Buying a vacation home: Is it a headache or joy?
The dream of owning a vacation home
I can picture it now. At the end of a weeklong summer vacation, I look out across the water in front of my vacation home and see the sun setting over the mountains. Friends and family are busily preparing dinner, rounding out an amazing day of relaxing and enjoying the water and sun.
Can you see yourself there?
Back to reality: don’t buy a vacation home unless you are ready for some stress
As nice as that dream is, I know that it's only part of the picture. Like all homes, vacation homes need to be maintained, they need to be paid for, and they need to actually be used to make any sense. Those problems may seem easily surmountable, but anyone who is thinking of purchasing a second home should definitely look deep under the covers to see if it really makes sense for them. In all honesty, I have to recommend you don’t buy a vacation home because the odds are stacked against it being a good experience.
Maintenance: The most difficult part of owning a second home
Maintaining a home doesn't necessarily have to be difficult, but vacation homes have some characteristics that make them more difficult to maintain. Many people own vacation homes in the mountains or by the water. Many people are caught by surprise when their waterfront home needs to have it's deck replaced after 15 years because it rotted out from the moisture, or that their cabin in the mountains needs to be repainted every 5 years instead of every 10. Add to that the fact that most people spend significantly less time at their vacation home, so sneaky small issues that would be easy to spot in a home that is lived in every day go under the radar.
AirBnB is not a magic answer to the cost problem
Whenever I hear someone talking about purchasing a second home, they immediately justify it by saying they can rent it out on AirBnb to offset some of the cost of ownership. Of course this is very possible, and something that people do all of the time, but it is also an enormous burden on the property owner. Short term rentals require constant marketing, correspondence, cleaning, and they are often accompanied by neighbor complaints and damages to the home.
Of course, property management companies can handle a lot of those problems, but they take a 30% fee, likely erasing the benefit of renting out the house in the first place.
For me, the bottom line on AirBnB is time. It's the most valuable thing I have, and I don't want to be spending it dealing with over entitled short term renters who are doing their best to destroy my property.
Most vacation homes are rarely used
It sounds nuts. People purchase million dollar, or even multi-million dollar properties, and the use them once or twice a year. There are a lot of reasons for this. If the second home is in another state or country, it can be a huge hassle to actually travel to the home. By definition, people who own second homes are often successful professionals who are busy at work and can ill-afford to take the 2 week or month long vacation they really need to enjoy their property.
Seasonality is also a huge issue. Many second homes are purchased in waterfront locations that are only pleasant to visit in the Summer. Or, they are in the mountains and only make sense to visit in the winter.
Buying a vacation home: does it ever make sense?
Even after saying all of that, I think that a vacation home could make sense in the right circumstances. There are enormous, real benefits after all. If you can make time to use the house, it can be a wonderful way to bring people together, spend quality time with one another, unplug, and generally try to enjoy life a little more.
Someday, I know that I want a vacation home of my own, so I've written out a list of circumstances I would need to satisfy when I do.
It needs to be accessible
Because time is always in short supply, and longer vacations are tough to come by, if I bought a second home it would need to be reachable within 3 hours. Someplace close enough that I could reasonably use it over a long weekend. It also needs to be EASILY accessible during the times when I would want to use it. In other words, I am not going to buy a cabin in the middle of the mountains that will be snowed in every winter when I want to use it.
It needs to be usable year round, or close to it
Locations like Lake Tahoe in California and Suncadia or Leavenworth in Washington are fantastic for second homes because they can be used year round. In the winter, there is skiing, in the summer golf, watesports, etc. Tahoe in particular has a lot to offer throughout the entire year, which makes it much easier to enjoy a second home there.
I need to be able to maintain it easily
This is a crucial one. I don't want to purchase a gigantic mansion on 30 acres that needs constant attention from me (although if I had the money to do that, I assume I could probably get someone to maintain it for me). No - if I buy a second home it needs to be something that is small, on a reasonably sized property with little to no yard maintenance. A condo would obviously be a good candidate, although there is something nice about not sharing walls and having my own outdoor space.
More than anything, I want to be sure that if I own a second home it doesn't add so much stress to my life that the benefits are completely erased.
Are you going to buy a second home?
What about you? Are you looking at second home? What are your criteria for purchase?