Second Home: Black Hole or Cherished Getaway? – Part 1 of 2



By Marni Jameson

For a flicker of a second, I had hope. That should teach me. My house in Colorado, which has been on the market for almost a year (don’t get me started), had a serious buyer. Not merely an interested buyer. I’ve had interested, but serious, as in brokers on both sides expected an offer momentarily. The wife had been to the house three times, the husband and son twice. They had measured the ceiling heights and room dimensions so they could place furniture. Their son had picked out his bedroom.

My broker, who is also my tenant (yes, it’s complicated) was planning her next move.

Meanwhile — although I have been to the school of crushed dreams, flunked, and repeated the class — I was letting my hopes run like a herd of wild mustangs across the field of possibilities. If the dish ever did runaway with the spoon, this was the time.

“Oh, the places we could go!” I said, channeling Dr. Seuss, and dragging DC into this.

“I was thinking, that once this house sells, maybe we could buy a second home, you know, a getaway.”

So DC and I started tossing up real estate ideas like pizza dough. Dreaming is free, right? In addition to our happy yellow house, a base that is near our jobs and that keeps us rooted in reality, maybe we could get, I don’t know, a beach house, a lakefront cottage, a mountain retreat?

The home in my imagination would be ours, not borrowed from someone else. Our newly extended (and growing) family would gather there, and we could go to relax, escape for long weekends, and live a fantasy life better than real life.

Pretty soon I was planning the menus, picturing the holidays, cherishing the memories being made and the legacy forming and being passed down through generations. DC sat nearby doing the math in his head. I could tell because his eyeballs had rolled up and to the right, as if he was working the problems on the back of his eyebrow.

And then, while I was counting my chickens, the buyers vanished. Now I’m back where I was before my feverish fantasy, a reluctant landlord and homeowner of a house I’m trying to sell so I can move on.

But the false hope got us thinking. Should we or shouldn’t we? So I did some second-home research. I talked to friends who own one, and to my accounting colleagues, and I read up on the pros and cons. Here are the positives. (I excel at this side of the balance sheet.) Next week, I’ll share the why nots:

  • A change of scenery. When you invest in a second home, you lock in a place you can go to get in touch with your inner skier, beach bum, or recreational athlete. If you live in a hot climate, you can escape to a cool mountain getaway. If you live where winters are brutal, you can migrate to warmer weather.
  • Turnkey convenience: Since your stuff, including another set of clothes, are already there, you can travel with a small carry on, said my Florida friend Paula, who has a mountain home. That appeals. I would love to walk into a vacation home knowing everything was mine, down to the towels, sheets, dishes and silverware.
  • Style & Comfort: When you own a second home, you can decorate it to your taste and standards. When you rent a vacation home, you accept someone else’s.
  • Familiarity Returning to the same place is comforting as you become part of the social fabric. Once you get to know your neighbors and the community, you get that home-away-from-home feeling, and pride of ownership that you don’t get when you rent.
  • Memories and traditions: Never having had a second home, I’m always a little envious of those families that have that lake house or cabin where the family gathers for a week or two every year. Paula says her favorite part of ownership is gathering with family and friends, creating memories and traditions that will last a lifetime. If you pass the property from generation to generation, it bestows a benefit that is hard to put a price on.
  • Tax deductions. If you don’t rent the property out or only rent it for two weeks or less a year, you can deduct the mortgage interest and property taxes, just the way you would on your primary residence.
  • Retirement head start. If you’re thinking about retiring in a place other than where you currently work and live, a second home lets you have a vacation place and an area to test drive to see if you could make it your permanent place.
  • Potential profit. Anyone who lived through the last housing crash knows, housing values fluctuate, sometimes wildly. However, vacation properties in desirable vacation areas (beach, ski or golf properties) are likely to appreciate over time. If you rent them out during the times you’re not there, you can cover your costs, and perhaps see some appreciation. But if the home is mostly for personal use, most financial experts will tell you, not to bank on a net gain.

Now before you run out and buy a second home, wait for next week’s column.

If you would like to share your second home experience with me for a future column, please email me at

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at