I'm headed to Tahoe next week for Labor Day and thought it appropriate (and timely) to invite my COMPASS colleagues, Nicole and Jamison Blair of Team Blair Tahoe to speak about vacation-home ownership. While I don't usually feature other writers (because, why?), I loved how Nicole captured both the pain and the pleasure of owning a second home. Nicole and her husband, Jamie, are my "go to" Agents in Tahoe and this article points out why. Please enjoy.
Falling Out of Love?
It’s always love at first sight, until you can’t stand the sight of it anymore. (I'm not talking about your boyfriend, I'm talking about your second home.)
Owning a vacation home can sometimes seem like an exotic romance as viewed on a perfectly-manipulated HGTV reality show; (Uhhh, where's the "real" part?) however, things can quickly change when the cameras turn away and moonlit walks on powder-white sandy beaches are replaced with traffic-congested commutes to get there, yellow pine pollen EVERYWHERE, snow-covered roofs & driveways, bears upsetting your trash cans, endless loads of sheets and towels, and untidy friends and family.
“Who left this mess in here!?!” (The bear.)
We’ve seen our share of whirlwind romances with rustic mountain homes fall apart once the responsibilities of owning something from afar set in, and unlike those upbeat television hosts, Jamie and I don’t feign shock when it happens. (Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.)
As Agents in a small resort town where market drivers are largely navigated by out-of-town investors, it’s our job to scrape off the hunky-dory veneer of thinking that every weekend visit is all powder and sun. In other words, you should know what you’re getting into.
So while the underlying responsibilities of owning a vacation home aren't usually what our listing descriptions highlight, there’s no reason you can’t make the relationship work for the long term. We know many friends and clients who manage to never fall out of love with their investment (or their partners) and it’s easier than most people think, but it does take work.
So since Julie asked, here are our top six tips to help you stay in love with your vacation home for many years to come. . .
1) Manage Your Expectations. Know going in that money and time away from the boat dock will be required on occasion, especially before and after winter. There’s a litany of boxes that need to be checked and T’s crossed when the seasons change, and sticking to them will make long-term ownership tremendously more rewarding. Set up an annual calendar and follow it.
2) When something pops up, address it, don’t let it linger. Truth be told, the general stuff isn’t all that hard to do. Who can't stain a deck? (My mother-in-law for one, but with age comes certain benefits.) And the more attention you pay to these "To Dos," the easier it is to see the big stuff coming.
3) Delegate! The entire Lake Tahoe economy rests on the shoulders of tourism (we need you.), thus there are no shortage of service providers/vendors at the ready to help you oversee your investment. Ask around, give us a call, hire industrious locals to do the heavy lifting. There are few things more reassuring than knowing that when a major winter storm is about to dump 10 feet of Sierra cement at lake level, “you've got a person” on the ground when you’re 200 miles away or stuck on the side of the road in chain-controlled traffic. Yes, it can get expensive at times, but we refer you to helpful tip #1.
4) Make your cabin your home. Like any other relationship, you’re only going to get out of it what you put into it, so don’t treat your second home like a "second home." Instead, make it a home away from home. Family photos, local art and accessories, and personal items from your primary residence can quickly turn a spartan, unadorned interior into something you can’t wait to return to time and again. We’ve seen far too many second homes stay relatively boring because their owners are more concerned with its appeal on the rental market than its appeal to their family and friends. Yes, make it inviting, make it Pinterest-worthy, but make it your own.
And speaking of families . . .
5) Involve your family. Perhaps the most common source of sales in our market are heirs who no longer have interest in “the family cabin.” (Yes, this includes your children too.) Therefore, we recommend exploring whether the vacation home is a true family decision, or one that's eventually destined for the open market. Granted, things change over time, but a house becomes a home when it’s filled with memories. Sound sappy? It’s the truth - the more your friends and family fall in love with your vacation home, the more comfortable you’ll be in it, and the more likely your grown children will want to KEEP it for their family as well. Moreover, knowing that others have an emotional stake in your home can help you be more confident in the decisions made about maintenance and ongoing investment.
And finally . . . drum roll please . . .
6) Get Local! It’s easy to find a place in a gated community up here, or a place with extensive homeowner amenities that give you plenty of reasons to never leave the confines of the neighborhood. Don’t be those people!!! The more involved you are in seasonal activities, dining locally, and meeting your ACTUAL neighbors, the more apt you are to feel part of the community. Granted, the "Year-Rounders" can be a tough crowd at times, but that’s primarily because too many second homeowners don’t bother to engage with them until they need something to benefit their home, or they're in trouble. That’s not a good practice and it causes silly, unnecessary tension between property owners. Let’s all get along, and in so doing, I promise, you’ll love your vacation home even more than when you first set eyes on it.
Again, it’s our job to be honest with clients, but first, we need them to be honest with themselves, especially when it comes to vacation homes. In short, it all comes down to knowing what you’re getting into. Just like any relationship, you never know how a first date is going to go, but it’ll never grow into something meaningful if you don’t accept the risk of being let down. (Of course, most first dates don’t start at $700k!)
Who knows, your vacation home may be so well-loved that it becomes the legacy that gets passed down from generation to generation and wouldn't that be something truly special? (Yes, it would.)
See you in Tahoe!
Nicole Blair, Esq.
Broker Associate | Founding Partner, COMPASS Lake Tahoe/Truckee
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.