There's something magical about living on the water, having a place to dock the boat and seeing the sunrise on the horizon. The allure has drawn home buyers to the Annapolis area for generations.
"No matter what is going on in the market, waterfront property will always do well," said Asha Goel of Long & Foster Realty in Towson. "People want to enjoy life. They want peace and quiet, and to get away from the city."
But that lifestyle can be expensive, as buyers increasingly find themselves competing for small waterfront properties and modest houses that many once would have passed by.
"Now I'm selling lots that were so undesirable 20 years ago that they were looked on as non-buildable lots," said Realtor Charlie Buckley of Long & Foster in Annapolis. "They're on the side of a hill or in a ditch, and they seemed worthless at one time. Now people are hiring an engineer and figuring out a way to build on these leftover lots."
Pat Savani of Champion Realty in Annapolis, agrees. "Waterfront here is a finite commodity," she said. "About 10 years ago, we ran out of good lots."
Consider these properties, all on the market this fall:
213 Lockwood Court, with an asking price of $765,000. A one-bedroom, one-bath single-level house on 0.19 acres of waterfront property on Spa Creek, built in 1930.
3251 Harness Creek Road in Hillsmere, $1 million asking price. A two-level concrete slab-type 1970 house with 2,040 square feet of living space - but on the water.
6 Market Quay in Historic Annapolis, asking price of $1,190,000. A three-bedroom, three-bath condo built in 1970.
Laverne Gucker, of O'Conor. Piper & Flynn in Annapolis. has been in the Annapolis real estate market for 25 years and has seen the market shift.
There was a time 30 to 50 years ago, she said, when people bought waterfront property solely as a second home or week-end vacation spot. Few people lived on the water year round, so owners usually built small, modest homes and cottages on the property.
Now, as those homes come on the market with asking prices of $1 million or more, prospective buyers often are shocked at how little house they can get for the money, Gucker said.
The key to those eye-popping prices, real estate agents say, is a waterfront location.
"In a normal house, you pay 75 percent for the bricks and sticks and 25 percent for the land," said Buckley, of Long and Foster. "But you'll pay 75 to 95 percent for the land in a waterfront home."
That can pose hard choices for the high-end real estate shopper.
"When you spend that much money, you don't think that you have to make concessions." said Gucker. "I had a buyer looking at a house in the [upper $800,000 range] who was surprised to find out that a dining room was not an option. I had a house on a small lot in Hillsmere on the South River that sold in excess of $3 million. It was not an upscale house, but an upscale view."
Buckley agreed that it takes more than $1 million to get a big house on a choice waterfront lot.
"I have people who have to have the granite countertops, the four-car garage and the master suite big enough to play soccer in," he said. "You quickly sort out the people who say they want to live on the water versus the people who want the house with everything in it."
There's an expression in the Annapolis real estate market that describes this phenomenon perfectly, Savani said.
"We say you're either a house buyer or a waterfront buyer. The people who buy on the water usually really want to live there." The others, she said, move to homes close to the water, but not on it. That way they can "have all the goodies they want in the house."
Not every home on the water-front is a shack.
"We have people who are a little more affluent who don't have to make concessions," Savani said.
Among the properties that would fit such a shopping list:
1514 Cedar Farm Lane, on the market this fall for $3.6 million. Built in 1999, it sits on 45 acres with access to Whitehall Creek. Features include a large in-ground swimming pool, hot tub, three fireplaces, a maid's suite, in-law apartment, game room, 14 bedrooms and a 12-car garage.
1423 Sharps Point Road, asking price $2,250,000. A nine-bedroom home that comes complete with a U.S. Coast Guard-Sanctioned lighthouse that can be found on nautical charts. The place includes a private beach on the Chesapeake Bay.
And there's always another option.
"People are buying the better waterfront sites where there are smaller homes already existing, and they are tearing them down and starting over," Gucker said. "It's the water view and size of the lot that they really want. Rather than going through the expense of renovating the existing property, it seems to make better sense to start over."
Two years ago, said Buckley, "the word was renovation. But for the amount of money that is needed to renovate some of these homes, it's a better investment to just rebuild.