THE ADVOCATE BoatU.S. CONSUMER PROTECTION BUREAU BY ANN DERMODY
DREAMING OF A DOCK ON THE BAY?
For those longing for some waterfront, could this be the best time
ever to buy a slip in your favorite corner of America?
IN THE END IT TURNED OUT TO BE SOMETHING OF AN EXPENSIVE PARK- ING SPOT, but at the time, it seemed like a great idea. My husband and I had returned from two years cruising and needed a place to keep our 48-foot powerboat on a more permanent basis. Coming from the warmer climes of Central America, we wanted somewhere within a day’s drive of
Pennsylvania, our permanent base at the time, that would allow
us an escape from the harsh North Eastern winters. We had a
fairly substantial wish list. It should be somewhere within walking distance of a lively downtown, on the ICW but close to an inlet with ocean
access, allow liveaboards, dogs, and have Wi-Fi. A pool would be a nice bonus.
During a transient stop in Charleston, South Carolina, we were charmed by the city’s
southern elegance, and strolling along the waterfront after dinner one evening, we came
across a downtown marina that was in the process of converting to “dockominiums” — a
converted marina that sells the slips to individuals or investors, handled by a management
company, or homeowners organization, or both. You can buy your dock with a mortgage, in
the same way you would any property, and pay real-estate taxes, and a monthly maintenance
fee. The fee generally includes services that vary from marina to marina, but can include
water, cable, Wi-Fi, electricity, and laundry.
THEY’RE NOT MAKING ANY
Back in 2003 the real-estate market was
trundling along at a healthy pace; docks
were no exception. According to the Wall
Street Journal that year, the price of a boat
slip had grown by more than 20 percent
for the previous two years. In places like
Southwest Florida, they’d almost doubled.
Marina developers were facing environmental, access, and permit hurdles. Larger boats
were eating up slips that could previously
host several, and the number of boats
between 2001 and 2003 had increased
by 300,000, while the number of slips
remained the same.
Buying a house downtown in such a popular town as Charleston wasn’t an option for
us. Plus, we’d still have to pay a sizable slip
fee to keep the boat somewhere else. Coming
up the coast from Florida, marina fees were
running more than $500 per month, before
adding in 30- or 50-amp electricity, which
was adding up to another $50-$100. Buying
seemed to make financial sense. We were in
boating for the long haul. Dockage fees were
rising annually, and our thought at the time
was that the shortage of boat slips in the
southeast was only going to get worse.
So we purchased a 55- by 18-foot dock
at the Harborage at Ashley Marina in downtown Charleston, which became our home
away from home. Six years later, and Eddie
McCoy, president of the dock-owners association at the Harborage at Ashley Marina,
says dock values have dropped, due partially to foreclosures and tax sales, which are
suppressing the market. Interestingly, there
was a spike in the number of foreclosures in
2011, despite owners already being several
years into a depressed economy. “We’ve
had three to four every year, but this year