Real Estate: West with the Sun

You don’t have to be on the beach to live the beach life. Plus, it’s never too late to rent your summer place.




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Dan and Gaye Wallen found their dream home about 10 miles from Rehoboth Beach in the Community at Baywood. Photograph by Kevin Fleming


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Just a few miles west of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach is Beaver Dam Road, a single-lane byway surrounded on either side by acres of farmland that stretch to the horizon. There are no strip malls, no shopping centers and no sand.

Driving through this landscape from Five Points to Millsboro, it’s hard to imagine a beach home. The closest beach, after all, is a scenic 15- to 25-minute drive away. And yet it’s areas like Millsboro, Milton, Long Neck, Ocean View and Roxana, to name a few, that are cultivating a beach life of their own. The reasons, not surprisingly, have a lot to do with the combination of affordability and distance from the ocean.

The big question in real estate is how to get the most bang for your buck. When it comes to beach properties, the answer is simple: move farther from the beach.

Kelly West, a Realtor and beach lover, lives by this creed. A Delaware native who grew up vacationing at the beach, West bought a home in March in Harbeson, a small town about seven miles west of Lewes on U.S. 9.

For $480,000, she and her husband, Mike Brown, bought a 2,300 square-foot Cape Cod nestled on 10 wooded acres. “It’s not that much of a drive [to the beach]—maybe 20, 25 minutes. And you get 10 times the property for the same price,” she says. An undeveloped 8-acre lot in Rehoboth Beach is listed for $8 million more than the couple spent on their home.

Harbeson is a rural area with typically few homes for sale. Still, West maintains finding a beach home away from the beach is a relatively easy feat. “You just have to be creative with your search criteria in order to find what you’re looking for,” she says. “If agents and buyers are willing to keep an open mind, they can often find homes that are special—and a really good value.”

Andy Staton, a Realtor and co-owner of the Beach to Bay Real Estate Center in Lewes, agrees. With the surge of developments, he says, there is a home here for everyone. And by here, he means as close to the beach as possible, but without the multi-million dollar price tag.

“When people think of Sussex County, they don’t Google Sussex County real estate. They Google Rehoboth Beach real estate,” Staton says. But with homes starting from the low-$300,000s only a short drive from the beaches, savvy buyers are getting more than a place to live. They’re buying a lifestyle.

Dan and Gaye Wallen think so. In 2004 they decided to relocate from northern Virginia to the area they had vacationed in for decades. Their dream home was something in Rehoboth Beach. Dismayed by the high cost of property there, the two were mulling their housing options when Dan decided to explore along Del. 24.

In December of that year, the Wallens settled on their slightly revised dream home, which is 20 minutes from Rehoboth Beach. For $275,000, they bought a single-family, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom property in the Community at Baywood. Located on Del. 24 in Millsboro, the golf-course development was “the perfect place for us,” Dan says.

The two are not avid golfers, but they enjoy the potluck suppers on Thursday nights,   impromptu Tuesday morning breakfasts with neighbors and, of course, the golf carts (each home comes with one) that residents are encouraged to use in the neighborhood.

Staton mentions developments in towns west of Del. 1, such as Paynter’s Mill in Milton, The Peninsula in Millsboro and Bayside in Selbyville. “It’s all about picking and choosing the right one for you,” he says, mentioning active adult communities, horse riding communities, and developments that come with amenities such as coffee shops and spas.

“You can buy a great house in these places and have the same benefits as someone who lives in Lewes or Rehoboth or Bethany,” he says, “except that instead of walking to the beach, you’re driving there.”

Rob Harman, president of the Sussex County Association of Realtors and broker and co-owner of Home Team Realty in Seaford, echoes the sentiment. Most new developments are using the “you can still reach the beach” phrase, he says.

“Are you going to smell the salt air? Probably not,” Harman says. “It used to be that if you didn’t live east of Route 1, you weren’t at the beach. Now you don’t have to be on the beach to get the beach lifestyle.”

Though Harman does not single out any particular non-traditional beach town as being a hot spot, he says “just about every city” is seeing some form of development and growth. Areas like Milton and Millsboro, which once saw only local developers, have experienced an influx of big name builders.

Debby Coughlan, director of sales and marketing for Pulte Homes, attributes the growth to buyers who want “low-maintenance, beach-lifestyle living.”

Buyers want homes close to each other in order to promote visits with neighbors. They want open floor plans with lots of windows and large porches. In essence, she says, buyers want to feel the beach resort life without having to pay the oceanfront price.

Vicki York, of Vicki York Realty in Millville, says some buyers want to move away from the hustle and bustle of the beach. Areas on the Delaware Bay, such as Slaughter Beach and Prime Hook, are becoming more popular among buyers who enjoy less expensive, more tranquil locations surrounded by nature. For example, Bethany Bay Resort Community, less than 10 miles from the beach, offers two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos that start at $259,000.

“There’s a community here for everyone,” York says. And contrary to the conventional view, York says, there is a lot of real estate activity in towns even farther west, such as Seaford and Bridgeville. According to the Sussex County Association of Realtors, homes in areas west of U.S. 113 represented 14 percent of all sales in Sussex County in 2002. In 2005 that figure jumped to 41 percent. Last year it stood at 49 percent.

“People are willing to go farther away from the beach if the communities offer more amenities,” York says.

As Harman puts it, “If you’re already driving 20 minutes to the beach, what’s 15 minutes more?”

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