5 tips to help guide your vacation home search

It wouldn’t be spring in the Midwest without the occasional (snow) showers! Now that warmer weather has arrived, some of your friends may be thinking about owning a vacation home.

The timing is ideal since we are in the thick of the busy spring market. And luckily for those of us in the Chicago area, we happen to be just a short drive from some of the best vacation destinations in the region – from Lake Geneva and the surrounding lake areas of Southeast Wisconsin to Harbor Country and St. Joseph, Michigan.

Owning a second home is a big decision. As with any major purchase, there are a number of things to take into consideration before buying a vacation property. If you are thinking about taking the plunge, here are a few thought starters to help you find the right home.

Choose the destination carefully

This seems obvious, but it’s one of the most important things to take into account. If your goal is to find a place your family and friends can visit frequently, without the headaches of traffic and long delays, the destination needs to be within an easy driving distance.

On the other hand, if your goal is to generate rental income, distance may not be an issue but you need to know that the area has strong rental demand. Both options are good.

Find a local real estate broker who knows the ins and outs of the community and can give you good insights. Also be sure to spend enough time there yourself, as a visitor, so you know it’s the right fit.

Find a property that will suit your lifestyle long term

Your personal tastes and lifestyle will dictate the location and, of course, the type of home you purchase. If you live an active lifestyle when you’re on vacation, a home with easy access to recreational activities is definitely in order. If you prefer low maintenance, a condo could be your best bet.

A great exercise that can help you decide is to list all your needs and wants. Keep in mind that over time your interests will evolve, and your family and groups of friends may grow.

A second home is a decision with long-term implications. You will have the chance to enjoy your vacation property for years to come, so take into consideration how the home can accommodate an evolving lifestyle.

Know all the rules

Recently many vacation areas have changed the local rules on short-term rentals. Some homes can’t be used as rental properties. Other communities may ban pets or certain activities; each of these could potentially lessen your pool of renters.

If you plan to rent out the home at any point you need to know the rules. Again, a local real estate pro can help familiarize you with the relevant ordinances, the homeowners’ association rules and other changes that may be under consideration. Knowing the nuances will help you find a place you can use to its full potential.

Calculate all the costs

There are far more costs to consider than the purchase price alone, from taxes and management fees to routine maintenance, insurance, and utilities.

Knowing all the expenses is crucial when it comes to owning a property that isn’t your full-time home. Make sure you are aware of all the costs that come with the property so you aren’t in for any surprises down the road.

Have a maintenance plan

How will you (or who will) manage the property when you return home? If your goal is to have a vacation rental property, you may want to find a local property manager. Not only can they help with maintenance, but some will help find renters and handle tenant requests.

These are just a few things to think about during your search. Buying a vacation home is an exciting endeavor, and the more prepared you are, the more seamless and enjoyable the process will be.

Written by Don Shea
Don is the Managing Broker for the @properties Evanston office. Prior to managing, Don was a broker in the @Winnetka office. Away from work, Don can be found sailing on Lake Michigan or gardening at his Wilmette home.