Frequently Asked Waterfront Property Questions

What is “impervious surface” vs “pervious surface” and how does it impact the potential for future development of a waterfront property?

Impervious surface is a surface that does not permit water to run through the surface (i.e., a driveway). Pervious is the exact opposite. In a pervious surface, water can freely run through and drain from said surface. Every lot is zoned to allow a certain amount of impervious surface coverage; thus, if a particular lot has reached its maximum impervious amount, future expansion may be limited. This is one of the most complex and important issues in expanding the footprint of an existing property. There have been major changes in the regulations about impervious surface recently. Call us if you have questions; we work with some of the people who helped write the new regulations.

With regards to permitting, which side of a waterfront property is considered the “front?”

The waterfront side of the property is legally considered the front of the property for permitting purposes. This has ramifications on what can be built, and what the setbacks are from the property lines. In order to avoid confusion we always refer to the “waterside” and the “street side.” Give us a call if you want to know setbacks and permitted uses for each zoning classification.

What is “MLW” in water depth?

MLW stands for “mean low water.” It refers to the water depth at an average low tide. However, there are a few other factors to consider. First, the MLW measurement in the multiple list system is usually provided by the seller. Sellers have been known to “over-estimate” the MLW at their docks. Second, water depth in the Annapolis area is frequently controlled more by the wind than the tide, so you can have high tide and low water depth simultaneously if the wind is strong from the north. “Mr. Waterfront” Buyer Experts have a system for establishing “true” normal water depth based on marine growth on the pilings. Ask one of them to explain the system and measure the water the next time you are out looking at homes.

How do I get a pier permit?

There are a number of consultants in the area who will prepare and submit a pier permit for you. I have also shown several clients who wanted to save money how to “do it yourself.” It is a fairly simple procedure once you have all the state and county forms (approval is required from both Anne Arundel County and from the Maryland Department of the Environment) – just time-consuming and tedious.

What is the difference between the critical area zone and the buffer zone?

The Critical Area is the land area 1,000 feet inland from tidal water or tidal wetlands. The buffer zone, on the other hand, has restrictions on construction, clearing, and vegetation management within the minimum 100-foot buffer along the shoreline. Other factors may increase the buffer and extend it beyond the standard 100-foot mark. Give us a call and we can give you more info or help you evaluate the property you are considering.

I measured deep water at the dock. Is there anything else to consider in determining if I can get my boat there?

Absolutely. You need to determine if there are any shallow spots or sandbars between the house you are considering and open water. These most frequently occur at the mouth of creeks and at sharp bends in creeks. You will also need to check for bridges between your dock and open water. The upper South River is very deep but does not permit most sail boats because of the height of the Riva Road bridge. Tell your “Mr. Waterfront” Buyer Expert the height, draft and beam of your vessel and they will make sure that the waterways and slip at the home you are considering can accommodate your boat.

People keep telling me about the “high waterfront taxes.” Is there an additional tax on waterfront that non-waterfront homeowners do not pay?

Property taxes are based on the estimate of a property’s value (comprised of a land portion and an improvement portion and together called “the assessment”) and the tax rate per dollar of assessed value (“the mil rate”). Consequently, a waterfront and a non-waterfront property with the same assessment would both pay the same real estate taxes in Anne Arundel County. I am not aware of any additional “waterfront tax,” although a waterfront property probably has a higher assessment for land than non-waterfront.

Is mold more likely to be a problem in waterfront homes than in homes away from the water?

Mold requires a moisture source to grow – usually a pipe leak, ground water intrusion, or a crack in the building envelope such as around windows or flashing. The presence of water in the nearby river should not increase the likelihood of mold in a well-built house. Of course, if a house is in a flood zone or floods during storms this would be a serious concern. Check with your “Mr. Waterfront” Buyer Expert to find out if a home has a history of flooding or if there is evidence of mold from other causes.

I keep hearing the term “riparian rights.” What does this mean?

Riparian rights refer to a homeowner’s right to build a structure from their property (usually a dock) into the water. However, just as on land, you must get the proper permits and comply with applicable laws in order to build. This means that not all properties with Riparian Rights will actually be able to get a permit for a dock. Other factors to consider include the setback from the property line extensions, the location of neighboring docks, and the location of the channel in the waterway. When looking at a property where the buyer would like to construct a pier, I evaluate all these items and then set up a meeting with the home buyer and the County Permit Office to confirm what we believe to be accurate.

Can the channel or slip at the pier be dredged to achieve deep water access?

Maybe. With the exception of maintenance dredging of existing channels and basins that have been previously dredged, dredging of shallow water habitats in areas of less than three feet at mean low water is not permitted unless approved by the appropriate state and federal agencies. We have worked with a number of homeowners to get deeper water permits and would be happy to assist you.

What is the difference between a location, boundary, elevation and a topographical survey?

