What’s the best beach for the money?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The housing bubble before the recession drove prices up at the Delmarva beaches. Then prices sank. It’s been nine years since the end of the recession. So have the beach communities recovered? In the series, Beach Real Estate Guide, WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher brings you advice on buying, selling and renting at the Delaware and Maryland beaches.

DELMARVA BEACHES — What’s the best beach for the money?

WTOP posed this burning and, admittedly, somewhat subjective question to real estate agents who sell in lower Delaware, where the beaches are, and Maryland’s Ocean City.

Their answers give insight, not only to price but to other factors to consider in a second home.

Here’s what they had to say about their respective beaches and what each beach town had to offer.


T.J. Redefer is a real estate broker at Rehoboth Bay Realty in Dewey Beach, Delaware.

He also holds the distinction of being the mayor.

“That’s a great question. That’s an easy question, too. As mayor of Dewey Beach, there’s no question there’s one beach that is the best, but we’re tiny.

“If they are thinking of a midcentury cottage in a wooded area near the beach, South Bethany has a little of that but Dewey has a lot of that. If they are thinking of a condo overlooking the ocean, that is several other towns. That is not here in Dewey.”

Dogs are seen on Dewey Beach
Dewey Beach is seen on a spring afternoon. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

When it comes to dollar-for-dollar costs, real estate broker Redefer said Dewey Beach ranks “pretty high,” when a buyer takes into account for how much the property can rent.

Asked to highlight the pros and cons of Dewey, Redefer laughs.

“Dewey Beach has some of the best nightlife and music and food available.”

But for those not into late nights and adult beverages, Redefer offers an alternative.

“Bethany offers almost everything Dewey has and at 11 o’clock at night, they roll up the streets. So if you are thinking about a quiet, family-oriented vacation, Bethany might be your next best bet.”

bird on beach
“The beach is king. People like to use it year-round. They want to walk on the beach in the winter. They walk to walk the dog on the beach. They want to bring their grandkids to the beach in the summer,” said Long & Foster real estate agent Allison Stine.


(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

dewey beach cottages
Dewey Beach is dotted with cottages, many of which are on land leases. Owners buy their homes but then pay rent for the land they are on. Most will expire by 2024.

“When they expire, if the current owner does nothing, it will return to the company, Rehoboth by the Sea, the company that owns the land. But most people, they’ll be very few who do nothing. Most people are getting new leases, or buying their land now. The issue, it’s not really an issue, the concern or the problem most people have is the value from the 1950s to now has changed dramatically,” said Dewey Beach real estate broker T.J. Redefer whose grandfather bought the land back in 1925.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

dewey beach sign allowing dogs on beac
Dewey Beach allows dogs on the beach before the lifeguards come to work and after they get off. T.J. Redefer, Dewey’s mayor, says the dogs know when it’s time to play in the sand.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

photo shows the side of the Bottle and Cork in Dewey with a list of bands that will be playing
Night life draws people to Dewey Beach. Seen here is the music schedule for the Bottle & Cork in August and September 2018.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Photo shows a Bethany Beach home with a spiral staircase
Homes one block from the beach in Bethany Beach sell for more than $2 million but are less expensive than in Rehoboth Beach. This one on Parkwood Street was on the market in May 2018.

Year-over-year data show Bethany’s median sale price is 15 percent higher.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

photo shows Sea Colony in Bethany
Condominiums in Bethany Beach start around $160,000. Sea Colony has 2,200 units. Owners pay condominium fees and recreation fees on top of any ground lease they may have.

Land leases, if units have them, can be purchased for 12 1/2 times their value and have a maximum resale value of $25,000.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Bethany Beach trolley
The Bethany Beach Trolley runs from the Friday before Memorial Day through mid-September. It costs a quarter and can be picked up anywhere along the trolley’s route.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Beach umbrellas dot the landscape of Bethany Beach on a sunny day.
Bethany Beach is popular but its beach is not as wide as other Delaware beaches. Canopies and tents are banned in Bethany’s beach.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

People wait in line at Boardwalk Fries on Bethany Beach's 1-mile boardwalk.
Bethany Beach is marketed a “quiet resort.” Its 1-mile boardwalk features grab-and-go food and beach shops.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Bethany's main drag with cars parked is shown
In Bethany Beach, parking can be problematic. There are 1,000 parking spaces within two blocks of the beach. They often fill by 10:30 a.m. Parking costs $2 an hour. And, yes, the town does enforce its parking meters.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

fenwick island homes on the ocean
Fenwick is also marketed as a “quiet resort.” It has a number of restaurants, shops, a very small boardwalk with mini golf and other amusements off Delaware Route 1.

Fenwick is the last Delaware town before Ocean City, Maryland.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Ocean City's beach is seen
Ocean City realtors say O.C. is the best beach for the money because prices are low and the town has a lot of activities for families.

