By Marni Jameson
Here’s what no one tells you about being an empty nester. Yes, the kids leave, but they go out and multiply. They get married, find boyfriends, have babies, and come back. Suddenly, your empty nest becomes a bed and breakfast. I’m not complaining. I love it. However, just as I thought it was safe to downsize, I suddenly need more bedrooms than ever.
When DC and I got married this year, our blended family grew to include five kids in four states. Two are married and two have serious “others,” so add four. And two of the kids have kids (!), add three more. Now, if we want to have one place for the family to gather, a place I yearn for like a spawning salmon craves current, we can’t put them all up in our happy yellow house.
Which brings me back to last week’s discussion of getting a second home, a centrally located getaway where the growing clan can gather for holidays. DC and I have been pondering the idea, which is all just talk until the Colorado house sells, which may be never.
But you know by now, I am not one to make decisions based purely on finances. I start with my heart, (everyone under one roof at Thanksgiving!) then backfill with justifications: the bonding, the traditions, the memories, the built-in escape from our workaday world.
Someone slap me.
You know how it really is. You lay out these dream plans, then some kid gets the chicken pox, and the baby has colic; someone is obliged to go to the in-laws; petty arguments break out over who gets what bedroom, and, then the toilets back up. Family get-togethers are almost always better in the abstract. The anticipation and the recollection typically beat the real deal.
But still we mull, as anyone who has stayed in a vacation rental and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we owned a place like this?”
But would it?
More home buyers are betting it would be. Sales of second homes are up, according to the National Association of Realtors. In 2014 and 2015, vacation home sales were the highest and second highest respectively in over a decade. Improvements in the economy and housing market, coupled with the age wave of adults in their late forties to early sixties, the primary buyers, are making the option, well, an option.
Last week we talked about the advantages of owning a second home: convenience, familiarity, family traditions, pride of ownership. But before you turn your nest egg into a second nest, the vacation home owners and financial experts I talked to strongly suggest you consider the downside.
- The money. While a second home can become a cherished family tradition, it can also be a stressful money pit. Even when you’re not using it, you still have to pay carrying costs, such as property taxes, insurance, association fees, maintenance, repairs, and utilities, and, if you borrow to buy, the mortgage. (About a third of all second home buyers pay all cash, say experts.) That’s why, unless it’s a rental property, financial experts say, buying a second home is usually a poor investment.
- More money down. Most lenders require a higher down payment on second homes; 30-to-35 percent is not uncommon, and they charge a higher interest rate. Property insurance for vacation homes is also often higher than for primary residences because second homes carry more risk, since they’re often vacant.
- Duplication of stuff. Furnishing a house is expensive; now times that by two. Experts say the cost of decorating, and buying furniture, appliances, linens and housewares can add up to a third of the purchase price.
- “Because you’re paying for the place year around, you might feel guilty traveling to new places,” said my Florida friend Paula, who has a mountain home. If you’re the type who prefers to see a new place on every vacation, think again. One person’s getaway is another person’s rut.
- Household chores. Unlike when you stay in a hotel, in your own place you have to make and change the beds, said Paula. “That can make it feel a little too much like home.”
- Honey-do list. Many second homeowners find that when they do get to the vacation house, they spend a lot of their time working on it. Visions of lying in the hammock are dashed when the roof needs a patch, or the porch needs repair.
- Travel time and cost. Since the point of a second home is not to be where you primarily live, you will likely need to travel hours to get there, either by car or plane. So factor in travel costs and how often you’ll really get there. As kids get older, sports and weekend activities can mean families can’t get away as often as they’d hoped.
- Reality Check: A second home is a luxury. If you can afford it, can manage the responsibilities, and see the home as more memory maker than money maker, then the convenience, pride of ownership, family traditions, and friendships, can make a second home payoff. However, many experts say your money would be better spent upgrading your primary residence, so you can enjoy it more. When you do want to get away, rent. “You can rent a huge place with a butler for everyone, for two weeks, for far less than you would spend in a year on your second house,” said a businessman friend of mine, who has a second home he’s selling.
If you would like to share your second home experience with me for a future column, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 www.marnijameson.com.