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Real Estate: Waterfront Homes

As prices drop, waterfront homes that once were fantasies suddenly look like good deals.

The Slocum family bought this Lake Anna home for $1.5 million—half a million less than the list price. Photograph by Jennifer Molay.

A few years ago, buying nice waterfront property often meant a hunt for reasonably priced houses followed by a bidding war with other interested buyers.

As prices have dropped, houses by the water are an easier buy. Washington is only a few hours from a remarkable variety of waterfront settings—the Atlantic Ocean beaches, the Chesapeake Bay, and lots of lakes, rivers, and creeks. We talked to new owners who found their dream houses for good prices and right on the water.

A Steal On the Ocean

Conchita and Willem Van Tuijl of McLean vacationed in North Carolina’s Outer Banks for 25 years, always dreaming about a waterside home of their own. Last year, prices dipped so low that they couldn’t resist. But the couple had one condition: Their place had to be on the ocean.

After visiting several houses, the Van Tuijls found their dream—a condo in Nags Head 50 feet from the ocean with 180-degree views of the water.

“The view was the most appealing part,” Conchita says. “The waves are right outside of our window, and on windy days the waves and wave surfers feel like they’re right there.”

The original asking price for the two-bedroom, two-bath condo was $600,000, but the Van Tuijls signed for $470,000. Now they spend off-season weeks there while renting out the place during the busy summer months.

Though Conchita wishes they could spend more of the summer there, she enjoys the off season. Her husband, Willem, is a retired World Bank engineer, so they have the freedom to visit the condo often.

“It’s not as packed,” Conchita says, “and the weather is always nice.”

The Slocums unwind at their Lake Anna getaway, which is less than 90 minutes from their Fairfax Station home. Photograph by Jennifer Molay.

Love at First Sight

Sally-Ann and Bill Slocum had seen only one house in Lake Anna when they fell in love. Their real-estate agent had warned them that it was the most beautiful one on Lake Anna, the second-largest lake in Virginia. But nothing could have prepared them for the five-bedroom house.

“I wish that I had never walked into this house because when I did I had to have it,” Sally-Ann says.

And the price couldn’t be beat. They bought it for $1.5 million, half a million less than the original list price.

The Slocums regularly travel internationally—Sally-Ann is an executive with a nationwide healthcare company, and Bill is head of the Africa division for an international-development firm. The house has plenty to help the couple and their 17-year-old son, Steven, unwind. There’s a movie room, a beautiful kitchen, and 1½ acres with a large back lawn leading to the lake and a boat house.

One of the biggest selling points was the proximity to their Fairfax Station home, an hour and 20 minutes away.

“When you drive out to Lake Anna, you’re all of the sudden in another world,” Sally-Ann says. “The best part is that I can go out there for the day and be home later that night.”

Two for One

Joe Weeks and his family spent two years shuttling between two homes—one in Potomac, the other a weekend getaway on the Tred Avon River. When this routine grew tiresome, Weeks and his wife, Fiona, decided to live on the Eastern Shore full-time.

The vacation home was remote—it took 15 minutes to get to a grocery store—so Joe, a real-estate agent, put it on the market along with the Potomac house. Both sold, and the Weekses then invested in a $1.4-million Cape Cod house. It’s on the Tred Avon but only three miles from downtown Easton and five minutes from the high school where his two sons enrolled. “The atmosphere out here is great,” Joe says.

He and Fiona, an interior designer, put some of the money from the sale of the two homes into fixing up their new one. The five-bedroom, five-bath house needed new deck planking, bathroom updates, and new plumbing. The couple also put a fountain in the driveway, added brick pillars to the entrance, changed light fixtures, and put up two cupolas.

Most of their neighbors are weekenders, so things are quiet for much of the week. Joe is a fisherman, and the back of the house looks over the river and a dock with a 20-foot fishing boat, a 28-foot cruising boat, and kayaks.

He likes spending time on the dock: “The sunset is beautiful to watch out there.”

Where the Wild Things Are

When Peter Preston’s children left the nest, he decided to follow them.

Preston’s two oldest boys, who are college students, spend their summers at Bethany Beach as lifeguards. Last summer, Preston and his wife, Kathy, decided to help out with rent in a big way: They bought a five-bedroom, 4½-bath house on Heron Bay, a salt pond in Bethany that’s part of a federal wetlands.

The boys stay there, with their mom spending half of the summer and Peter and his 17-year-old daughter visiting from Chevy Chase. Thanks to the house’s elevators, Peter’s in-laws also come for visits.

The Prestons found this property after visiting more than a dozen in a whirlwind visit.

It was part of a new development and the most peaceful site he found. Three decks offer views of the salt pond.

“We have ospreys and their nests right outside,” Peter Preston says, “and we can watch them land on the tree by our deck and eat fish. We see herons and foxes come up on our property as well.”

Thanks to the softened market and because this was the last house in the community, the Prestons bought it for less than the asking price.

There’s a beach about 500 yards from the house, but the Prestons go to one a few minutes away. Says Peter: “We like to go to the beach where the boys lifeguard.”

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This article appears in the July 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.