Ocean Grove and the vacation house itch

7688954582_ae8959c15a_zWe found Ocean Grove kind of by accident.

Years ago, my husband and I were driving through New Jersey from New York City on a weekend, looking for a good spot to stop at the beach. We pulled off a little south of Asbury Park, and found a charming Victorian village. There were no high rise hotels or cheesy boardwalk establishments (though I kind of like those, too, when I’m in the mood for funnel cake or Skee ball). There was a very large Methodist church, however — a camp meeting sort of place. We turned out to be in Ocean Grove, God’s Square Mile on the Jersey Shore.

A few years later, we rented a small cottage for the week after Labor Day. We liked it so well we returned a few years later with my extended family. Then we rented a 9-bedroom place for a week last summer and had both sides of the family in and out. This past week, we split a house with some friends, and enjoyed getting ice cream daily at Day’s — the more hidden spot, the one you wouldn’t go to if you were just passing through, but whose ice cream I find better.

That’s the fun of having a vacation spot you return to year after year. You get to know its ins and outs. You learn where to get dinner or groceries, and where the best spots are on the beach. You see some of the same people — either those who live there or who, like you, return frequently.

Of course, as you stay some place a lot, you may start to get the real estate bug. I know I’ve often found myself paging through listings while I’m in Ocean Grove, and studying the homes with For Sale signs in front. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a beach house for our family, some place our kids could come to every summer for long periods of time, and build their own summer memories?

Well, maybe. Because the truth is, we like to travel lots of places (like Seattle and environs). We probably wouldn’t use our beach place more than a few weeks per year, and there are huge costs to second home ownership. Beyond the price of a place, there’s maintenance. A house on the shore gets a lot of wear and tear — which the missing boardwalk post-Sandy in Ocean Grove made clear. There’s the cost in time of keeping up a place, and if we rented it out, the time associated with being a landlord or the cost in paying a property manager. Some people make money off vacation properties, but we are probably better off putting our time into making money the way we usually make money.

Every time I look at these numbers, I realize that we can rent a lot of very very nice houses for what we’d pay to have our own. And while I like Ocean Grove a lot, we’ve tried other places on the Jersey shore and like them too (Long Beach Island; we’re also staying at Cape May later this summer). If we owned a place in one town, we likely wouldn’t stay in other towns. And we do like to explore. Sometimes, I like to be a bit closer to the funnel cakes and the Skee ball.

So eventually I put the real estate listings away and enjoy my rentals. I’m not saying never. But for now, it’s not the right choice. We could even rent the same house year after year if we wanted — and get a similar sense of our place over time.

Have you ever owned a vacation home? Or did your family, when you were growing up?

Photo courtesy flickr user mbtrama

18 thoughts on “Ocean Grove and the vacation house itch

  1. Hahahahaha, no.
    Unless you count the two years when my parents had to live apart because of their jobs and we spent the summers together in one apartment instead of separate apartments.
    Even though we’re now upper-middle-class we are in no way able to support a second house. (We’re still in that 25% tax bracket.) On top of that, our vacations usually coincide with my conferences, and most vacation time that isn’t spent at a conference location is spent with family in gawd-awful rural America with relatives.
    I guess we do know Cambridge, MA pretty well since I go there once or twice a year for work, and DC since I go there every couple years or so for work.

    1. I’m reminded of my least favorite (former) NYTimes columnist and her deep sorrow at having to sell their summer house in Paris. That kind of sorrow that I cannot begin to understand.

    2. @nicoleandmaggie – Agreed, but I’m always surprised, though, at the number of people — in the 25% bracket or elsewhere — who do have some sort of vacation home. Sometimes it’s owned by other family members but used jointly, or it’s in a place that’s not as glamorous as, say, the Hamptons, or people think they’ll make money renting it and use it part of the time too. We never had such a thing when I was growing up, but I think some people prioritize real estate over, say, retirement savings.

      1. I suppose it does function as a form of (risky) retirement savings. But given that most people have their main house as their first-line retirement savings after social security, who is to say that’s the worst thing to do with their money.
        Me, I’d rather broad-based index stock and bond funds (and, of course, our primary residence).

