Owning a Seattle waterfront vacation home has an appeal to almost everyone. The idea of waking up to enjoy a cup of coffee with views of the Puget Sound already makes you feel relaxed. It may not seem like an affordable option for some people, however, especially with the real estate market making improvements. Before you make your purchase, consider the pros and cons of owning a waterfront vacation home.

Renting Out the Vacation Home

The biggest benefit in buying a waterfront property is renting it out. Many homeowners don’t consider this option, but you can often pay your mortgage through the rent costs. Locals searching for a romantic getaway or travelers wanting somewhere to stay all look for the appeal of a waterfront house. Many Seattleites find their homes rented practically year round because the neighborhoods are so close to the amenities of the metro.

Maintenance Costs

Maintenance of a waterfront property is more expensive than others. If you choose a house near salt water, the salt spray can require some more home maintenance. Local weather can also impact the house, like anywhere. You will want to ensure you keep a good savings in place strictly for yearly repairs.

When You Buy a Vacation Home

If you decide to move forward and buy a vacation home by Puget Sound, there are a few ways to save a few dollars. You may want to, for example,

  • Practice seasonal maintenance issues like turning off water in winter and storing items
  • Buy a smaller house that is easier to maintain
  • Pay for a good insurance policy that includes flooding
  • Utilize a property management firm when renting out
  • Complete an inspection after each season to catch damage quickly
  • Consider constructing a new build with weather resistant materials
  • Hire professionals to clean or do yard maintenance during off-season

If you want a guaranteed place to get away, a Seattle vacation home may be just what you need. Speak with us to find the location and type of home suited to your needs. Waterhavens has prime property ready for you around Puget Sound, Lake Washington, and many other areas. With the best client satisfaction, the Waterhavens team will make it easier for you to sit back while you enjoy the waterfront views and that cup of coffee.




Waterfront property in Seattle is one of the most attractive features of the area. Who else but waterfront homeowners have the chance to skip a horrendous commute and get to work by water taxi? Who else gets a gorgeous lake view that’s right outside the window? Who else has the luxury of being accessible to fireboats in the event of a fire? Yet despite all of these advantages, one persistent difficulty facing the waterfront real estate owner is the possibility of a flood. That’s why recent discussions and decisions about flood insurance policies are important to understand.

Extension of National Flood Insurance Program
Last July, the National Association of Realtors hailed the federal government’s decision to extend the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP. The NFIP, originally created in 1968, was a response to the need for some kind of national flood insurance, as typical homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding, hurricanes, tropical storms, or heavy rains. The extension is positive because it will continue its function as a means for people with waterfront property to remain insured in the event of a flood. However, the most recent extension came with some changes that current or future owners of waterfront houses should know.

Changes to the NFIP
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is responsible for responding to disasters like floods. Unfortunately, officials from FEMA recently explained that there will be increases in premiums and rate structures in order to help the agency get on more solid financial ground. Because of a high number of catastrophic storms in the recent past, FEMA has a debt load of $24 billion to overcome. One change will be on “severe repetitive loss properties,” which are the ones in the most dangerous position of having repeated loss due to flooding. About 600,000 current owners of a primary residence won’t see increases until their policy lapses or they sell to someone else. These are the properties with subsidies. About 80 percent of flood policies aren’t subsidized, so they won’t see any changes aside from routine rate increases each year.

What the Changes Mean to You
These changes are hardly a cause for alarm. Unless your home is located within a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) area, you’ll continue to have a highly affordable flood insurance rate. In fact, half of all flood policy claims are found in just five metropolitan areas, which are New Orleans, Houston, Tampa, Miami, and New York. That means your likelihood of a flooding problem in a waterfront home off of Lake Washington or Puget Sound is probably quite low. Even so, it’s important to note that these changes are coming and react accordingly. As a buyer, you should focus on waterfront real estate located outside of any FIRMs. Current owners should take stock of what their situation is, keeping in mind that most changes will be phased in gradually starting in 2014. Sellers simply need to remember to disclose information about these changes to any buyers.




