Saturday, December 25, 2004

Holiday shopping for a home? Don't sign that contract too soon

Here's are a few quick tips before we all go off on our Christmas/New Year holiday vacation.

They're from Kortney Stringer of the Wall Street Journal. She lists the biggest errors made by buyers of second homes, along with advice on how to avoid such mistakes.

Note -- I'm listing just brief summaries:

Get to Know Your Market Firsthand

This may seem obvious, but given the number of people who ignore it, it bears repeating: Research the local market properly. 'A lot of people vacation somewhere for a week or two and think they want to live there, but they don't know anything about the area,' says Tim Richards, an Ocean City, Md., real-estate agent who specializes in second homes.....

Don't Settle for Less Than What You Really Want

Sometimes people make sacrifices when buying a primary residence....But a second home should be about pure enjoyment. It's important to get it exactly right.

Look Into Zoning and Other Restrictions

Become familiar with local politics, laws and other peculiarities. Many communities, particularly those in coastal areas, have special zoning requirements and other ordinances of interest....

Bone Up on Mortgages, Insurance and Contractors

Lenders historically have charged higher rates for second-home mortgages; they view second homes as a greater risk because they're often the first thing to go when borrowers need to tighten their belts....

Is It a Fixer-Upper?

Maintenance issues in second homes can be a bigger concern than they are for a primary residence....You don't want to spend your getaway weekends doing a lot of chores....

Don't Expect a Cash Cow

For second-home owners using their property as an investment, experts warn not to depend on rental income to cover their mortgage and other expenses...."

Read Kortney's full report here.

Have a great holiday! I'll be back Jan. 1 with a first-hand report on the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.


Friday, December 24, 2004

Attention Seven-Figure Home Shoppers

I'm about to suggest a way to find a uniquely qualified real estate pro anywhere in the U.S.... But these sure aren't K-Mart specials.

The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing is a high-powered listing of real estate agents who specialize in the kind of second home you see advertised on Friday in the Weekend section of the Wall Street Journal.

Hey, even if you're not ready to plunk down a few mil, it's Christmas. Feel free to dream.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

What are the next hot spots? Try these 9

According to EscapeHomes, a Web site whose polls are often used in the mainstream media, these are the "Top 10 Emerging Second Home Destinations" (um, hello? I count nine):

Brunswick, ME
Kingsport, TN
Lakeport (Clear Lake), CA
Livingston, MT
Minden, NV
Paonia, CO
Talent, OR
Vashon Island, WA
Venice, FL

By what measure? EscapeHome bases its list on the number of requests it receives from the site's users for specific areas and towns.

I'm not sure how reliable a guide that is, but if you're looking for property in a place where prices have not quite soared into the straosphere yet, you might want to check these out.

What are you looking for?
Location: Six of the towns are in the West, two in the south, one in New England.

Landscape: Livingston and Paonia are in the Rocky Mountains... Kingsport is in the Appalachians... Brunswick is by the ocean... Lakeport is on a lake (duh!) north of San Francisco... Minden is desert south of Reno... Talent is near hothothot Ashland.... Vashon is across Puget Sound from Seattle... Venice is beachside on the Gulf south of Sarasota.

Lifestyle: Brunswick -- Bowdoin College and summer activities... Kingsport -- lower than average home and living costs... Lakeport -- affordable (by California standards) fishing, boating... Livingston -- Yellowstone and horses...Minden -- quiet and agricultural... Paonia -- winter/summer outdoors... Talent -- both pastoral and cultural... Vashon -- sailing... Venice -- architecture, beaches, yachts.

For more, click the EscapeHomes link in the right-hand column.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Exchanging a home away from home

I've had great success with home exchanges. A few years ago I swapped my Manhattan apartment for a house in Santa Fe for an entire month. Since New York is such an expensive place to visit, I felt comfortable asking for more than just an exchange house-- I got the exchanger to include his car. I paid him a small fee for the miles I put on it.

Bottom line: I made a new friend and was able to get away for nothing more than air fare.