A Location Survey shows the location of the improvements on the property in relation to the apparent boundary lines of the property. It generally involves a physical inspection of the property and is accurate to plus or minus a few feet. A Boundary Survey is used to identify a property’s boundary lines. In this type of survey, the surveyor will set (or recover) the property corners and produce a detailed plat or map. To accomplish this, the surveyor will research the public records and do research in the field, take measurements and perform calculations. An Elevation Survey shows the hight of your finished space above the flood areas and is used to determine if you need flood insurance. A Topographical Survey is made to determine the configuration of the earth’s surface and to locate natural and cultural features on it. Call us and we will explain which type of survey is best for the particular situation, and which companies provide those services.

The slip at the house I am considering is too shallow for my boat. Can I dredge it?

Maybe. Typically the County will issue permits for dredging to the “historical depth” and if there is no sub aquatic vegetation (“SAV”) that will be destroyed. You also need to consider if tides and currents will quickly fill in the area you just dredged. We work with several people that specialize in dredging and pier permits. In some cases it may be cheaper, simpler, and more permanent to just extend your pier into deeper water.

Will a basement in a waterfront home always be damp?

Absolutely not. Although all homes have moisture in the soils surrounding the basement, a well-built home is protected by sump pumps, under slab drainage, and water-proofing. Your “Mr. Waterfront” Buyer Expert can help identify these features for you and schedule inspections with building experts to make sure your home has what is necessary to keep the basement dry.

How does the exposure impact a waterfront property with regards to shade, sunset/sunrise views, storm exposure, etc…?

Homes on the water are exposed to greater weather elements than non-waterfront homes. Mother Nature tends to be less forgiving to a home on the water — wind and driving rain can be particularly fierce — so it is important to understand what precautions you can take to help protect your investment. Ask us about the best building materials for highly exposed areas such as Chesapeake Bay frontage.

What is the average tidal range and how does that impact the MLW and water access to the pier?

Unlike in Maine, the  Chesapeake Bay (and tributary) tides vary by a foot or two most days. However the tides are not your problem – the wind is the problem. Northerly winds in the winter and fall can drop the water level by three feet in addition to the low tide! Summer southerly winds can raise it the same amount. Storms coming up the Chesapeake Bay can bring water surges six feet or more above normal! There is a simple way to tell what the “average low water” level is by looking at the pilings – do you know what it is? And, if a serious storm is on the way, listen to the NOAA weather for updates so you can take care of your boat in an extreme tide!

Having a pool on the waterside of a property seems to be a rare find. Is it difficult to get a permit to install a waterfront pool?

It is extremely difficult to get a pool permit on the waterside of a home. The main reason is that most properties do not have enough space outside of the critical area buffer in which to construct a pool. However, there are sever legal justifications that can be used to get a variance to build a pool with less than normal setbacks. And there is a property classification called “buffer exempt” which allows construction of a pool closer to the water. Let us know if you want a pool and we will contact one of the reputable permit people we work with to determine if a pool is feasible.

Will I need flood insurance?

After the recent storms in New York and New Orleans, more and more properties are required to have flood insurance. If needed, the cost of the flood insurance varies widely depending on the elevation of the property and whether it is in an “A”, “B” or “C” flood-zone area. Of course, homes that are built out of the flood zone do not require this coverage at all. A Mr. Waterfront Buyer Agent can evaluate the homes you are considering, let you know it they will require flood insurance, and help to estimate the cost.

What is a nitrogen reducing septic system and how does is impact the potential for future development of a property?

A nitrogen-reducing system consists of the advanced pre-treatment unit and the sewage disposal field. The advanced pre-treatment units used in Anne Arundel County typically replace or work in combination with the septic tank. Aeration or recirculation is used to promote biological action, resulting in the release of nitrogen as a harmless gas into the atmosphere. Nitrogen reducing systems are considered the best available technology in Anne Arundel County, and are generally required for new construction, building addition applications that require an upgrade to the existing septic systems, and repair or replacement applications for existing septic systems that are located in the Critical Area. This may sound complicated but we can assist you with the process.

What is the “Homestead Tax Credit”?

Maryland tries to protect long-term, primary homeowners from being “taxed out of their houses,” so the state caps the amount that taxes can increase on a primary residence each year. When the house is sold, the tax bill is reset to account for the current assessment of the property. Then, after a year, the new owner is eligible for the Homestead Credit to keep his/her taxes from significant increases – assuming, of course, it is a primary residence. The Homestead credit is not automatic; it requires an application.

What steps do I need to do before I can make an offer on a waterfront property?

The most important thing a buyer can do prior to making an offer on a waterfront property is to be pre-qualified by a reputable lender. We have access to a number of great local lenders in the area who truly understand the waterfront market.

What is the difference between radon and radium?

Both radon and radium are naturally occurring substances that are in ground water and the ground. While both are very common and not considered harmful in low doses, high doses can pose a health hazard. Both can easily and inexpensively be removed from the air and the water. Radon and radium tend to occur in certain types of soils and in certain areas of the County. I usually discuss with my client and the Home Inspector as to whether testing for radon and radium is advisable. Usually the Seller will pay to have these products filtered from the air and water if they are found.