Second Home Syndrome?

Cure for Second Home Syndrome: One family’s story of finding a new appreciation for home. 

Do you have the syndrome too? I have to admit, I’ve been dreaming about a temporary escape from the politics and craze of the pandemic’s effect on California. I want my kids in school, and I have been starting to feel desperate. Manhattan Beach, Ca resident and writer, Paula Davis, wrote this post that helped me gain new perspective on the “Second Home Syndrome” which relates to many of us wanting an escape. Enjoy!

Second Home Syndrome

Photo By Daniele Buso

During the pandemic, I’ve been suffering from Second Home Syndrome.  You might have felt its effects, too.  It’s characterized by consistent fantasies of a better life in a home far from the one you’ve been confined to for months on end.

Symptoms include:

  • persistent daydreaming about a new home in a distant location
  • aimless searching of real estate websites for beautiful properties in these same far-off locations
  • battling bouts of jealousy when your friends and neighbors talk about their idyllic retreats
  • and dropping pointed hints to your significant other about the imagined benefits of said second home

You aren’t alone. The Syndrome is spreading and afflicting more families the longer the shut-down continues. 

Quarantine Life has made a lot of people consider the benefits of having a place to retreat, especially one that might offer more space, less restrictive safety measures or perhaps open schools with live instruction.  

Our homes have been doing triple duty as schools, workplaces and shelter.  It’s where we eat, sleep, work, play, learn and socialize via zoom.  Space has never seemed more precious.  Another location to accommodate all these new requirements as well as offer a change of scenery beckons. 

Don’t Jump the Gun with a 2nd Home

But before you make an offer on that mountain house or desert oasis, ask yourself some crucial questions:

  • How do you want to use this home? For weekend getaways or summer vacations? As a generational home to pass down to your kids? As an investment property or future retirement home?
  • Who are the primary users of this home? Will you and your family be the only ones to consider when choosing the home’s attributes or do you need to think about what appeals to renters?
  • What’s your budget? Does it need to pay for itself with rental income or is it just for the use of you and friends and family?
  • How far are you willing to travel? Do you mind long drives or prefer quick flights with easy airport access? Do you plan to bring pets with you?

For us, all of the answers were murky.  The pandemic and its restrictions won’t last forever and we’re too young to have a firm idea of what we want our retirement to look like.  We yearned for a temporary respite, but what would we want later down the road?

It was hard to separate out the short-term needs from the long-term ones. 

Suggestions if Serious About Second Home Investment

Photo by Yann Allegre

  • Do your research. After you answer the questions above, determine what places are likely to offer what you are looking for at prices you can afford. 
  • Try before you buy. We went all-in on two different experiments. 
    • The first time, we spent a week in a well-located rental in a fun college town that seemed a good candidate for a retirement location.  It also boasted proximity to amazing year-round recreation opportunities, lots of sunshine and a great quality of life.
    • The second time we stayed two weeks in our favorite ski town.  In both locations, we prearranged to meet with knowledgeable local realtors to explore the housing market.
  • Be prepared to have competition.
    • In the desirable communities we targeted, inventory was low and competition for homes was fierce, which also meant prices had skyrocketed.
    • Realtors we spoke with reported sharp upticks in sales and noted that their local schools had seen significantly increased numbers as people moved in to escape restrictive coronavirus protocols and get away from online virtual learning.
    • If you are going to need a loan, it’s a great idea to speak with a mortgage broker or banker and get pre-approval before you find that perfect home.  Then, you can make an offer in a competitive market without the stress of completing time-sensitive paperwork.
  • Accept that there will be trade-offs.
    • If you have a second home, you may feel obligated to spend free time there and thus unable to take advantage of other travel opportunities. 
    • You may have to hire a rental manager or take on the role yourself. 
    • You may have less disposable income or have to tap into your savings to cover the expenses of having a second home. 

The Grass is Greener on the Other Side

As is often the case, and especially during the darker days of the quarantine, I had developed a romanticized idea of what life might be like in a second home. Our trial runs revealed that we weren’t ready for a second home or at least hadn’t found the right location.  

After the first trip, we realized that the highly-touted college town was just as expensive as our current town and not the tax-saver we had envisioned. 

Our second trip taught us a few additional lessons.  The first week in our quaint ski town lived up to expectations. The kids experienced a great school/life balance with fun activities like ice skating, skiing and sledding.  Reality set in during the second week and I suddenly found myself dreaming of home.  Two weeks away turned out to be too long. We had missed home and our routines.  And that ten-hour drive with 2 kids and 2 dogs that seemed like an adventure the first time became a total drag on the way back.  

Ultimately, we concluded that planning vacations to new destinations (and continuing our annual ski trip) was the right choice for us.  We, like Dorothy, were happy to discover that there’s no place like home.

Written by: Paula Davis

Cover photo by @michal_prucha80

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