It’s that annual rite of summer—vacation—time to load up the family car! Of course now it’s the van or SUV because, face it, we are putting more things into it now. There’s golf clubs, wet suits, boogie boards, laptops, electronic games, bikes, beach toys, fishing gear, volleyball net, cases of bottled water and wine, bags of gourmet munchies, and even a pet or two. Oh, and the suitcases. The boat trailer is hitched and everyone is belted up, plugged in, and you’re headed to the interstate about to spend the next eight hours or more along with what seems the rest of the city, on a four lane parking lot going nowhere.
Is three o’clock no longer early enough to beat the traffic? What about noon? Or should you wait until midnight when all the other travelers have reached their destinations? But then again, others have the same idea. What about leaving Thursday or wait until Monday? It’s hard to believe all these people share the simple yearning for peace and quiet.
Any way you cut it, the drive is long, the traffic maddening, and before long everyone is cranky. From the back seat comes the familiar refrain: “Are we there yet?” There’s got to be a better way.
Suppose you didn’t have to make this sojourn year in and year out? What if you owned a place just an hour’s drive, or two, from home? A region where beautiful bays, rivers and creeks, sandy beaches and expansive marshes, farms and small towns beckon you to linger. A place where you can moor your boat at your own dock or toss in a line to catch your dinner. A land of parks, museums, wineries, art galleries, lighthouses, and historic sites aplenty. Sound appealing? Then look east and southeast, to a land rich in history, natural beauty, and pleasant living, a region author Thomas Dixon Jr. once called “Land of the Life Worth Living”.
Bordered on the north by the Potomac River and the York River on the south, the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula offer an alternative to the hectic resort towns further north and south; a region far from the interstate and yet a convenient drive from your own front door. Where strangers still wave to strangers and the bucolic countryside is laced with rivers, creeks, and meandering country roads that beg exploring.
If you’ve passed through this region before, perhaps looking for yet another way around the log jam out on the interstate, maybe it’s time to take a second look. A copy of The Real Estate Pointer will point the way towards properties you may have only dreamed about. With home prices in many areas down, this is a great time to buy a vacation home.
Location, location, location is a real estate mantra that holds true in any market, but what may be your idea of the perfect location and what others think when it comes time for you to sell, may not necessarily agree. Our advice is “buy what you like, but buy wisely.”
So what would you desire in a second home: new or pre-owned? A small cottage with your own private beach and wide water views? An elegant river home, complete with gourmet kitchen and enough bedrooms to house extended family and friends? A low maintenance condo with some sweet amenities? A vintage bungalow tucked back into the woods or an historic farmhouse with plenty of character and room to garden? Or maybe you’d like a house in town where you can walk to shops and restaurants and leave the car parked. Our region abounds with real estate possibilities that run the gamut from turn key to fixer upper.
While contemplating your choices, it’s time to decide how you plan to use your second home, now and in the future. Will this be a summer place that remains vacant part of the year? Will it be exclusively yours or do you plan to use it as a seasonal rental to help defray costs? Do you plan to retire and live in it year round some day? Will you live part of the year here or just weekends and vacations? All this must be taken into account before you see your first listing. Presumably you’ll consider all the possibilities—pluses and minuses—before signing on the bottom line.
Now that you’ve narrowed your search to the type of house, it’s time to select a specific area. Town or country; an hour’s drive, or two, or three? Spend a long weekend in the area of choice or several in fact. Drive around, take long walks, chat with shop owners, enjoy meals in local restaurants, and perhaps visit the golf club or marina. After all, this will be your second home and it will be your support network when you are here or back at home.
Once you’ve chosen a location, it’s time to choose a realtor. Our advice: interview several and select one who seems to grasp exacting what you have in mind. Certainly limiting your choices to a few select properties will assist your realtor in understanding your wants and needs. Here’s where The Real Estate Pointer is invaluable.
When you find your potential dream house, spend some time in it. With your realtor’s permission, stay for an hour or so. Roam the house and really determine what it is about this particular place that speaks to you. We’re not implying you conduct a home inspection; that comes later. This is a heart and soul inspection. See how this place, your intended sanctuary, feels. Sit in the various rooms; notice the traffic flow, the views and light coming from the windows, the room sizes, number of closets, and outdoor privacy. Can this place, with as little or as much work as you want to do, be made into the refuge you will love coming to?
Once you’re standing in the middle of that perfect house that may simply need a bit of fluff or a major renovation, it’s yours and it should be fun. Before you start tearing down walls, pulling off wallpaper, renovating bathrooms, and shopping for new kitchen cabinets, start living. Go easy on it and yourself, and don’t lose sight of why you bought it in the first place.
Once you have keys in hand, the fun of filling your “play” house begins. If you are a typical American household, your primary home is loaded with “stuff”; those old sofa pillows you couldn’t bear to throw away; the stained coverlet; the worn upholstered couch now moldering in the basement. Think of the money you’ll save dragging all those discards to the new house! Think again.
If you are going to the expense of buying a second home you envision as charming and restive, why fill it with all the secondhand things you were too embarrassed to set out for the community yard sale? A chair you detest at home will be equally detested at the new house; even more so considering the time and energy you expended carting it down here. As you walk through your primary home looking for possibilities, use a critical eye. Would your family and friends find your castoff charming or will it forever remain an embarrassment?
There are wonderful furniture stores, consignment shops, antique shops, and interior decorators in this area who will be delighted to assist you in selecting furnishings that will complement the look of your new home. They know the region after all, and what it takes to make a second home attractive and carefree.
And speaking of your second home, who’s going to look after it while you’re away? Who’s going to help with trash removal, mowing, yard work, cleaning, pool maintenance, painting, deck and dock repairs? The last thing you want is to travel two hours with the expectations of spending the weekend boating, fishing, golfing, or sunbathing only to find the grass is thigh high, the gutters are overflowing, and the raccoons have gotten into the trash bins.
Fortunately there are a number of services that specialize in second home maintenance. Ask your realtor or neighbors for recommendations, check references, and make sure you both have a clear understanding of what is expected. It’s a leap of faith allowing a stranger into your home, but unless you plan to come down weekly and do it yourself, decide ahead of time whether you want someone on-call, or someone who comes by on a regular basis. Depending on the work required, you may have to hire more than one.
It’s a long holiday weekend and you watch your neighbors load their vehicles to the roof and beyond and strike out to the interstate knowing full well they will be joining thousands of others going in the same direction. You smile as you load a duffle bag, some groceries, your favorite book, and that new rod and reel you’ve been dying to try out. You turn onto a quiet back road and head southeast towards the coast. You’re coming home. Welcome!