BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau


Buying A Dock

By Ann Dermody
Published: April/May 2012

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 parking 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 days 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.

Photo of a marina

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 More Waterfront

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.

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Do The Math

Before you consider buying a dockominium, look hard at the comparative cost of renting a slip, where you have mobility and financial flexibility, against the cost of a full-on purchase, where you'll have the benefit of permanently securing your boat in a prime dock location, but your money will be locked up in a still-shaky economy. Let's take a look at how much it would cost to rent a 40-foot slip versus purchasing that slip as a dockominium. (Figures estimated for dockage at The Harborage At Ashley Marina, Charleston, South Carolina.

Rent $18 per foot (call-in special)$720 per month
Electricity (50-amp)$100 per month

A $47,200 mortgage on a 40-foot dockominium @ 8%
(by far the cheapest listed is $59,000 but prices vary hugely)
$421 per month
Owner's fee, $485 per quarter$161 per month
Real-estate taxes $900(estimate)$75 per month
*Note, the prices above do not factor in mortgage closing costs, title search, and so on.


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