If you’re lucky enough to have reached the time in your life when you can seriously contemplate buying a vacation home, there’s much to be excited about. According to the National Association of Realtors, one in eight homeowners are thinking of buying a second home. While summer may be the time of year you start to think longingly about sun, sea and sand, it may not be the best time to buy a cottage.
Here are some things to consider when you’re buying a vacation home.
Peak of season is seldom a good idea
Avoiding peak seasons makes sense in supply and demand terms. Peak season, whether you have your eye on a Vail ski chalet or a Cape Cod sea shanty, is when the area in which you’re looking is at its finest. Since vacation homes can be sentimental investments, many who’ve inherited them rent them out as additional sources of income so they can hang onto a property. They may be sharing it with siblings or have had to buy them out. They also may be part-time vacation home investment owners who got in early on a new resort but need to ensure 100 percent occupancy during peak season to make their investment pay off.
Aim for the final weeks of the high season to make your offer or hold off until just after peak season ends. If you’re looking for a summer vacation home, the time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is the perfect window of opportunity. You’ll still take possession early enough in the year to be able to get a glimpse of what future summers can hold, and you’ll also have a chance to do any needed repairs before winter sets in. Then you can spend the winter planning what you need to do to make the place your own the following summer.
If you’re looking at a winter vacation home, spring is the best time to make an offer. While diehards may still be renting or occupying their vacation homes, hoping to get one or two more days of spring skiing or boarding in, most will have placed their properties on the market. Just be careful not to leave your offer for too late in the year if the area you’re interested in is remote. Some owners board up their properties for the off season, making it harder to get viewings. Also, don’t forget the power of spring mud. Properties accessible through three seasons may become harder to access during spring thawing and flooding.
Be sure the time is right
Before buying a vacation home, you need to think long and hard about a whole host of considerations. First and foremost is whether you will be able to use it enough to make it worthwhile for you financially. Even if you buy a vacation home and plan to rent it out to defray expenses, that means your time there will be limited. While you may love a cottage on a lake in fall, not everyone else does. If you can’t afford to spend the 4th of July at your own cottage, this may not be the time to buy.
Second, have you considered all the duplicate expenses involved? Whether you want your vacation home to mirror your principal residence in all ways, you can’t escape the fact that you’re going to need two of everything now. Unless, that is, you want to treat every weekend you spend at your vacation home like a camping trip (which may well be the case). You’re not going to want to haul lawn mowers and leaf blowers to the cottage every summer weekend. That goes double for appliances, linens and furniture. You’ll also have a second set of bills for property taxes, insurance, yard maintenance, internet and cleaning costs. In addition, there may be HOA fees, too.
Third, what are your vacation goals? If you want to visit every continent and are running out of time to tackle Asia and Africa, does a vacation property make sense? If you find you’re drawn to experiential vacations like hiking the Appalachian Trail, swimming with the dolphins or building someone else a home with Habitat for Humanity, a vacation home may be an anchor you don’t need.
On the other hand, if you know you can afford to invest in a second property and have a long-term plan to use it as a home base while you globetrot in retirement, or if you want your family to have the freedom of the great outdoors while they’re growing up, it might just be time to seize the day.