Buying a lighthouse is more than a real estate transaction. It’s a lifestyle change that links you to a proud American tradition.
The best way to find lighthouses for sale is via a U.S. Government lighthouse “property disposal”. These happen sporadically. When one is going on, the General Services Administration lists available lighthouses on this web page.
If the government isn’t selling a lighthouse, a private owner might be. Here are three ways to keep an eye out for private sales:
- An eBay search for “lighthouse” in their “real estate” category. Often times they’re “buy now” but sometimes you’ll have to bid.
- Zillow’s Porchlight blog sometimes highlights unique properties for sale, like lighthouses.
- A Google News search for “lighthouse for sale”.
Why Are Lighthouses Even For Sale?
Lighthouses are still important to yachtsmen, recreational boaters, and mega-tanker captains alike. They perform the life-saving function of letting these folks know: “Hey! Too close!” Even in these days of satellite navigation, ships still run aground.
Why, you may be wondering, would the United States government let anyone with money to flash take over these flashing safety beacons?
Electricity is one, thrift is the other.
Once, the light coming from lighthouses was from a gas flame. Someone needed to scare up enough oil to keep that flame going and shepherd it through windstorms and cold weather. Also, lighthouses had unique signals, which mariners relied on to know where they were.
Ebonee Gregory grew up in a lighthouse and wrote about the experience for The Guardian. “My father was assistant lightkeeper, and his job was to help the head lightkeeper run and maintain the lighthouse and island. They would take turns each week, turning the light on every evening and off in the morning, polishing the glass, taking weather readings, and drawing the curtains closed in the daytime to prevent a fire from the concentration of sunlight on the prisms.”
Now, lighthouse lanterns are powered by electricity. A few basic checks every couple of months are all that’s needed to keep them shining.
Of course, it couldn’t hurt to have someone on-site, in case of a freak power outage or unexpected malfunction. But that requires two full-time people per lighthouse. The cost adds up. Most of the world’s nations have automated their lighthouses. Japan, Ireland, and Norway don’t have any manned lighthouses.
Should You Buy A Lighthouse?
Let’s tackle the practical matter first – cost.
You may have heard that the government sometimes gives away lighthouses for free. You may also have heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” There’s no such thing as a free lighthouse either.
Those gift lighthouses come with strings attached. The recipient of the lighthouse must agree to restore it to its original state. Let’s be honest here – these are less like strings and more like a heavy anchor chain. Historical restoration is an expensive, time-consuming, and frequently frustrating process.
Even if you buy a lighthouse without the historical restoration requirement, you’ll still need to put money into it. These are old buildings, they’ll need upkeep. And it may have dawned on you – they are invariably situated near water. You’ll have to deal with flooding, salt water damage, erosion, and wet feet.
“There always seems to be this romantic notion of owning a lighthouse,” lighthouse owner Nick Korstad told the Boston Globe. “But it’s not like that at all. It’s a lot of work.”
If you want to try out the lighthouse lifestyle before committing, maybe volunteer at one first? Recent opportunities have been listed in Tasmania and Norway. The folks behind the Norway opportunity – at the edge of the Arctic Circle – warn, “Volunteers coming here need to be interested in a self-sustainable life at the edge of the ordinary comfort zone.”
Isolation is another issue. Casey Jordan owns a lighthouse off the coast of Maine. To get there, she takes an hour-long ferry ride to a small island, where she boards her boat and motors ten minutes to the lighthouse. Suffice it to say that she doesn’t get many drop-in guests.
The Romance Of The Lighthouse
Obviously, the cost, hard work, and isolation doesn’t scare everyone off. Maintaining a lighthouse, whether it’s a historic lighthouse or not, connects you to a long tradition of lighthouse keepers who sacrificed their social lives to keep mariners safe.
The U.S. Coast Guard honored lighthouse keepers of the past by naming a series of ships after them. The USS Ida Lewis honors the Newport, Rhode Island lighthouse keeper who would row out from the lighthouse to help drowning mariners. She saved 18 lives in a 54-year career.
Even though lighthouses aren’t as necessary as they once were, they are still getting built. The town of Waveland, Mississippi built one in 2018, not to warn off mariners, but to attract tourists. The lighthouse will shine, but it serves no navigational purpose – it’s purely decorative.
Whether it’s in Lake Michigan or Poland, Lighthouses are popular tourist attractions all over the world. So, if you do buy one, and you know a little bit about marketing, maybe you won’t be lonely after all.