As Boat Sales Soar, Private Docks Become Valuable Real Estate



Joanne Falla decided she needed to expand: a bigger house and a bigger boat.

His home in Harwich on Cape Cod, Mass., wasn’t big enough for his close-knit family — a father, two sisters, a brother-in-law, a nephew and a dog — to get together. Since the lockdown began, the 51-year-old Boston-based tech executive has lived and worked in the 1789 building that was her father’s law office for 30 years.

She wanted a home in the area that she could share with her 80-year-old father, Jim, and the whole family for vacations and weekends away.

She also wanted to expand the family fleet, which at the time was a single 11-foot boat, powered by a motor and oars, that her father had built in the early 1960s. security. So when she and her dad saw a used 16ft cat boat at Arey’s Pond Boat Yard near Orleans, he took it.

Joanne also found her new home at the shipyard. One day, while checking the inventory of boats, she spotted a house on the opposite shore. It had everything a Cape Cod home should: weathered shingles, blue shutters, and water views—and it was on a hill, high enough to protect it from storms.


The house was an impressive 4,983 square feet, with five bedrooms, 5½ bathrooms, and about 200 feet of pond frontage. Directly below was a boathouse perched in a thicket of bright green marsh grass. Perhaps best of all, the property had a 100 foot dock.

Jim Falla on the Falla House dock float in Orleans, Mass.
PHOTO: TONY LUONG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The view of the Arey pond from the terrace of the five-bedroom house, which will be the family gathering place. The boathouse is at the bottom right.
PHOTO: TONY LUONG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Prompted by his father, the two went around the house with a broker. Inside they found a quality home that had just undergone a high-end upgrade. It was ready to move in and big enough for the family. The boathouse, they thought, would make a great office for Ms. Falla, who also has a place in Boston.

But at $4.4 million, she dismissed it as out of her budget. Until the price dropped just as she benefited from the IPO of her company, Snowflake, based in San Mateo, Calif.

“I made an offer of $3.5 million and a few hours later the broker called to say it had been accepted,” Ms. Falla said. She closed the house in February and her father moved in the next day.

Today, the equipment that Ms. Falla likes the most in her new home is the quay, which can accommodate two or three boats. She is not alone in her passion.

Homes with private docks, bulkheads, seawalls and elevators are in high demand as Americans buy recreational boats in record numbers in an effort to social distance and stay healthy in the great outdoors. Boat sales hit a 13-year high in 2020, up 12% from a year earlier, according to the Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Assn. More than 310,000 motorboats were sold in the United States last year.


This increase in sales is also partly due to people working remotely in what was once their weekend home. Their relocation can now justify the considerable investments that the boats require.

Mr. Falla splurged on two new boats for his family: a used catboat that cost around $15,000 plus an additional $26,000 Mrs. Falla paid for restoration work, and an 18-foot skiff d opportunity for $11,000. He also purchased a $2,200 mast and line kit for his 1963 boat, labor not included.

New docks are hard to find in some riverside communities. In Cape Town, environmental restrictions have limited new construction, although owners can restore or replace an existing dock, said Jon Hagenstein, partner at Beacon Marine Construction in Mashpee, Mass. He has already recorded his 4-month-old twins, Wyatt and Mila. , for dock permits, they can get 20 years from now.

Other areas experiencing a lack of inventory include parts of Maine, the Florida Keys and the nearly 700 miles of shoreline in Talbot County, Maryland, where homes on the market tend to sell quickly.

Joe Giardino’s $150,000 Seahunt GF at his home in Islamorada, Florida.
PHOTO: MARY BETH KOETH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Maine broker Heather Shields, senior vice president of Legacy Properties, Sotheby’s International Real Estate, calls the inventory situation “challenging.”

She sold a 5,100-square-foot, four-bedroom, 3-bathroom home in Cape Elizabeth for $1 million via FaceTime a few weeks ago, and the buyer still hasn’t seen her. His latest top listing is a five-bedroom, four-bathroom, 4,679-square-foot home on Sebago Lake in Standish, priced at $3.5 million. It has a dock, a stone wall and a 150-foot sandy beach by the lake.

In Maryland, Cliff Meredith, owner and partner of Meredith Fine Properties in Easton, says his business has tripled this year over 2020.

“The appeal of this area is that it’s within driving distance of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC,” said Meredith, who estimates about 90% of his sales are waterfront properties. “Everyone is afraid to get on a plane, so the safest thing to do is get in a car with your own family.”

Right after Covid hit, he sold a $2.8 million, 5,251 square foot, four-bedroom, 5½-bath home in Oxford with 1,700 feet of shoreline, a small sandy beach and wide views on the water. It also has a dock and a boat lift.

The buyers are Karl Williams, 58, COO of a Virginia technology company, and his wife, Amy, 57. They will share the home, 90 minutes from the family home in Arlington, Va., with their three children: sons Phillip, 16, and Christian, 20, and daughter Katarina, 26. The sudden death last year of a third son, Ethan, 22, after a brief illness, was the catalyst for the purchase, Mr Williams said.


“We always knew we would have a second home that would attract our family and friends,” he said. “The time was right for us and it was a great decision.”

The dock is now home to its first boat: a white 27-foot Boston Whaler. He declined to give the price, but said he negotiated a 25% discount just before the dealership closed on Christmas Eve. He learns how to operate it via an online course.

“I’m an Army guy,” the 1985 West Point graduate said. “I didn’t go to Annapolis.

In the Florida Keys, any home design takes precedence over its location on the water and its boat layout, according to Brett Newman of Team Newman, Coldwell Banker Schmitt Real Estate in Islamorada.

Mr. Giardino purchased a property with a 350 foot by 7 foot dock in the community of Venetian Shores. PHOTO: MARY BETH KOETH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“You don’t even go into the houses, you go to the back first and check the dock,” he said. “If it’s in bad shape or the water is too shallow or the channel isn’t clean enough for baitfish to survive in a bait pen, it won’t work.”

He recently sold a 3,382-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Venetian Shores for $1.95 million to Joe Giardino, 62, owner of Adirondack Kayak Warehouse, a kayak retailer in Amsterdam, NY

Not only is the house coincidentally on Giardino Drive, but it has the seawall of Mr. Giardino’s dreams.

He didn’t like the house itself. It had a 1975 design and a blue mansard roof. He replaced the roof, re-stuccoed the exterior, and installed hurricane glass in some 37 windows, at a cost of $125,000. He describes the new look as Florida Coastal Modern.

Mr. Giardino closed July 2, a day after selling his 3,576-square-foot, five-bedroom home in the same community for $1.975 million.


The new home has a boat lift for his $150,000 Seahunt GF and a 350ft by 7ft dock that likely cost the previous owner $350,000 to install, estimated Mr Newman, the broker. Mr. Giardino had bought his first home in the Keys in 2004, but he had his eye on this news for at least a decade. “The stars finally aligned and I was able to get it,” he said.

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