect your investment. While test marketing a riverside development, I found consumers liked raised dwellings built on pylons, which offered added protection from flooding. If a seller or their representative tells you that the property floods… run away quickly!

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not buy the boat before the home

Home buyers should choose a river that fits their lifestyle. Rivers have boat and motor size requirements that could affect your home choices. Navigating smaller rivers will be affected by amounts of rainfall, runoff, etc. Where canoes may flourish, motorized craft may not. Conversely, a rapid river may be dangerous for canoe traffic. Fishing on most rivers offers a wider variety and size of fish than most lakes, but still choose your boat wisely.

Do not drive and seek For Sale signs

We have all done it. Driving around on a sunny afternoon and dreaming. Excitement gets the best of us, and we call on a home that has a For Sale sign out. Before we know it, we are signing on the dotted line without knowing who just serviced us. Worst idea in the world! I have seen consumers purchase a property where flooding occurs over 90 percent of it, or buy a home on a river that fluctuates and becomes too shallow to be accessed by boat.

We spend time seeking out the best doctors, dentists and hair stylists but we’ll use anyone to make the largest transaction in our lives.

Do your homework. Choose a fulltime, professional, waterfront specialist.

Do not think the land always comes with the home

The average homeowner has come to understand that they buy the home and lot/ land on which it stands. Not always true with waterfront property! River homes may reside on property that is owned by other entities like the Department of Natural Resources, the local city, the lake association or even a private person. Sometimes the shoreline itself and all the access that goes with it is owned by these entities. I have seen this failed to be disclosed to the buyer. This type of leasehold ownership may dictate how or what you can do with your river home or dock. Once again, using a waterfront specialist could help you identify these potential issues and make educated decisions.

Do not let the seawall, shoreline or dock be a surprise expense

You are not just buying a home here you are buying a lifestyle! Often times, we understand that the washer and dryer comes with the home, but many buyers or their agents overlook the cost and responsibility of your seawall, shoreline and dock.

These are essentially an asset of the property. If governing bodies allow docks, your expense could be $5,000 to $25,000 if the dock needs to be built or repaired. Rocky shorelines can cost in the thousands while seawalls can escalate quickly to the tens of thousands. Make sure you know what you are getting.

Do not forget the service of a good Marina

Another overlooked amenity is if a quality marina or mechanic is nearby. In my mind, this raises the perceived value of your waterfront home considerably. There is nothing worse than having your boat down for half the summer. An agent who lives near waters will be cognizant of this matter and should be able to identify where the better marinas are.


Your river property will bring much excitement, inspiration and fun to your life. Relying on the expertise of a professional who specializes in waterfront property will make the process effortless and satisfying. This investment will not only be for you but for your valued family, friends and future generations. It is a lifetime dream of many, yet a realization by only a few. Enjoy rafting, canoeing, boating, fishing and every memorable moment!

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