When I was in primary school, I had a friend who visited her grandmother’s vacation home at the beach almost every weekend. I thought it was so fancy that she and her family packed up on Friday afternoons and spent their weekends frolicking by the ocean. And I decided from a young age that I, too, would someday own a home away from home, preferably with an ocean view.
About a year ago, our family visited a small beach town in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and, while most people buy seashells and taffy as souvenirs after a beach vacation, we came home with, well, a house. Though it seemed to our friends and family that we’d impulsively purchased a beach home, the reality is that my husband and I talked about and searched beach areas for many years before settling in one spot.
Of course, the dream of owning a vacation home when you are eight versus actually taking the plunge into second home real estate as an adult are two very different notions. As my husband and I talked about our financial goals and worked our budget to eventually include being able to afford a vacation house, we got a crash course in second home ownership.
Here’s what we considered long before we bought our home by the beach:
How how much travel time can you realistically manage?
Though the idea of packing up on Friday night and staying in your vacation home every weekend seems enticing, the fact is, your life at home still exists. Lawns need to be mowed, grocery shopping has to be done, and kids still have soccer games, even if the ocean or lake is calling. Your “real” life isn’t going to stop just because you’ve decided to vacation more regularly, so factor in how many errands and house projects you can realistically accomplish during the week.
And, as we learned pretty quickly, finding a handyman on short notice from several states away can be very tricky. If you decide to buy a vacation home several hours away or in a different state, consider hiring a local property management company to help you with the weekly and monthly maintenance of your home. Property managers often have reputable contacts for contractors and lawn maintenance companies so that if your neighbour calls to say your house is flooding, reliable help is just a phone call away.
For our family, the fact that our home is many hours away is actually a bonus. Our time in the home is much more intentional and being able to plan ahead of time has decreased the disruption to our daily lives when we do visit. If you are desperate for your busy family to be able to sneak away for a few weekends a month, consider a location that is under an hour away. But, if your kids are older or you are looking at retiring on a less structured schedule, a larger home at a further distance might be the perfect fit.
Do you want to use your property as a rental when you’re not there?
If you’re buying a home for your family to exclusively use on the weekends, you can purchase a much smaller house than you would if you were looking to earn rental income for the property in your absence. A two-bedroom house won’t be appealing to a family who is looking to host a beachfront family reunion with twelve people, so make sure you’re clear before you buy on whether or not you will rent your home during the high season. Either way, touching base with a realtor in the community in which you hope to buy is your best bet.
A realtor will know what the local market will bear for rental income and will be able to help guide you towards a home that is a good fit. And if you are unsure about the area, a realtor will be able to help you find a rental to try before you make the leap into ownership.
Bigger homes with amenities like pools and hot tubs are more enticing to renters, so you may find that you wind up with a bigger home than you set out to buy. If you are considering renting out your vacation home, a realtor will be able to tell you what homes in that area typically rent for (you can do your own online research as well) and what upgrades you would have to add to be competitive in the market.
And, use caution when applying for mortgages if you plan on renting your home regularly: some insurance agencies won’t issue second home mortgages to rental homes, and you may have to buy a commercial policy, instead.
What kind of extra maintenance is required?
Living by the ocean means accepting that salt water is corrosive, high winds are a way of life and sand will be in every crevice of your home, including your air conditioner, water pumps and electrical panels. Repairs on a waterfront home can vary in cost but regular maintenance of outdoor amenities is definitely a cost to consider. Pools and hot tubs will need to be vacuumed and maintained weekly to be kept clear of sand, and updating light fixtures and hardware to stainless steel (more on that below) can be an unexpected hefty up front cost.
You can combat the corrosion by installing stainless steel hardware and securing furniture to the deck but, the fact is, you should plan to be financially prepared for emergency repairs just like you would in your primary residence. When deciding on whether or not to buy a home by the water, hiring a local inspector to thoroughly review the property is a must. Inspectors will know if your home is up to code electrically and can determine if a beach front deck is safe for guests.
In our case, the inspector found that the deck on the house was structurally unsound. While that turned out to be a large cost we didn’t expect, we were able to negotiate the price with the seller and budget accordingly before closing.
Other extra costs like replacement hot tub covers also aren’t cheap, trust me. We found out the hard way that hot tub covers that aren’t properly secured will cost us $500 to replace. And, just like any older home, water heaters, air conditioning units and appliances will eventually need replacing, too. We found ourselves replacing the air conditioner almost immediately upon taking ownership. But, again, because we had the home inspected, we knew going in that we might have to incur that cost sooner rather than later.
What kind of flood insurance will you need, and how much does it cost?
Even though living by the ocean has always been a dream of mine, when we were looking at homes in our beach town, my husband cautioned me about hurricanes. Because I was excited to finally live at the beach, I waved off his cautions. Well, eight days after we purchased our dream beach home, a Category 4 hurricane grazed our area and our section of the island was closed for 48 hours. Our home survived but the fact is: the weather is relentless. Thankfully, our home did not sustain any damage that required us to put in an insurance claim, but homes just 161km south of us were a total loss in many areas.
And, eventually, if you live on the coast long enough, your home will have to endure a major storm or weather event. Point being: don’t skimp on the insurance policies. Flood insurance policies will depend on the location of your vacation home and whether or not it’s located in a high risk area. Your realtor and local insurance agents will be able to help you determine whether or not high risk flood insurance is required. It can be a significant extra expense, so do your research up front and build it into your plan for the overall cost of the home.
If you don’t live nearby, are there ways to connect with the local community?
With a hurricane bearing down on our new home, I was in a dire panic. Worries about the roof being torn off from winds and our new pool being obliterated by sand kept me up at night. Thankfully, I had joined a Facebook group for local owners and non-resident owners prior to the storm and those kind residents became a lifeline for my husband and me. They kept us up to date on tide conditions, flooding, and road closures. And, one kind couple even drove to our house to check on it in the aftermath.
I’ve never been so grateful for social media as I was when I heard our new friend’s voice on the other end of the phone telling me our house was still standing. If you are buying a home away from home, make sure to establish a local connection as soon as you can. It will bring you much needed peace of mind.
Owning a beach home is a dream come true, for sure. However, I didn’t realise at the age of eight just how many replacement hot tub covers and new deck chairs I’d be buying. And, somehow, I can’t get a vacation from laundry and feeding kids. Still working on that part of the dream…