Ahhh, mountain living. Fresh air, the smell of pine and blue skies.
There are many advantages to purchasing a second home in the mountains. It can be a haven for stressed-out urbanites faced with daily problems of city-life and work. The mountains are a refuge for those that can leave it all behind and take advantage of a calmer, more laid-back atmosphere.
When looking for a mountain home, there are many factors that come into play. Location would probably rank the highest on this list of considerations. Another question to ask is what activities do you enjoy? Is skiing (or other winter sports) the main reason you want a mountain home? What season(s) will it be used? Do you need medical facilities close by? How about activities for children and families? Is it mainly for investment purposes or will it stay in your family for generations?
First, location. There are many mountain areas in the United States to consider. Besides the Rocky Mountain towns and other western mountain towns, there are also the Appalachians, Ozarks, Alaska, and even Hawaii.
To help you decide on the perfect location, you’ll have to look at what each area has to offer. What type of climate are you looking for? Would you prefer hiking volcanic hills or skiing through waist-high snow on a powder day? Or maybe you’d like to take advantage of summer hikes and winter snow sports. Most people look at the more popular ski destinations, but always keep your mind open. Did you know that advanced skiers could hike up Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii and head down the slopes toward the ocean? Granted, it isn’t what most people envision when they think of mountain living, but it might be a great compromise to the couple that can’t decide on a beach or mountain home.
Another factor to look at is whether or not you are in need of medical facilities at a close proximity. It is definitely worth considering, especially if you are buying your second home with hopes to retire in it someday, or even if you have a family that might need emergency services.
Many mountain towns do have local clinics and small hospitals, but a lot of them use services like Flight for Life or AIR-EVAC helicopters and ambulances in case they need to rush someone off the mountain in an emergency. You also might want to research how far away the closest metropolitan area is, in case you need periodic treatments for certain medical conditions that would not be available in a small, mountain medical facility. Keep in mind that mileage on paper seems a lot shorter than mileage on a snowy, slick, icy road in the middle of a storm.
But, researching the area is key. Many ski resort towns are building or have completed state-of-the-art medical facilities and hospitals in order to offer their visitors and residents peace of mind. Two examples include the Vail Valley Medical Center in Vail, which offers the finest in medical technology. It boasts an internationally acclaimed orthopedic center, the Stedman-Hawkins Clinic — Monica Seles had basic rehabilitation here after she was stabbed in the back by a fan of Steffi Graf in 1993 — as well as a continued focus on quality improvements to benefit the community. Another example would be the facilities in the Ozark Mountain Region. Their health services also feature top-of-the-line hospitals and clinics like, The North Arkansas Regional Medical Center (NARMC) in Harrison and The Baxter Regional Medical Center (BRMC) in Mountain Home. With an abundance of private and specialist physicians, patients at either facility are sure to receive the latest in medical techniques and services.
Before buying a second home, it’s important to define what you want out of your second home. Will it be a refuge in the mountains to escape to during free weekends with your family? Is it a place to go once or twice a year on holidays? Or will it be held on to purely for the investment?
If it will be a place for the family to enjoy, there are several tips to consider. First, take a bit of time before jumping into a purchase. Make sure you know the area well — maybe visit several times at different periods (slow tourist times as well as peak holiday times) just to see if it is appealing to you year-round. Maybe rent a few times and really get to know the locals — ask what they like about the mountains and what they dislike — and figure out which neighborhoods would be best. Will you be stranded if there is a snowstorm because you have a beautiful mountain home in the middle of a national forest that is inaccessible to snow-removal equipment? Or will you decide that you want to be in the middle of the action and buy a home that overlooks the town center or is ski-in ski-out? Will it be a weekend getaway? If so, be sure to pick a spot that’s relatively quick and easy to access — probably no more than 3 hours by car or an hour by plane. Otherwise, you may find that’s it’s too expensive to get to and you’ll end up using it far less than you had anticipated, lowering the value of your investment.