It's a great way to test-drive a new community. Sound interesting? The article Home Exchanges - People Over 50 Avoid Hotel Expenses and Cut Travel Costs by Exchanging Homes with Other Senior Travelers tells you much of what you're probably about to ask on the subject.

Although the article is pitched to seniors, it's a good intro for any of you interested in temporarily changing your address without forking over a chunk of your IRA money.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Renting a home away from home

It's easier than ever these days to rent a vacation home, according to columnist James Gliden. His "Internet Traveler "column in the Los Angeles Times last weekend focused on how you can list your second home without an agent, on the Web.

"Renting vacation homes is, for many families, a practical, even preferred alternative to staying in hotels. Thanks to the Internet, access to information about homes away from home is available at the click of a mouse," he writes.

"That's quite a change from my youth, when summer vacation meant a rented beach house on the Central Coast of California. My parents would find a property through word of mouth or a local real estate agent and secure our week along the Rincon, a coastal area between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Two weeks ago I rekindled those memories with a visit to a Rincon beach home, this one owned by Richard Ross of Santa Barbara. Unlike my parents, I found it online."

Gliden says he used Vacation Rentals by Owner,, said to be one of the largest and most visited online vacation rental home Internet sites. It has thousands of listings from around the world.

He continues, " Guests can find the house on the VRBO site or , another online vacation home rental service." One landlord he interviewed says he gets "about two inquiries a week this time of year for low and high season dates and as many as two a day in the spring."

I can vouch for VRBO -- I rented a condo in Colorado last summer at a great rate using the site's listings.

According to the owner Gliden interviewed, "People tend to wait until the last minute," and Gliden notes that is "a double-edged sword. Availability may be limited," but anxious owners may be willing to negotiate on price.

Gliden reports that VRBO was founded in 1995 by computer programmer Dave Clouse "to rent out a vacation condo he owned in Breckenridge, CO. The service has grown from his one listing to more than 31,000 vacation homes around the globe and is adding 30 new listings a day."Property management companies charge as much as 45%" of the rent, Clouse said. "It's hard to make it pay when you're giving away half the money."Property owners pay $148 a year for a listing on VRBO.

"The site puts renters in contact with owners and does not act as a middleman, either by charging a percent of a booking or mediating any disputes. The traveler and the property owner handle transactions directly. Previous guests can leave comments on many of the properties' ads. The property owner cannot remove the negative comments, but they can be rebutted. If a property gets several complaints about the same subject, Clouse will remove the property from the site.

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Monday, December 20, 2004

The British are coming

Europeans like a bargain as much as Americans do. With the dollar so weak against both the ero and the pound, more and more British visitors are taking advantage of the cheap dollar to buy vacation homes in New England and elsewhere.

According to a story in the London Evening Standard:

"The pound now buys nearly two American dollars ... and New England estate agents report a huge upsurge in British buyers looking for second homes in holiday areas where they can ski in winter and play golf and go hill walking and fishing in the summer, all within an easy drive of Boston Airport.

"Top favourites are New England ski resorts such as Killington in Vermont, the Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire, centered around the towns of North Conway and Jackson, and the Sunday River ski resort, near the town of Bethel in Maine."

Anthea Masey reports that Peter Pietz, of estate agent Badger Realty, which has branches in Jackson and North Conway in the Mount Washington Valley, says he has sold six holiday homes to UK buyers in the past 16 months. "They usually decide to buy a holiday home after spending a holiday here."

Property prices are affordable, according to the article. It cites a marketing consultant and his American wife, who live near Guildford. They bought a four-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium triplex in North Conway through Badger Realty in August. They paid �109,000 [ about $211,000.]

"We had spent summer holidays in the area and love the scenery. We have never skied, but we are going to try cross-country skiing this winter. There are miles of beautifully maintained tracks, so it would be a pity not to give it a go. The winters here are lovely: cold and crisp with blue skies. We also like all the factory outlets around North Conway, especially as there is no state purchase tax in New Hampshire," explains the consultant. The couple will rent out their UK and as this is a year-round holiday area, there is the potential of rental income," he tells the Standard.