The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has long provided insurance to communities in floodplain areas because private insurance companies have long shunned the potential risks in their portfolio. The government-backed National Flood Insurance Program was recently extended again, and it provides lower cost insurance options to waterfront home owners in certain river, lake, and even Puget Sound areas.

FEMA has recently been given feedback that their provision of lower cost insurance options to potentially flood prone areas has caused negative environmental impacts in those sensitive riparian areas where building would otherwise not occur if insurance rates were higher and market-driven. Recent focus has been on protected species such as salmon and orca whales, and the interconnected web of shoreline management with their lifecycles and range of habitat.

In response, FEMA is working on more restrictive building rules for around 122 western Washington communities. This will only directly affect new construction and those interested to get insurance through the program (which can sometimes be required for financing).

So, as with many things, this can be good or bad depending upon what kind of waterfront property you own. If you own or are looking to buy land to develop, this will be a new consideration. If you already own or are looking to purchase an existing waterfront home, it only makes your property more valuable since future supply of competing waterfront homes is more restricted, and waterfront is a fixed commodity. Your neighborhood will also more likely have continued salmon friendly natural habitat.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) logo




The Seminar Group is organizing a day long seminar for those interested in the implications of FEMA’s floodplain re-mapping (that I wrote about back in December). It will be rather technical and oriented to professionals, but for anyone who wants to learn more about the re-mapping and how it may affect insurance, development, or local regulations, you may be interested to attend.

Here are the details from their seminar announcement:

“Impacts of FEMA’s Floodplain Re-Mapping: Regulatory Changes & Implications for Local Jurisdictions & Property Owners”
October 14, 2010
Grand Hyatt Seattle

Floodplain Mapping: Standards/Methodology; Levee Accreditation; Process/Appeals
Biological Opinion: What Does it Require and What Does it Mean for Local Jurisdictions and Property Owners?
Impacts to Local Governments: How are Local Governments Responding to the Mapping and BiOp?
Recertification of Levees
Relationships with Other Local Programs
State Involvements

9:00 Introduction and Overview
Steve Bleifuhs, Program Co-Chair
Section Mng., DNRP/WLRD, River & Floodplain Management Section
King County, WA

Robert Brenner, Program Co-Chair
Environmental Program Manager
Port of Tacoma

Molly Lawrence, Program Co-Chair
GordonDerr LLP

9:10 Floodplain Mapping
• Standards/Methodology; What is Risk MAP and Next Steps
Ryan Ike, Branch Chief
Federal Emergency Management Agency

• Levee Accreditation
Steve Bleifuhs
Section Mng., DNRP/WLRD, River & Floodplain Management Section
King County, WA

• Process/ Appeals
Kevin Rogerson, City Attorney
City of Mount Vernon, WA

10:45 Break

11:00 Biological Opinion: What Does it Require and What Does it Mean for Local Jurisdictions and Property Owners?
• Discussion of Science Behind BiOp
DeeAnn Kirkpatrick, Invited
Fisheries Biologist, Washington State Habitat Office
National Marine Fisheries Service

• FEMA’s Plan for Implementing the Biological Opinion
Mark Eberlein
Regional Environmental Officer
Federal Emergency Management Agency

• Background and Substance of Biological Opinion
Molly Lawrence
GordonDerr LLP

12:00 Lunch (on your own)

1:15 Impacts to Local Governments: How are Local Governments Responding to the Remapping and BiOp?
Molly Lawrence, Moderator
GordonDerr LLP

Patrick B. Anderson, City Attorney
City of Snoqualmie, WA

Robert Brenner
Environmental Program Manager
Port of Tacoma

Timothy LaPorte, Dir., Public Works
City of Kent, WA

Scott Thomas, City Attorney
City of Burlington, WA

2:45 Break

3:00 Recertification of Levees
Steps Required to Recertify a Levee once it has Lost Certification
Harold P. Smelt, PE, Surface Water Mgr.
Pierce County Public Works and Utilities

3:45 Relationships with Other Local Programs
• Relationships with SMA
• Relationships with GMA
• Other Local Programs
Alexander W. “Sandy” Mackie
Perkins Coie LLP

4:15 State Involvement
• Washington State Department of Ecology’s Role Regarding Floodplain Management/Development
• Potential State Action to Address Impacts of Remapping and BiOp
Daniel Sokol
NFIP State Coordinator
Washington State Department of Ecology

5:00 Questions and Answers
Members of the Faculty

5:15 Adjourn




The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that its new revisions to flood insurance maps had so many errors in them that they are re-drafting a new set, perhaps to come out again within six months.

