It’s winter in the Pacific Northwest, the time of year when even the most passionate fans of the region start thinking wistfully of a sunny get-away. But if winter makes you long to buy that vacation cabin or beach home you’ve been dreaming about, it may be time for a wake-up call, because owning a second home isn’t as simple or pain-free as most people think.
Ever since the end of the great recession, sales of vacation homes have been on the rise. Not only is the economy improving, but it’s also because boomers are starting to retire, and they’re beginning to plan ahead. About one buyer in six say they expect to live in their vacation home full time once they retire, so it’s about more than just recreation. But before you decide to take the plunge and buy the beach house, mountain chalet or cottage on the lake, you may want to read this article that appeared a few months back on the website of the AARP. It’s called “The Perils of Owning a Second Home,” with a subtitle that cuts right to the chase: “A second home sounds luxurious, but there are hidden costs.”
According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of vacation homes have been booming since 2010, with more than 1.1 million sold in 2014. The figure actually declined slightly in 2015, partly because of shrinking inventory of homes on the market. Naturally the decline in supply triggered a boost in prices, with the average vacation home cost rising sharply from $150,000 in 2014 to $192,000 in 2015. Apart from the upfront purchase expense, buying a vacation home can burden a retiree with a host of unexpected expenses and headaches that might make that little bit of paradise seem a lot less pleasant.
First, though, there is one bit of financial good news. In most cases qualifying taxpayers can write off the mortgage interest on both a first and second home loan provided that total debt on the properties is less than $1.1 million. Property taxes may also be deductible for both your homes. So for some vacation home buyers there may be some tax advantages.
However, the added costs may quickly erase those advantages. Start with the mortgage: according to the AARP piece, one buyer found that the mortgage companies wanted to charge him 5.5 percent interest on the loan for the second home, compared with 2.9 percent for primary residences. When calculating the costs of ownership, you may need to account for a loan cost that’s nearly twice what you expect. (This won’t be an issue for you if you pay cash or self-finance, as about one-third of vacation home buyers do.)
Then there’s homeowner’s insurance: because the home will not be occupied full time, some insurance companies won’t even offer a policy, while others will charge exorbitant take-it-or-leave-it rates. One couple cited in the AARP article said their agent had to keep shopping until they finally found a policy at an acceptable cost. Another surprise can be property taxes, which typically rise quickly on a vacation home when the assessed value goes up due to the high purchase price – especially if the home you buy hasn’t changed hands for several years.
A few more points to ponder from AARP:
*When you own a second home, you have to worry constantly about preventive maintenance. This can turn every “vacation” into an endless series of fix-it chores.
*When buying vacation property, you and your spouse or partner need to be in full agreement about how you plan to use it. Will you rent it out? Will family and friends have access to it? Is this house really where you want to live year-around in retirement? Have these conversations before you sign on the bottom line.
*How much will it really cost to make the vacation house ready to occupy? One couple in the AARP piece had vastly different expectations in this regard: the husband expected to spend around $5,000 on fixing up their cottage – but in the end, the tab for a full redecorating and other changes expected by the wife exceeded $30,000!
*One final point from our personal experience: if you have a vacation home, you had better plan to spend every future vacation there, or you’ll probably end up feeling guilty! And by all means, check with members of your family. You may love spending time at the cabin, but your adult kids might not, and this disconnect can lead to frustration and disappointment.
As with everything pertaining to your retirement years, the key is to plan ahead – and to ask the right questions. When we work with clients in the retirement planning process, we cover five key areas of retirement: your housing options, your financial plans, your legal affairs, your family dynamics and your health care requirements. All these elements are combined into a comprehensive plan called a LifePlan, which acts as your blueprint to help you build the retirement you’ve always dreamed of. With a LifePlan in place, you can avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones and protect your hard-earned assets in retirement. We’ll work with you to put all the pieces together!
Why not start by joining us at a free LifePlanning Seminar? Click here for dates and times and to register online for the seminar of your choice, or contact us during the week. And bring your questions! It will be a pleasure meeting you and helping you plan for a fruitful and secure future.
(originally reported at www.aarp.org/money)