The decision to purchase a seasonal home for personal use and enjoyment is often motivated by lifestyle benefits. While it may make little economic sense, justification comes from the joy the home brings. Those with summer homes often refer to the nostalgia of their youth (relaxing days at the lake) and those with flexible schedules may be looking for a warm escape from long Canadian winters.
Summer homes are places where memories are made. Families associate them with good times and togetherness. Relationships are built with neighbours, often from other cities, who become friends to look forward to seeing year after year.
Calgarian Rod Maxwell says his fond memories of lake life prompted him to invest in a second home in West Kelowna. Initially his plan was to return to his family’s childhood destination, Christina Lake, British Columbia. “To do this day,” says Maxwell, “my best childhood memories are at the lake.” In searching for their summer retreat, something less remote was practical for his wife and daughter. “I knew that to have an enduring summer-lake lifestyle I had to understand and consider my wife’s needs, and find a suitable option that we could both be happy with,” explains Maxwell.
Their criteria included location, a community of people to provide social interaction (particularly if Maxwell was back in Calgary working), a variety of amenities close by, an airport and a low-maintenance property that could easily be left unoccupied for long periods of time. After eliminating other lake communities, the Maxwells found a 20-unit complex in West Kelowna, which has become their beloved second home in a tight-knit community of other summer residency neighbours.
According to Maxwell, there are some challenges that come with seasonal usage. “The home is underutilized, improvement and maintenance issues come up, as do operating costs.” Owners may feel obligated to use it rather than travelling to new places. The Maxwell’s home is a strata so exterior maintenance isn’t an issue, but in a free-standing home, the care and upkeep can cut into leisure time.
The Maxwells enjoy their home throughout the summer months, and occasionally during the “off season.” Their purchase was not motivated by investment potential. “I
always felt lake-front property would hold its value given finite supply and increasing population/demand,” he says. “Having said that, investment potential never factored into the decision. The big factor was lifestyle, quality of life and summer recreation.”
Jane Hoffman has no trouble singing the praises of the area. “You can’t ask for more: vineyards, restaurants, shopping, an airport, water sports, winter skiing; it’s got such a menu.” Through her Kelowna-based company, Jane Hoffman Realty, she works with recreational buyers fitting two profiles: those with younger families, many looking for low-maintenance condos; and those looking for homes they will eventually make their full-time retirement residence.
The value she places on recreational properties is based on personal experience – time spent as a child at her summer home on Mara Lake, B.C. “Parents are different people on vacation,” she says as she recalls her family’s time at dinner and on the boat where her father was ‘present.’ “I liked that feeling,” she says. “We were the focus, and I think the same thing holds true for people who buy properties here, and enjoy them in the summer. Those times stay in your mind. The busy days come and go, and you don’t remember anything about them, but the recreation days, when you are present, they’re imprinted on your mind, and that’s what matters.”
In some cases, she has had clients whose recreational property value has increased considerably, but, she adds, they don’t choose to sell. “They put more value on their family life and the memories they are creating. That goes back to the closeness they feel when they’re enjoying them.”
In 2005 (and for entirely different reasons), now part-time Calgary resident Elaine Kapach chose to purchase a second home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Kapach is semi-retired, and happily escapes the snow, spending just under six months in the desert. Drawn to Arizona in particular, she loved the scenery of blue skies, incredible sunsets and never-ending acres of spacious land, dotted with cacti and natural landscape. “I fell in love with city,” she adds. “It never snows here and the only natural ‘disaster’ is sandstorms.”
While house-hunting, her priorities were good location, a small yard and a pool. She says her purchase was definitely motivated by lifestyle, rather than long-term investment potential. “The older I get,” Kapach remarks, “the colder I get, and I’ve shovelled enough snow in my life.” As for the downsides of ownership, Kapach notes, “It’s not much different than owning a property in Calgary; you still pay for utilities, taxes, landscaping, insurance, etc. However, the lack of presence makes one dependent on either a company or individual to look after your property. Long-distance maintenance can sometimes be stressful.”
When working with Canadian buyers shopping for a second home, Scottsdale real estate professional Danny Hicke, Caliber Realty Group, starts with location. “People unfamiliar with Phoenix don’t realize how big the city is,” he says. “The first question I ask is: do you have friends or relatives you want to be near?” If not, he encourages buyers to explore and see where they want to be.
For ease and peace of mind, he recommends a low-maintenance choice, such as a condominium. “Expenses include heat, pool maintenance, landscaping; a house can become expensive and more a hassle, compared to a condo (where all of that is looked after).” If a buyer intends on offsetting costs by offering the property as a vacation rental, he stresses the importance of avoiding properties where homeowner associations have rental restrictions.
Unless a buyer is set on Scottsdale, Hicke says there are many (more affordable) communities in the Phoenix area worth a look. “Scottsdale may be where people think they want to be,” says Hicke, “but there are also great surrounding areas worth exploring.”
According to Hicke, Phoenix is the perfect location for a second home. “It’s a very fast-forward city with great restaurants; you get everything from hiking to five major sporting teams. It’s a newer city with great freeways; as long as you are close to a major freeway, you can get around the city fairly quickly. There are also numerous options for day trips: beautiful Sedona is an hour-and-a-half drive, and popular California destinations – and even Mexico – are all easy driving distances.
“The good thing about Phoenix is it’s one of the only cities in the world that you can build in any direction, so it’s always going to be affordable here, and whether you’re in Scottsdale or not, you are getting the same climate.”
Whether it’s a summer or winter recreational property, owners lucky enough to have a second home tend to agree that you can’t put a price on happiness – which is what they’ve invested in.