Real Estate Corner: Vacation home envy | Real Estate Columns

As I sit and type this article, the snow is lightly falling outside our condo right next to the slopes of Vail Resort in Colorado. We have some very generous friends that let us crash here for a few days this week.

It feels very similar to the handful of condos I have visited and/or taken pictures of (for the sellers) in the Loon Mountain area. Dated appliances and cabinets are the main staple throughout. It feels like a throwback to the 1980s. The owner’s son remodeled both bathrooms so those stand out from the rest of the place. It also sports a heavenly propane fireplace in the middle of the living room.

You quickly realize what’s important when it comes to a vacation (ski) home. In reality, having a place to lay your head, make some food and take a shower are really all that’s needed. Of course, walking around Vail village, you do see a mind-blowing array of vacation homes that offer far more than a microwave.

Considering the narrow condo we are enjoying was built back in the 1970s and still boasts a price tag well north of $1.5 million, you can just imagine what a 4,000-square-foot custom-built home on the slopes is going to cost. But what about the “rest of us?” Is it still a realistic goal to own a ski house? I say: absolutely.

The first thing we should consider (multi-million dollar comments above, notwithstanding) is financing. Unless you’re going to actually “live” in this place, you will need to come up with a larger down payment than for a standard “primary residence” purchase. The actual percentages vary from state to state, but you should likely be prepared for a minimum of 10 percent.

The actual amount will vary depending on your credit score, job stability, the lender itself and a myriad of other factors. Just like with any home purchase, you should certainly do your homework, research a couple different lenders and talk to a real estate professional. The more information you have the better prepared you will be.

The next thing to consider is what you will use this home for. The place we are staying sits empty most of the summer. The same is true for many of the condos over in Lincoln. The owners buy them to take full advantage of the winter playground we have, but don’t spend much time here in the summer.

Many are busy with a lake house or even head to the beach. Some just prefer golf and have no need for a home up here in the summer. If you are on the other side of the seasonal spectrum, perhaps you’re looking for a summer home and prefer to stay in your actual home during the winter.

Of course, the smartest folks are the ones that take advantage of all that the White Mountains have to offer throughout the entire year. They just need to maintain a home down where their work is. I understand.

The owners of this condo are skiers through and through and all the pictures of their family throughout the condo are of them on the mountain somewhere. They have never rented this place out to anyone and have no intention of starting now. That brings up the next point related to usage is rental. Local laws and HOA regulations aside, renting your vacation home while you are not using it is simply brilliant.

During my first few years living in Lincoln, I lived in a handful of ski homes in the off-season. It is a wonderful arrangement. The owners get a (mostly) responsible adult to keep an eye on their place all summer and I get a great condo to live in for less than half of what it costs during the ski season. It also obviously off-sets the owner’s mortgage, which is a fantastic benefit.

We can’t forget about the weather. I mean, that’s what we’re buying a ski home for after all. Owning a home (regardless of the location) during the winter always presents a handful of challenges.

Ensuring the heat is set to an appropriate temperature is critical. Knowing about local storms, downed trees, power outages and the like is critically important to the welfare (and dryness) of your home.

“I encourage all my vacation homeowners to work with a local handyman service to keep an eye on the property,” Badger Realty agent Brendan Battenfelder said. “It provides priceless peace of mind and is a small investment to protect against extended power outages, frozen pipes and a myriad of other calamities that could occur.”

If you find yourself skiing more than a handful of weekends (or weeks) up in the mountains, it is likely time to consider a vacation home for yourself. While there are certainly costs associated with it, you are no longer just throwing money away at a hotel or other lodging facility. You are finally investing in something that will provide priceless memories and joy to your family and friends. And, of course, you can always offer a few days to your favorite article author from the Sun.

Happy house hunting and Happy Thanksgiving.

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