This can affect any waterfront home owner – whether on Puget Sound, a lake, or river – if you want to have flood insurance. Your home may have not been in a designated flood plain, but could potentially go into one now, or even vice versa.

The issue was primarily raised by city and county officials around the country who saw some aspects of the new maps being too stringent for their development plans, and in some cases completely important topographical details were missed. So FEMA will have their contractor redo all of the maps, and they will be more involved with quality control for this second round.

Federal Emergency Management Agency logo




If you are concerned about the possibility of rising waters in your waterfront location near a river, lake, or even the Sound, you can obtain reasonably priced flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Most private insurers neither include this in their insurance policies nor have add-on options to do so. Almost all communities with the state of Washington are eligible under the FEMA program, however.

For more information, visit

Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA logo




Interesting set of recent events from the National Marine Fisheries Service: Since development near bodies of water can adversely affect salmon population – and salmon populations are important for the web of life food chain to endangered orcas – they have determined that the federal flood insurance program currently available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is illegal. Both salmon and orcas are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

National Marine Fisheries Service NMFS logo
Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA logo
This affects future development for any properties determined to be within flood plains, and it can also affect current owners seeking this type of ongoing insurance. In many cases, getting flood insurance in flood plains is difficult and expensive without having the FEMA program to rely upon. New development may be cost prohibitive and current owners may be left without viable insurance options.

For more information, see this article in the Seattle PI. The reporter covers the usual areas that people think of as a “flood plain”: areas near rivers that can crest and flood at times of heavy flow. However, the article does not talk about the many other areas that can be considered flood plains. Even Puget Sound waterfront can be considered flood plains due to tidal/storm surges, and lake shores can rise and flood as well. The frequency of both is very low in comparison to rivers, but nonetheless official classifications and flood plain maps do exist for these areas. Both future development and existing properties along many other bodies of water than rivers could definitely be affected.

Next steps will reside with FEMA to create development requirements that will be more compatible with salmon populations, and this may allow for the resumption of the FEMA flood insurance program around the Puget Sound area. However these kinds of programs and development compromises can take quite a long time to develop, so it will be interesting to track the effects from this on local waterfront properties.

If anything, it makes existing waterfront homes more valuable since development options for new waterfront properties are further restricted. Relatively few waterfront home owners (especially on the Sound and lakes) actually purchase the FEMA insurance, so the downsides of lacking the insurance will likely be negligible except for cases where such insurance may be a requirement of a buyer obtaining financing.

We’ll see what happens…




This week engineers and surveyors will be walking the beaches of Burien home owners to produce a “Base Flood Elevation Study” for determining normal water levels and to pinpoint potential flood hazard areas. They will be taking photographs, measuring bulkheads, and surveying aspects of the shoreline, but will not trespass onto upland property without owner permission first.

Most people think of rivers, reservoirs, and lakes for flooding, but large tidal water bodies can also be considered potential flood zones when storms occur (usually if timed with high tides) that raise the water level onto surrounding properties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) establishes maps to show base flood elevations along the shorelines, and these can affect home owners who have or want to obtain flood insurance since the rates will be at least partly based on the flooding potential as described in these maps.

The study will be completed in April and made available to all local residents after FEMA approves the results. The study will be made available at Burien City Hall, and it will also be posted on the Burien city website.

For additional information you can contact Project Planner Morgan Wilson at 253-209-4746 or Burien Building Official Lee Bailey at 206-248-5523.