"People say, isn't it expensive to get there, but it isn't necessarily a lot more expensive or time-consuming than driving a car to the middle of France. Outside the peak times, we usually pay between �170[$329] and �250 [483] for our flights to Boston," the article quotes a British buyer as saying.

Ted Crawford, of Century 21 in Killington, "says homes rent well in the summer and winter, and he believes prices in the town are about to take off. 'Rental income can cover between 50 and 60 per cent of running costs. Homes in Killington offer good value because demand is only now catching up with a big increase in supply in the mid-1980s.'"

The article concludes with several examples. "Snap up a New England holiday home �124,000 [$240] " in Killington, That's for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, alpine-style contemporary chalet with exposed beams inside. The article also highlights a three-bedroom house in Bethel, Maine for �98,000[$189,000.]

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Friday, December 17, 2004

To Grandmother's House We -- Ooops!

You've bought the house... taken out the mortgage... picked out a tree... invited the family.... ordered the turkey....

Too bad the oven (and the rest of your brand-new vacation home kitchen) is not quite done yet.

Real estate mavens love to tell us how valuable preconstruction deals are in resort communities. In order to raise capital early, builders often offer what seem to be great discounts on soon-to-be built homes and condos.

Key phrase? "Soon-to-be built." That's a Buyer Beware signal if I ever saw one.

Look what 's happened in the new Idaho resort called Tamarack, which this week became the major new ski area to open in more than 20 years.

Eager buyers didn't even wait for a discount. In fact, according to Boise's KTVB, they paid a premium for ski- and golf course-adjacent properties. The resort bankrolled its development this way to the tune of $77-million.

Now, the lifts are open -- but many houses aren't. Buyers told the TV newsfolk that the builders overpromised and underdelivered.

In one case, an owner says not only is his house not ready, but the "builders admit they were using his 1200-foot, $500,000 cottage to store materials for other homes," according to Newschannel 7

Jean-Pierre Boespflug, Tamarack's CEO, tells the KTVB that half of the resort's 63 homes will be ready by next weekend. And he says the contracts these homeowners signed gave no commitment of a Christmas completion date.

"We had no guarantees of anything that early, in fact, you know homes typically take a year to build," Boespflug told the station. "We're working as hard as we can to make everybody happy."

Tune in Christmas Day to see whether those early buyers are wearing their happy faces.

Meanwhile, if you're about to put a down payment on a preconstruction project, get the delivery date in writing.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Holiday gift? How 'bout a Colorado ski house?

The air may be cold in the Colorado mountains, but the second -home market is hotter than ever.

If local real estate company statistics are correct, more real estate at higher prices changed hands in the first nine months of 2004 than happened throughout 2003. "Through the third quarter, buyers paid $4.74 billion for real estate in eight mountain counties, slightly more than the $4.62 billion paid in 2003. And 2003 was the second-best year on record. This year's sales likely will best the all-time high of the stock market boom of 2000, when an estimated $5.1 billion in real estate sold," says the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver daily.

Buy now or wait? Purchase your mountain dream house or condo now because there's not a whole lot of quality left in inventory, according to local reports in Eagle County, home of Vail and Beaver Creek. "Leading the pricing increase is Vail Village, where the average price per-sale has jumped 65 percent to $672,000.... In Beaver Creek the average price has jumped 52 percent to $536,000...." a local realtor is quoted as telling the Vail Daily.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I'm here to help

Hello everyone, I'm a professional writer who specializes in second home/vacation home/resorts, among other topics. I comb the landscape for the latest information on these subjects. I'm happy to answer your questions about vacation homes. Please note that I am not a licensed real estate agent, and I do not have any financial arrangement whatsoever with any developer, resort or organization. I do write regularly for, among other outlets, Mountain News, a company that specializes in ski and snowboard news.

My aim is to provide unbiased and fair reporting and occasionally opinion on the vacation home and resort market. I look forward to writing for you, and answering your queries.

Grace Lichtenstein


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