Five Things to Consider When Buying a Vacation Home
Custom cottages at Heritage Harbor Ottawa
If you are thinking of investing in a second home, small considerations can mean all the difference between a vacation property that’s good for the long haul versus one that seems like a good deal now, but turns out to not be the right fit. Work through these criteria to narrow down your options before you buy.
“Location, location, location” is a catchphrase for a reason. If your vacation home is too far away, you’ll put off going there due to travel time. Yet if it’s in the next town over, it might not feel like you’ve really “gotten away” from your day to day life.
When you’re considering buying a second home, it can be easy to underestimate the time you’ll spend getting to your destination. On Friday nights and holiday weekends, it can seem like everyone who works or lives in Chicago is trying to get out of town. This can mean long car rides just trying to get to a second home you purchased.
Over time, you may find yourself opting to stay in town for the weekend because you don’t want to spend 3+ hours in traffic again. If you really want a second home you’ll return to time and again, look for places that are under two hours from the city.
An ideal location near Chicago means less time in the car compared with driving to rural Michigan or Wisconsin. There are great places to be found right under your nose just a short drive from the city. Starved Rock Country is a quick 90 minutes from Chicago, and is fill of hidden gems like Heritage Harbor, a marina resort located in Ottawa, IL.
In the long run, you’ll want a second home that’s near amenities, so you can have fun exploring a new area. When friends or relatives come visit, they’ll want to join in the fun, too!
Look for a community that’s close to multiple dining options so you have variety while allowing convenient access to nature, history, and children’s activities. Ottawa has a great dining scene, with new restaurants popping up regularly. Starved Rock State Park is close by for year-round recreation, along with other fun activities such as zip lining, sky diving, hiking, biking, and more.
Heritage Harbor Marina
3. Boating Lifestyle
If you want a second home that allows for fishing and boating, you must consider the quality of the boating lifestyle in the place you’re considering.
Boating opportunities are numerous in the Chicago area but offer different lifestyle propositions. If you typically fish or boat on a lake but you’re thinking about getting a riverfront property, rent a weekend cabin on the river first as a way to confirm the decision is right for you.
For marina communities, investigate the quality, age, and ease of access to amenities onsite. Will you be sharing facilities with the public, or only with other property owners? Determine what costs are associated with marina usage before you make any property decisions. Never assume that you will be able to access something for free; always find out to compare available properties.
Rental options can be handy if you don’t have a boat. Seasonal boat rentals offset expenditures and enable you to enjoy all the conveniences of boat ownership without assuming the expense of boat ownership, maintenance, and seasonal storage.
Ask how long the boating season is at any communities you like. Water and weather conditions vary, but can mean a difference in as much as 1-2 months from one body of water to another. If boating is the main reason you’re looking for a vacation home, season length is key.
While you’re exploring any boating communities, you’re thinking of joining, get to know the locals. Find out if there are social events, from neighborhood block parties to fireworks festivals. A community that’s friendly and inclusive will be a lot easier to join than a marina that’s standoffish or suffers regular churn.
As a final factor in evaluating the boating options, consider potential boating destinations. If you pick a lakefront option, you are limited to the lake. Even if it’s a huge lake, you could tire of spending every Saturday exploring the same shorefront. A river offers somewhat more flexibility, especially if nearby riverfront towns have summer music festivals, waterfront dining, and more.
Heritage Harbor custom cottage with river views
4. Home Design
Once you’ve narrowed down the communities that are best for you, hone in on the homes. What designs are offered, and what meets your lifestyle?
An ideal community will offer different home plans and designs that allow you to select the best option for your budget, personal preferences, and more.
Does the home have a deck, patio, or other outdoor space that allows you to enjoy the sunset over the water? Are there outdoor amenities, storage space, or privacy screens from the neighbors?
Inside, is the space adequate for you, your family, and guests? Flexible lofts or dens allow you to accommodate extra guests.
For a second home, buying into a place that’s part of a homeowner’s association or HOA might make sense. If you only get to your second home one or two times a month, you’ll find that maintenance tasks claim your attention. A strong HOA will take care of common maintenance tasks, so you can just enjoy your home.
5. Financial Considerations
Make your final decision on what property is right by reviewing your budget and the finances.
Crunch the numbers for HOA fees, flood insurance, boat rental, dock fees and other variables to arrive at the true cost of ownership.
With something like a second home on the water, it’s important to consider the add-ons that you get. Waterfront access boosts your enjoyment of the home, but also the money you could get from renting it out to others and from reselling it years from now.
As you work through these five criteria, you can identify the right location for your second home, find the perfect community, and budget for the expense.