If owning a home is the “American Dream,” it’s no wonder so many homeowners are drawn to buying a second home. It sounds like a pretty nice deal: a little slice of heaven, a place to relax for awhile. But buying a summer home is a big commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here are three simple mistakes that you don’t want to risk making.
Avoid These Mistakes When Buying a Summer Home
Mistake #1: The Impulse Buy
New sunglasses. An upgraded gadget. A fancy coffee drink. These are acceptable “impulse buys.” A summer home? Not so much.
First, you need to sit down with your calendar and ask yourself: “How often will I (we) really be able to use this?” How much time off of work can you reasonably expect? Do you have the flexibility for a true summer home—a place to spend months at a time—or would you end up spending just a couple weekends there every year?
Once you grasp your time commitment, take some other people into consideration. How flexible is your spouse? If you’re seeking a couple’s retreat, make sure the two of you will actually be able to spend time there together.
And what about the rest of the lot? Your kids? Parents? Cousins? Don’t forget the grandkids—current and future. Will they be able to get together? Or perhaps you’re looking for a little respite from your big family—that’s okay, too.
It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of a summer home, asking yourself these questions will slow you down.
Mistake #2: Location, Location, Location
Many eager high school grads want to go to college somewhere far away enough to feel like a new place, but not too far, just in case they get a homesick. When shopping for a summer home, you face a similar dilemma.
If you choose a spot right around the corner from your year-round home, travel will be convenient. But will there be enough of a change of scenery to feel “away from it all,” or will the view be too similar to the view you’re used to? If you don’t get excited about visiting your summer home, you probably won’t use it as much.
On the other end of the spectrum, be wary about choosing a place too far away. Maybe you had a blast on your honeymoon to Fiji, and you’d love to go back. But how often will you really commit to a trans-continental commute to your summer home?
Similarly, consider the neighborhood. A house in the Hamptons sounds great. The trouble is: A lot of other people agree. Traffic in to and out of these popular vacation spots can be nightmarish. On the other hand, remote locations are nice for solitude, but what happens when your Rocky Mountain retreat is inaccessible because a snowstorm wiped out the only access road?
Don’t forget to check out the location from all angles, including from the air.
“It may be worth it to hire a local pilot to take you up to see a different view of the area. You can do that for as little as $100-150, and it can result in a great payoff,” says Paul Moore, of Smith Mountain Homes. “You’re probably not from the area; you may not have spent much time there. Did you know about the nuclear power plant over the ridge, or the trash dump through the woods?”
When it comes to deciding how far you want to be from your year-round haunt, consider these details to find a “happy medium.”
Mistake #3: Not Considering ALL the Costs
You’re convinced you can commit, you’ve picked out your location, and you’re ready to start drawing up budget spreadsheets. Good for you! But look twice at that budget.
At your primary home, you’re around to mow the lawn and skim the pool every weekend. But who will upkeep your summer home while you’re not there? You’ll likely have to hire local help to keep your property up to neighborhood codes and be on the lookout for any damages or issues.
Now consider that perfect location you worked so hard to pick out. It’ll be pretty expensive to heat your hot tub in Vancouver. The locusts in Costa Rica will gobble up your landscaping if you don’t hire someone to control them.
Do your homework to uncover unexpected maintenance costs.
While you’re researching, look into the cost of insurance. The popular tourist traps carry hefty price tags. Some of our favorite summer spots are magnets for extreme weather. In areas prone to forest fires or hurricanes, be prepared to pay a premium to keep your home safe.
Everybody dreams of an oceanside retreat, but the wear and tear may make you think twice. Saltwater is extremely corrosive, and over time will eat away at wood, metal, bricks, mortar, and even concrete. There are many long-term cost benefits of choosing an inland retreat.
Finally, don’t forget to look into mortgage costs and credit requirements, which are often higher and stricter for your second home than your primary home. “Those higher credit requirements come primarily in the form of higher down payments. Expect to put down at least 10% on a vacation home (compared with a 5% minimum, or even no down payment, for a primary residence),” says Craig Venezia of Market Watch.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully this article didn’t scare you away from buying a summer home altogether. The takeaway message is simply to think carefully before making the commitment of buying a second house. Make sure that you’ll really get your money’s worth, choose your location wisely, and consider all the costs. As long as you’re thorough, you’ll have a beautiful getaway for years to come!
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years. She is currently a lifestyle blogger and the editor of Whooo’s Reading and Carpe Daily. When she's not writing or editing, she's trying new DIY projects around the house or training fitness clients. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.