Double-duty House

Weekend getaways are great, but second-house buyers are looking for a place they can also live in when they retire

July 13, 2008|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,Special to the Sun

The decision to buy a vacation house puts a number of factors in play, especially in the current market, which is as flat as week-old beer. According to a National Association of Realtors (NAR) survey, sales of vacation houses decreased by more than 30 percent in 2007, with the median sales price also falling.

"We went through a four-year period where price appreciation was 20 percent a year," says Pat Campbell-White at Re/Max Realty Group in Rehoboth, Del. "And that can't go on forever."

Prices down and inventory up creates a buyers' market, but with the current economic uncertainty, including the "how-low-can-you-go" question on housing prices and the rocketing cost of travel, buyers are increasingly demanding a second house that does double duty - as a vacation spot for weekends and holidays now and as a primary residence for retirement later.

"Many people in Deep Creek are doing that now," says Jean Boccuti, a Towson resident who along with her husband, Ascanio "Scon," bought their second home in Deep Creek Lake in an attempt to replicate Jean's childhood summers at a cottage in Canada.

"You want to duplicate the best parts of your childhood for your own children," says Jean Boccuti, a semi-retired teacher. Since Canada was too far for weekend use, they chose Deep Creek Lake. "It's four hours' drive. A lot closer than Canada."

It was only later that they began to think seriously about the now-enlarged house as a possible retirement residence.

But Kensington residents Richard and Marie Sippel, both still working full time, bought their second home in Woodland Beach north of Lewes, Del., specifically with eventual retirement in mind.

"What we're expecting to do is sell this house [when we retire] and get a condo in Washington, [D.C.], and spend 50 percent or more of the time at Woodland Beach," says Marie Sippel.

The retirement element adds new considerations for the buyer, including more careful scrutiny of the communities, the amenities and the services that surround the vacation house.

"You have to look at the totality of what's available to people," says Campbell-White. In Rehoboth, "we've worked hard to expand services to meet the needs and demands of people who are moving into the area."

Some areas that have typically attracted second-house buyers already have in place many of the amenities retirees find necessary.

Jane and Bob Hukill, who lived in Chadds Ford, Pa., before retirement, were drawn to the Chestertown for its dual-purpose possibilities. What brought them initially was recreation - good marinas and easy access to the Chesapeake Bay. But in addition, they wanted a place that would meet their list of criteria for full-time living once they had retired.

"We were boaters, that's what got us down here," says Jane Hukill. "But we bought it with an eye to retire here too. We knew we wanted a college town, with a hospital, that was near major airports."

Dick Barker and his wife, Ginny, made much the same choice based on similar criteria. They fell in love with the Eastern Shore when they came down from their New Jersey home for a wedding. They bought a second house in Chestertown for initial use as a weekend getaway with a plan to retire into what they viewed as a kinder, gentler lifestyle.

"We liked the small-town, Norman Rockwell appeal and the fact that there was a hospital and Washington College, which adds culture," says Barker. Ginny Barker is the new chair of Washington College's College of Lifelong Learning, which offers a range of lectures free to the public for a minimal membership fee.

The recent phenomenon of "come backs" (people who retire to Florida then realize it's miserable in summer and their children and grandchildren don't visit as often as they'd like) and "half-backs" (those from farther north who found Maryland's milder climate and shorter distance to children more appealing than Florida and Georgia) are part of a new migration interested in the retirement potential of vacation houses in the state.

"The winters aren't bad in this region, and even though where we are is secluded, it's relatively close to a lot of things," says Sippel, who stays at her Woodland Beach property a couple of times a month.

Some vacation-home buyers shop locales by renting first. Rental bookings at Deep Creek are up about 7 percent this year. During Memorial Day weekend, the 400 rental houses available were sold out, a positive sign for the market, according to Mike Kennedy of Railey Realty in Deep Creek.

"Renters often turn into buyers here," he says.

These days, fuel prices and travel also are more of a consideration than previously in the choice of a vacation-home location. Both Sippel and Boccuti, who bought a Toyota Prius hybrid for the four-hour drive to Deep Creek, believe a two-hour drive is the ideal - far enough away to be a real change of pace, close enough to go every weekend until retirement without too much hassle or hit in the wallet.

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