Real estate agents say prices are in the 2003-2004 range. About 97 percent of Ocean City is developed, according to the town planning office.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Ocean City's boardwalk is popular for its amusements, shops and bars. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)
The travel booking site TripAdvisor named Ocean City the sixth hottest summer destination, citing the boardwalk as “the main attraction at Maryland’s iconic beach destination.”

Ocean City’s boardwalk stretches from the inlet to 27th Street. It’s about 2 1/2 miles long and has a mix of amusements, restaurants, hotels and homes.

The town’s downtown area can get loud. Its uptown area is considered the quiet part of town.

(WTPOP/Colleen Kelleher)

sunrise over the atlantic ocean
Whether it’s Ocean City, Fenwick, Bethany, Dewey or Rehoboth, the sunrises are gorgeous.

(WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

bird on beach
dewey beach cottages
dewey beach sign allowing dogs on beac
photo shows the side of the Bottle and Cork in Dewey with a list of bands that will be playing
Photo shows a Bethany Beach home with a spiral staircase
photo shows Sea Colony in Bethany
Bethany Beach trolley
Beach umbrellas dot the landscape of Bethany Beach on a sunny day.
People wait in line at Boardwalk Fries on Bethany Beach's 1-mile boardwalk.
Bethany's main drag with cars parked is shown
fenwick island homes on the ocean
Ocean City's beach is seen
Ocean City's boardwalk is popular for its amusements, shops and bars. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)
sunrise over the atlantic ocean
Dewey Beach, for those who have not been there, does have some unique offerings in its 2-mile stretch, including the Jolly Trolley that takes people to Rehoboth round-trip for $5. The little bus runs from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. For special rates, the Jolly Trolley goes to entertainment at Bethany’s Freeman Stage and occasionally to Seacrets in Ocean City, Maryland.

“We don’t have a boardwalk. We don’t have the Ferris wheel and all of those things, but we have the ocean on one side and we have the bay on the other, and we’re a wooded, quiet, beautiful little beach area that also has nightlife that you’ll remember, that you’ll be talking about for years to come after you stay here in Dewey Beach,” Redefer said.

Dewey offers movies and bonfires on the beach and “little things during the middle of the week to bring families out to the beach to come play,” Redefer said.

While not all rentals are pet-friendly, Dewey’s beach is. Dogs are allowed on the beach before the lifeguards get on duty and after they get off duty.

“Did you know dogs could tell time? I know at 5 o’clock, every dog in this little town is waiting for their friend to come take them to the beach. I’ve even seen dogs sitting at the edge of the dune, waiting to hear the whistle because it is an interesting little, dog-friendly town and most people aren’t even aware of that,” Redefer said.


Real estate agent Brett DePrince of Joe Maggio Realty said Bethany is the best beach for the money. DePrince, 27, grew up in Rehoboth, lives in Rehoboth and rents property for his family there, but he sells in Bethany.

Man on bicycle with beach chair in Bethany
Bicycling to the beach is popular in Bethany. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

“It seems Bethany is now how Rehoboth used to be. It’s quiet. It’s still a very seasonal town, even though it’s 15 minutes away,” said DePrince.

“It can be get busy in the summertime. As far as market value and getting your money’s worth, I’d say you could definitely find a decent priced property that’s either close to the beach or right on the beach and if you’re completely looking for an investment property, you would definitely be going for it there,” DePrince said of Bethany.

“You can find a lot of big homes in Rehoboth and Dewey, but you are going to be paying a lot more,” he said, adding that the same home could be 25 percent less in Bethany.

“It’s interesting how that works.”

Allison Stine, a broker with Long & Foster, analyzed the data the real estate company tracks in Delaware’s beach towns. She’s been selling Delaware real estate since 1999 and has lived in both Bethany and Rehoboth, selling all across Sussex County.

“I would say the Bethany/Fenwick/Ocean View area overall is the best beach for the money. The median home sale price in that area is $385,000,” Stine said in April as she looked at the latest data available from February. Long & Foster’s data for April puts the median sales for those communities at $397,500, compared with $345,000 a year earlier.

Bethany Beach
The beach off the boardwalk in Bethany can get crowded. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

In Bethany, buyers can purchase condominiums for as low as $160,000 and oceanfront houses for more than $3 million, Stine said.

All three — Bethany, Fenwick and Ocean View just outside of Bethany — are quiet, family-oriented communities. The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce markets them as “the Quiet Resorts.”

Bethany has a small, oceanfront boardwalk. While its downtown area is walkable, much of the Bethany community and all of Ocean View is across the highway from the beach.

“Most of the times, if they’re across Route 1, they’re not going to be walking. Most of the times, they will be driving or bike riding,” said Joe Wilson, a realtor with Condominium Realty, Ltd. in Ocean City, Maryland.

“The biggest con, though, with Bethany is parking, trying to find parking for the beach or close to the strip,” Wilson said.

Fenwick Island, the Delaware town closest to Maryland, is smaller than Bethany, so there are fewer properties from which to choose, which makes it pricier. Condominiums start around $300,000 in Fenwick. Oceanfront beach houses are priced up to $3.5 million.