Also, if the home is a retreat for the family, bear in mind the ages of your children. Will weekend sports games, birthday parties, or studying take priority over traveling? Will the kids feel left out of weekend social events and start to resent the home? Many families find that younger children don’t mind getting away to play in the mountains, but discover themselves with a “For Sale” sign and hammer as soon as the kids hit puberty. But, there are many families who decide to buy just as their children are hitting those critical teen years. They want to make sure that their children have a place to come with family to escape the daily pressures put on teens today. In many cases, it is a way of solidifying the family unit. It’s common knowledge that families that buy vacation homes tend to take more family vacations.
Retirement living is also something that has begun to gain importance, as baby-boomers are getting closer to the age of retirement. Will the home be in a place in which you could see yourself retiring? If your second home will be your retirement home, weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Look at the quality of life, cost of living, amenities, shopping, and as mentioned earlier, medical facilities. Understand that there are certain trade-offs for switching from city to mountain life. Many would gladly trade traffic, pollution, high stress, mega shopping centers and university hospitals for dirt roads, fresh mountain air, small family-owned boutiques and restaurants, and a town doctor that knows you by name, not by your HMO. Depending on the mountain town, the cost of living could be comparable to big cities if they are located near a prominent resort, or much lower if you choose a town a little less known. There may not be the availability of certain things that you could easily find in a city and activities/events may cater to different patrons. Some may find that the trade-offs are worth it, and others may not.
If you are looking at purchasing a mountain home purely for investment purposes, there are a few other things to think about. When is the best time to buy? Many mountain towns go through an ebb and tide of strong and weak real estate sales periods. Probably one of the best times to buy mountain real estate is once school has started and people have decided to put off buying until next year. You want to buy when the market is at its lowest and when there is a lot of competition between sellers, so it helps to study the area in which you are interested to see when the yard signs are out in full force.
Also, how soon will it be before you start to see a possible return on your investment? Well, if the home is purchased as a retirement home, it’s already a great value. There are several factors that need to be addressed regarding taxes, interest, etc. Many lenders will view the secondary residence as more risky, thereby charging a higher interest; perhaps elevated fees would also apply, depending on the down payment amount. Yet, there are great tax advantages: you can write off the mortgage interest as well as property taxes and you can get a break on capital gains taxes. However, if you decide to use your home as a rental, there are two sides to the coin. On one side, it is beneficial because your mortgage is being paid by your renters, yet on the flipside, if you rent it for over 15 days in a year, you’re subject to following a more multifaceted set of rules depending on what type of housing you purchase and the amount of time it is rented. But remember, you can always rent your home, for any amount, up to 14 days in the year and you don’t even need to report that income. You’ll want to consider the costs of owning a second home as well. Remember, you’ll be paying double utilities, double home insurance (which, may be higher in a second home that is in a remote location or difficult to access by emergency vehicles), and double the upkeep. Make sure you are thinking it all the way through. Will you be buying a home that is already furnished? Will you need to pay someone for cleaning, plowing, maintenance? Just as you have certain costs in your primary residence, you also have those in a second home. Some people do not buy a second home in the mountains as an investment, but rather as a place they can enjoy. Sure, holding on to it for many years will bring a nice return one day, but they want a place to come where relaxation and rejuvenation are the top priorities. The buyers that are happiest with their mountain getaways are those who examined all of the pros and cons, consulted with local residents and realtors, checked their finances, understood their lifestyle, and enjoyed making their home choice. The mountains are a wonderful place for people to consider when looking at a second home purchase. The grandeur of the snow-capped peaks against the purest blue skies is a scene many want to frame through a large picture window. The red-cheeked toddlers being pulled on wooden sleds, the crunch of fallen snow under snowshoes next to a frozen lake, the smell of cinnamon hot chocolate steaming on the stove as you come in from a day on the slopes — Currier and Ives couldn’t paint a better picture. And for those who buy a home in the mountains, that picture is no longer fantasy, it’s reality.
As John Muir put it, “Going to the mountains is going home.”