Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buying a Vacation Home

Images courtesy of Brand 66 via Dezeen

When I took the Mondo Beyondo e-course last year, I generated a list of big, audacious goals. Much to my amazement, two of them have already been actualized: give birth to a healthy baby and sign a contract on my book about how to plan a meaningful and memorable wedding without losing your savings or sanity.

I'm currently in the process of working on two others: starting a national network of high-performing, authentic, public Montessori charter schools and building a pocket neighborhood in Austin.

And now I'm wondering if I should add another to this list: buy a vacation home for our family.

Part of me thinks: How ecologically irresponsible! You want to own not one but two homes? Think about all the people who don't even have homes!

And then part of me thinks: What an amazing ritual for our family. We could return to the same spot for vacation every year. Since the school I want to open will be on a year-round schedule, we'll have two weeks of vacation every nine weeks, which means we could use the house several times a year.

Are there ways to reconcile these conflicting perspectives?
  1. What if we bought the house with other people, so that it would get more use?
  2. What if we rented the house out via Vacation Rentals by Owner when we weren't using it?
  3. What if we looked into investing in a time share instead?

And where we would buy said house? Would we want it to be within driving distance (like an 8-hour radius), so we could save money on airline tickets, bring Hoss, and bring all our stuff with us? Maybe a lake house in the mountains of Arkansas?

Of course we are no where near being about to afford such a thing, but now's a good time to start thinking about whether or not I want to add it to my list of goals. It would require lots of planning and saving!

REMINDER: The next Purposeful Conception Course: Preparing Your Mind, Body, and Life for Pregnancy starts this weekend on November 13. Register today! We'd love to have you join us!

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Hannah said...

I love the fact that you don't just dream big, you actually set in place processes to make these things happen.

My goals of own a house, start my own business and have a baby can seem really overwhelming when tackled at once, but if I take it one step at a time and actually plan things in- I think I can do it!

Anonymous said...

Time shares are never cost effective compared to just renting annually and the maintenance for a vacation property can be a significant financial burden as well as a headache. We've priced out some vacation rentals and it's always a better deal financially to rent v. own for us. You can always rent the same place every year. FWIW, we rented our wedding venue via and had a positive experience.

V. Wetlaufer said...

For generations, my family has had a cabin in Northern Minnesota where we spent varying degrees of time, from entire summers to a few weeks here and there. It was incredible to have a place we came back to every summer, and it's so ingrained in our family's history and lore that I can't imagine any other type of summer vacation. So there's a vote in favor of a vacation home.

Sara E. Cotner said...

That sounds lovely, Valerie!

If only I could figure out a way to marry into your family...

Hi, Hannah! I hear you! I just did a workshop about backwards-planning your life (e.g., starting with your yearly goals, breaking those into monthly goals, breaking those into weekly goals, and then figuring out your daily to-do list). Plus, I try to break everything down into a tiny to-do item before it goes on my daily list. Otherwise, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and find other ways to procrastinate.

One final thing: I start every to-do task with a verb, so it's very clear what the action is.

Okay, must get back to my to-do list!

Wishing you the best with your audacious goals!

Carrie said...

From a real estate lawyer's perspective, I can tell you many, MANY people regret purchasing time shares. Among the numerous complaints, the fees are insane, they are often not able to be resold and the "available" times are often crappy ones (i.e., not the best season for the location).

Also, keep in mind that unless you both have some sweet jobs with lots of time off and/or your vacation home is very close to your job so as to permit commuting, you will likely have very little time to spend in a vacation home (until you're retired!). In addition to the maintenance fees for a second home mentioned by Anonymous, consider the second mortgage and the second tax bill (which never goes away), which can be big "ouches" (especially for a home on the water), as well as the costs of furnishing said second home. Of the people I know who have second homes, most of them actually MUST rent them out for all but a couple/few weeks per year in order to pay all of the expenses (unless, like V. Wetlaufer, the place has been in the family for generations, has no mortgage, and, I suspect, is shared by multiple branches of the family).

The idea of renting the same place every year is a great one, in my opinion, that we, too, have considered. That way you can actually test a place out to see if you like it, the area, and the things to do. If you do, great. Rent again, and pick a time that works for you the following year, which may be different than the current year.

So for us, we take a yearly winter vacation to some place warm (thus far, St. John and Negril, Jamaica) and take day trips in the summer to the place we'd love to live (Kennebunk, ME). Someday we will sell our current home and buy that dream home right on the beach! Save save save. :-)

Stef said...

