Hurricane Irene rolled off the ocean this past week, devastating portions of our nation's coastline and leaving a swath of destruction and flood damage all over the East Coast, even far inland.
While Americans dry out and wait for the power to come back on, the aftermath once again made me question a long-held nugget of popular wisdom.
Why is it exactly that waterfront property is considered more valuable than its non-flood-ravaged kin?
Personally, I think this is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the American people, a decades-long conspiracy by evil real-estate agents. Remember, these are the same people who charged buyers extra for homes built on scenic mudslide ledges in California.
I understand that waterfront property — next to an ocean, lake or river — provides a lovely view and convenient access to boating, fishing and recreational swimming. It can be great on a summer night, catching a breeze and watching the sunset. Ahhhhhh. Relaxing.
Why, who wouldn't want to pay a huge extra premium for a home like that?
The real-estate agents, however, never show you their coastal gems when the winds are whipping, the surf is surging and 8 feet of water is pouring into the basement. They're not around when the new homeowner finds himself pounding plywood over the windows every time a storm threatens.
The minuses of the waterfront home far outweigh the pluses.
Erosion and global Warming are constantly working to bring the water closer to the land, or the land back into the water. A home in, say, the desert, has a zero-percent chance of sliding into the ocean.
Storms always strike the waterfront property first, and most fiercely. No matter how high above the surface a house stands, a strong enough storm is capable of bringing in the water and causing untold damage.
There is no greater fear for a homeowner than awaking in the middle of the night and finding a newly formed lake, a shark and several angry lobsters in the basement.
Unless, of course, that fear is that modern pirates will strike like lightning out of the night, hopping ashore to briefly pillage and steal young children, then quickly sailing off again.
Pirates never loot land-locked homes.
Waterfront property was important and valuable in the days when lives depended on trade. If you didn't live close enough to the water you'd never get the latest coonskin caps or the freshest catfish or the best salted bison steaks. Now we have shopping malls. Inland. Totally inaccessible by boat.
My home is in the city, far from the closest river, and still I worry about the damage that water can do. I'm concerned that the gutters in the street are a little too close, and I make sure that all the toilets are low-flow.
Is there a long-term waterfront resident who hasn't experienced destruction? Heck, many experience it over and over again. Local media can keep certain families along the Ausable River on speed dial for virtually every cloudburst:
"Yeah, Bill, so I see that the family is on the roof again … how high is it this time?"
People pay extra for this?
My advice is for all waterfront owners to sell now, before the general population catches on and starts valuing your property properly: as if it's in a bad neighborhood.
Take your profits and build somewhere the rain can never hurt you. Somewhere where you'll never have to use canoes, kayaks and inflatable rafts to get to the closest convenience store.
I know that roughly 71 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water, but there are still several locations that are safe. I hiked a couple of Adirondack peaks this summer … there are almost no houses up there, for instance. Maybe a couple of lean-tos. The view is outstanding, and there is virtually no chance of sliding into the ocean.
Real-estate agents will continue to push their waterfront property because it increases their profits. They, though, would try to get you to pay extra for living near a toxic waste dump ("The odds of gradually mutating into a superhero are tremendous!"). Stay strong; stay dry.
There's nothing wrong with traveling a few miles to get to the water. I'd pay a few extra dollars for that feature.
Email Steve Ouellette at: