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July 12, 2024

The Best U.S. Towns to Buy Waterfront Homes

Picture this: a stunning waterfront home with a price tag that won’t break the bank. Americans dream of escaping city life or securing a slice of waterfront paradise for retirement. Still, many are unaware that this aspiration often comes with a hefty premium, with waterfront homes costing over 70% more than the average property.

We analyzed data from Redfin waterfront home listings in 100 of the most popular beach and lake towns in the U.S. to find the most and least affordable towns to buy waterfront homes based on housing price-to-income ratios. Additionally, we found the best towns to buy a waterfront home, across the board, based on six real estate-related ranking factors, including:

  1. Median home price
  2. Median square footage
  3. Price per square foot
  4. Home price-to-income ratio
  5. Number of bedrooms
  6. Number of bathrooms

Keep reading to discover the true cost of living on a lakefront or beachfront across the U.S. and the best towns for purchasing property by the water.

Where Waterfront Homes Are Most (and Least) Affordable

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Dreaming of owning a waterfront property? We've done the homework for you. By analyzing home price-to-income ratios, we identified the most and least affordable towns to buy a waterfront home in the U.S. This ratio measures housing affordability by comparing median home prices to median household income in a given area, with lower ratios indicating greater affordability.

Here are the five most affordable towns to buy waterfront homes:

  1. Kiawah Island, SC Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 4.83
  • Nestled just outside of Charleston, Kiawah Island, SC, emerges as the most affordable town in our study for purchasing a waterfront home. While the median home price for oceanfront properties is a substantial $1,035,000, the area's notably high median annual household income of $214,250—96% above the national average—balances the cost, making Kiawah Island a surprisingly attainable haven for waterfront living.
  1. Branson, MO Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 5.47
  • Branson, MO, stands out as the second-most affordable town for waterfront living. With a median home price of $272,500, lakeside properties in Branson are attractively priced. Known for its entertainment scene, outdoor watersports, and friendly community, Branson offers a perfect balance of leisure and lifestyle, making it an ideal spot for a lakeside retreat.
  1. Ocean Springs, MS Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 5.62
  • With a median home price of $407,750, Ocean Springs offers competitive pricing for beachfront properties. Coupled with a median annual household income of $72,500, residents find a harmonious balance between cost and comfort. The town is known for its stunning coastal views, pristine beaches, and charming downtown filled with unique shops, art galleries, and renowned seafood restaurants.
  1. Osage Beach, MO Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 5.83
  • Bordering the Lake of the Ozarks, Osage Beach is one of Missouri’s most beloved recreational destinations hailed for its water activities, top-rated golf courses, and lively social scene. With a median home price of $410,000 and a median annual household income of $70,313, Osage Beach presents a compelling option for homebuyers seeking a waterfront lifestyle without breaking the bank.
  1. Naples, FL Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 5.85
  • With a median home price of $793,000 and a median annual household income of $135,657—57% higher than the national average—Naples offers an exceptional balance of luxury and affordability. Residents enjoy a wealth of activities, from boating and fishing in the Gulf of Mexico to exploring the renowned Naples Botanical Garden.

There is a noticeable trend of affordability in certain states. Two of the top 10 most affordable towns for waterfront homes are in Missouri, two are in Florida, and two are in South Carolina.

While the towns we've mentioned above offer great value for waterfront homebuyers, some locations require a larger investment, where prospective buyers should prepare for higher premiums to enjoy oceanfront or lakefront views. On average, Americans will pay $624,051 more for a waterfront property, indicating a 74.9% premium for living by the water across the U.S.

Here are the five least affordable towns to buy waterfront homes:

  1. Newport Beach, CA Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 57.54
  • In the heart of Orange County, Newport Beach, CA, is the least affordable town in our study for purchasing a waterfront home. With a median home price of $8,600,000, waterfront homes here carry a significant premium, costing $5,425,000 more than the average home––a 52% increase. While the median household income of $149,471 is relatively high, it doesn't quite offset the high cost of these coveted properties.
  1. Malibu, CA Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 48.13
  • The median home price for waterfront properties in Malibu is a staggering $8,995,000, reflecting a 70% premium, or $4,656,550 more than the average home. While the median household income is $186,905—substantially higher than the national average—it still falls short of compensating for the high cost of oceanfront living in this iconic beach town. Known for its celebrity residents, immaculate beaches, and opulent lifestyle, Malibu remains a highly desirable, albeit costly, destination for waterfront home buyers.
  1. Newport, RI Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 33.20
  • Newport, RI, ranks among the least affordable towns for purchasing a waterfront home. With a median home price of $2,700,000, waterfront properties in Newport come with a premium of $1,861,000 over the average home. The median household income of $81,330, while respectable, is not sufficient to offset the high costs associated with living on the water in this historic and picturesque coastal town.
  1. Bar Harbor, ME Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 33.19
  • Bar Harbor, ME, renowned for its stunning coastal scenery and proximity to Acadia National Park, ranks as the fourth-least affordable town. With a median home price of $2,225,000, waterfront properties here command a significant investment, and the median household income of $67,045 falls well short of offsetting these high property costs. Bar Harbor’s charm lies in its breathtaking New England landscapes and its rich maritime history, making it a dream destination for those who can afford the premium for waterfront living there.
  1. Laguna Beach, CA Home Price-to-Income Ratio: 32.76
  • The median home price of waterfront homes in Laguna Beach is $4,647,500, and ocean views here come with a 51% premium over average homes. Laguna Beach’s allure lies in its beautiful beaches, vibrant arts scene, and upscale amenities, making it a coveted, yet costly, destination for waterfront homebuyers.