Hi Sara,
What about using an old trailer? One of my friends is building a vacation house out of the old style spartan trailers on the mountains of Colorado.

Raquel.Somatra said...

I, too, love working "backwards" with goals. I've only just started this process this past year or so-- I so wish I had begun sooner. It helps so much to have my eye on the prize while taking baby steps every day to get there. I saw that you went to a workshop for this-- do you have any like-minded books to recommend?

jami said...

You could also join a home exchange (I'm a member of Homelink) and offer your vacation home for simultaneous or non-simultaneous exchanges. My husband and I just got back from our honeymoon in Paris and we did a non-simultaneous exchange (the woman whose apartment we stayed in is going to come in the spring to stay in our apartment) and we really loved it! If you have a vacation home, you could rack up some really amazing trips. Feel free to email me if you have any questions (

Anthropolochic said...

When my grandfather and grandmother had finished building their house, they bought a piece of property about 20 minutes away and starting building a cottage. My family stayed there with my grandparents many, many times when I was a kid. The cottage was never really finished - once the frame and walls were up, it was built out of bits and pieces from various other projects...upcycled and lower cost than I might have imagined I guess. They had very little money, but they bought a really cheap piece of land and built this thing over the course of 40 years. For much of my childhood, it didn't have plumbing. It didn't really matter - we had a lot of fun there.

Once my grandparents passed on, we all stopped gathering there. Now we rent it out (with plumbing). The fees basically pay for the land taxes. There are many downsides to keeping it, but it's an important place for us so it remains in the family for now.

That said, my husband and I rea very far flung from the cobbled cottage and are pi$$ we are trying to find an intermediate vacation habit. For now, we are thinking of doing one of two things a) an annual exchange visit with an out of state friend. They will stay with us in New York and we will stay with them or b)test out a few rental locations on Air BnB or the like...and find one that could turn into a regular rental.

Moxie said...


When I saw the photo on your post, my first thought was of the family in the following link. And when I continued to read your post, I knew I had to share!

This family was able to build a second house mortgage-free. It's close enough to their home that they use it on the weekends to get closer to nature. While you needn't be quite as rustic as this family, it's certainly inspiration to think outside of the box!

Sara E. Cotner said...

So inspiring, Moxie! And it gave me the idea that we might want to get a house in the Texas Hill Country on a lake. That way, we could escape even for the weekend!

little monkey said...

What about a camper? I know it's not the same, but that's what we've been looking into now that we are a family. The upside is that it makes travel more economical and it's easier than tent camping with a baby. Also, you can move you're vacation home to many interesting places including a weekend get away or long journey. Just a thought! They are also way cheaper to buy!

Kate said...

My husband's family rented a place in Maine for a few weeks every summer when he was growing up. The whole family definitely has fond memories of returning to the same place. But, since they rented, they didn't have the downsides of property taxes, timeshare fees, etc.

Basically, at the end of their vacation one year, they tentatively booked for the next summer at the same time. Very few places are booked more than a year in advance! Plus, once they'd been doing that for a while, they built a relationship with the owners and eventually got right of first refusal.

Our Little Beehive said...

Growing up and during college my family would rent the same little cabin ~2 hours from our home for a week each summer. It was an inexpensive little vacation and gave us a chance to get away together and to enjoy the outdoors. Nearly 15 years later, after my brother and I had graduated college, my parents bought land on the same little pond and my father and brother built their dream cabin together. Had they frittered away money each year on a mortgage (or not earned interest on the cash they may have paid for a house), taxes and general maintenance, they would never have been able to build our family's dream get-away.

Meghan said...

We have a cabin near Taos that we bought about 5 years ago. We really love the cabin and it is a really special place.

We have very low property taxes ($15 per year) and since we're off the grid, we don't have to pay utilities or anything like that, but the maintenance can be expensive and time consuming since we also have our house in Santa Fe. We also need to have a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get there so there's that expense too.

Our cabin is about 2 1/2 hours from Santa Fe so we can go for the weekend or even a quick night if we just need to get out of town.

I'm so happy we have it, but there are definitely trade offs. The money we used to buy the cabin could have been used to pay off our student loans, and it's hard maintaining 2 houses. We end up spending a fair amount of our time up there working on stuff around the house, which can sometimes feel like a burden.

Overall though, I feel so lucky to have the cabin. I know we'll be going up there for many years to come.

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