“I love Fenwick. The positives are it’s pretty much all walkable. You’ve got a good spread of restaurants throughout the entire town. Usually, a short distance to the beach, no matter where you are,” Wilson said.

Homes in Fenwick Island, Delaware
It’s very easy to walk or bike the streets of Fenwick Island on the oceanside. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

“I feel like more of the Washington crowd is in Fenwick and in Rehoboth Beach. Again, that’s anecdotal. Having lived in both, I feel like that’s where you see the Washington crowd — the nation’s summer capital is what they call Rehoboth Beach,” Stine said.

Then there is the privacy.

“This is completely anecdotal. My clients who want to escape Washington, D.C., and not be seen on the weekends, they’re all in Fenwick. My clients who want to escape D.C., and they want to be seen every weekend, they’re all in Rehoboth. They want to run into the people that matter to them the most at their business or back at their law firm or whatever it is they’re doing. Bethany is sort of a mixed bag of all of that,” Stine said.

Homes in Rehoboth are “significantly more expensive” than Bethany, Stine said.

rehoboth beach fencing is shown
Rehoboth is more expensive but also a more year-round community. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

“You definitely have to have a lot of money to afford a second home in Rehoboth Beach. No doubt,” she said.

To own a home on the oceanblock of Rehoboth, a buyer will need $2 million. For oceanfront, the price is up to $5 million.

Rehoboth also tends to be more of a year-round community that’s very walkable.

“Rehoboth has a little bit different vibe in terms of restaurants, cultural exhibits, activities, some great outdoor space when you talk about Cape Henlopen State Park and the Breakwater Trail, Gordons Pond, Deauville Beach. It has a boardwalk that is livelier than Bethany’s boardwalk with Funland, arcades, restaurants. It has a nice big Rehoboth Avenue with a variety of cuisines from beach fare to Indian food to Thai food to great Chinese food to magnificent seafood restaurants all up and down that avenue. It has a bigger selection,” Stine said.

For shoppers, Rehoboth also has Tanger Outlets on Delaware Route 1. Because the outlets are spread along Route 1, some might consider traffic to be a drawback in Rehoboth.


Traffic during the summer season is always an issue in Ocean City. But despite that drawback, Wilson and Long & Foster’s Steve Mastbrook both picked Ocean City as the best beach for the money. Both sell in Maryland and Delaware.

Boy buried in sand in Ocean City
Ocean City’s sandy beaches can provide hours of fun. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Wilson grew up in Ocean City. Mastbrook owns homes in both Sussex County and Ocean City. Real estate is his post-retirement career, after having lived in Silver Spring and owned a business in D.C.

“Looking at the real estate values, it’s by far and away the most affordable. You can get the money property for your dollar here,” Wilson said.

“The prices are fantastic. They’re drop-dead low compared to Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey,” Mastbrook said.

The Maryland resort has three distinct areas — downtown, midtown and uptown.

“The downtown area, it’s known for the hustle and bustle,” Wilson said. Downtown has a 2.5-mile-long boardwalk, lot of bars, a wide beach at the inlet, places to fish and a host of other things to do.

A sandcastle is seen on Ocean City's beach
Ocean City attracts kids of all ages to play in the sand. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

“Uptown is known for being the quiet part of Ocean City. Pretty much anything north of 120th Street is usually known for being the quieter area of Ocean City,” Wilson said.

Uptown or North Ocean City goes from 90th Street to 146th Street, where Ocean City meets Fenwick Island. The high-rise condominiums also are in uptown.

In midtown, from 28th Street to 90th Street, you’ll find a lot of restaurants, Jolly Roger Amusement Park and fewer condos.

“It’s the narrowest part of the island, so you have the least amount of buildings on each street,” said Wilson, who also sits on Ocean City’s planning board.

Mastbrook said in addition to having lots to do in Ocean City, buyers need to look at what else the resort offers.

“Ocean City is your best bang for the buck. Their beaches are always rated as the top sandy beaches anywhere up and down the East Coast. The city really takes care in making sure the beaches are the focal point that brings people to Ocean City,” Mastbrook said.

“All of their governmental services are top-notch. The trash pickup. The fire department. The police department. They’re all top-notch folks.”


In real estate, they say location, location, location is what matters. WTOP's Colleen Kelleher asked real estate agents the burning question — What is the best beach for the money?
November 29, 2021 | As you think about buying or vacationing at Delmarva’s beaches, you might wonder — what’s the best beach for the money? WTOP's Colleen Kelleher went to your favorite sandy spots and asked real estate agents that hard-hitting question. (Colleen Kelleher)


Colleen Kelleher

Colleen Kelleher is an award-winning journalist who has been with WTOP since 1996. Kelleher joined WTOP as the afternoon radio writer and night and weekend editor and made the move to WTOP.com in 2001. Now she works early mornings as the site's Senior Digital Editor.

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