The Best U.S. Towns to Buy a Waterfront Home

a U.S. map plotting the best towns to buy waterfront homes based on six real estate metrics

When it comes to balancing cost with square footage, some towns offer better opportunities for buying waterfront homes than others. Next, we found the best U.S. towns to buy a waterfront home, across the board, based on six real estate-related ranking factors, including median home price, median square footage, price per square foot, home price-to-income ratio, number of bedrooms, and number of bathrooms.

Here are the five best towns to buy a waterfront home overall:

  1. Lakeway, TX
  2. Corolla, NC
  3. Nags Head, NC
  4. Rehoboth Beach, DE
  5. Greensboro, GA

Situated on the shore of Lake Travis in Texas Hill Country, Lakeway, TX stands out as the best town to buy a waterfront home, offering optimal conditions across the most ranking factors and earning a score of 43.24 out of a possible 50. Spacious living is a hallmark here, with median square footage of 3,416 for waterfront homes––52% more than the study’s national average. Additionally, these homes typically feature four bedrooms and four bathrooms. The median price per square foot stands at $451––nearly 50% lower than the average, while the home price-to-income ratio is a reasonable 10.1, with a median waterfront home price of $1,549,500 and a median household income of $154,118.

Notably, four out of the top 10 best towns to buy waterfront homes are located on the North Carolina coast––Corolla, Nags Head, Hatteras, and Wrightsville Beach. Corolla and Nags Head have the second and third-largest median square footage of waterfront homes in the study ranging from 3,690 to 3,700 square feet and averaging five bedrooms and six bathrooms. Additionally, Hatteras, NC, offers a low median home price for waterfront homes at $814,750, which is 56% lower than the study’s national average.

Rehoboth Beach, DE, ranks fourth among the best towns to buy a waterfront home. With a median waterfront home price of $949,000 and a median household income of $147,273, the home price-to-income ratio is a favorable 6.4, the eighth-lowest in the study. Moreover, the median price per square foot for waterfront homes in Rehoboth is $373––67% lower than the national average.

Ready to dive deeper into the numbers or curious to see how your nearest beach or lake town stacks up if it’s not listed within the maps above? We’ve compiled our full ranking for all U.S. towns analyzed in the interactive data table below. Search for your town of interest, or click on the heading of each column to sort by that category!

Closing Thoughts

From the affordability and space of Lakeway, TX, to the luxurious charm of Naples, FL, and the historical allure of Newport, RI, these towns cater to different preferences and budgets. North Carolina's coast shines with multiple entries, highlighting its appeal for spacious and reasonably priced waterfront living. Meanwhile, Kiawah Island, SC, and Rehoboth Beach, DE, stand out for their attractive home price-to-income ratios.

Whether you're seeking luxury, space, or affordability, we hope this study helps you find your perfect waterfront home. And if you're selling your waterfront property, Virtual Staging AI can help showcase its full potential. Our cutting-edge technology allows you to stage your home virtually, enhancing its appeal and highlighting its best features to prospective buyers. Test out Virtual Staging AI to transform your waterfront home and make a lasting impression.

Methodology

To find the best U.S. towns to buy waterfront homes, we started with a list of 100 of the most popular beach and lake towns, according to the travel experts at Travel & Leisure, Thrillist, and TripSavvy, ensuring representation across different regions of the country. From there, we analyzed data across six unique ranking factors. We assigned towns with a score of 0-5 for each factor, with a score of 5 representing the most favorable conditions. We determined each city’s total score from the total of its individual factor scores, which were weighted according to their influence on buying a waterfront home. Individual factor scores were then added together to give each city a final score from 0-50. Higher scores indicated cities that are better for buying a waterfront home.

A complete list of ranking factors and their respective weights can be found below:

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To find the most and least affordable towns to buy waterfront homes, we started with the same list of 100 beach and lake towns. We scraped home prices from all waterfront listings on Redfin, excluding land and mobile home listings, to determine the median home price in each town. Next, we obtained the median annual household income from the U.S. Census Bureau. By comparing the median waterfront home price to the median household income, we calculated the home price-to-income ratios, which served as our affordability metric.