        1. @Nicoleandmaggie – that’s what we do, too. But writing about money has definitely shown me that there is a wide diversity of what some people consider luxuries, or normal. Some people prioritize charity, or helping extended family, or having no debt on a primary residence, or retirement savings, or starting a business or a vacation property or… the list goes on.

  2. My family didn’t have a vacation home growing up, nor did we ever vacation in the same place twice. I always thought it would be neat to return to the same place, year after year.

    My husband grew up vacationing in a small town on the Texas Gulf Coast; we’ve been there a few times over the past few years and hope to buy a condo there in the nearish future.

    It does seem like a huge luxury, but the rental market down there is great and we could break even (or come very close) on the cost of ownership by renting it out when we’re not using it.

    Of course, I hope we’ll be able to take other trips with our kids, too, but living in central Texas our travel options within a 3-4 hour car ride are pretty limited!

    1. @Julia – very true that when things are outside of 3 hours…it doesn’t happen much. The good thing with the Jersey shore for us is that all of it is within 2 hours.

      But yes, I think that the vacation house — while a luxury — is a luxury that seems somewhat within reach, especially when people start doing rental income calculations. My problem is that when I do those calculations…I also figure out that I don’t want to be a landlord!

  3. Never have, but I find myself perusing the real estate listings myself.

    We rent a place every summer that is about 20 minutes from our “real” house. It is waterfront and has a great beach. We get it for about 2 weeks but we don’t take all that time off from work. Some days we go to work and get the babysitter to come. But I always knock off early and go for a swim or kayak ride before dinner and eat lots of ice cream when we are there.

    And yes, I find myself looking at the real estate section. Especially when I am packing up my junk to come and go. Or when it bugs me that the owners don’t have a picnic table. Then I remind myself that even if I owned it, I would have to pack up some of my junk. And it would definitely be cheaper to buy a table for them than to buy the whole house!

    1. @J – oh, I know. It would be cheaper! We look at vacation places and then realize that the management of one property is already kicking our butts, time wise. I’m always grateful, though, for friends who feel differently (and who let us visit!)

  4. Definitely factor in the cost of a management company. Interesting that you would even consider being your own landlord given your views on time, money, and core competencies.

    The mother of a childhood friend had a beach house. Her mom, a government worker, was a single mom of two. She was very very careful with money. It certainly colored my view of what’s possible.

    My husband and I talk about buying a beach house at a particularly beach. It’s just talk. It’s not a great financial (or even pleasure) proposition for us.

  5. No- I’ve never owned a vacation home, and neither has anyone in my immediate family. I think I have an aunt and uncle with a cabin, though. Not sure if they own it or share in the ownership with other family members. As you say, right now I want to travel to too many other places. But… I was back in Auckland recently, and was surprised by how much it felt like a second home city. I found myself daydreaming about owning a second home there at some point, and splitting the year between the two cities. And still traveling elsewhere, of course. So maybe not a fiscally realistic daydream!

  6. My parents own a vacation house together with another family in the area where my father and his friends go elk hunting every year. It’s also close to both of my parents’ siblings and very rural, so it’s not like there are great hotel options for the amount of time they spend out there. It’s a 15 hour drive or 6 hour flight in the small plane my dad learned to fly to get out there. We go maybe once a year and when my parents no longer use it, I doubt we’ll keep it.
    But–for the vacationing in the same place every year thing, we love to take advantage of my parents’ timeshares in Mexico. We get a 2 bedroom condo style room in a fantastic resort and they’ll often come down at the same time. We get to return year after year but everyone has their own space and the amenities of a resort (my least favorite thing about vacation homes is that it’s still sort of like being at home with chores etc.)
    My in-laws have a very rustic cabin about 1 1/2 hours away (and they are solidly retired working class) and we’re heading up there this weekend. Still work, but really fun for the kids.
    I don’t think we’ll every buy a vacation home, but they work well when an entire family is utilizing them at different times throughout the year.

  7. We’re actually thinking about buying a vacation home, which 6 months ago I’d have said we never would – too expensive, we could never afford it.

    Some friends of ours have a place about an hour and a half away, and one of the other cabins in the area is coming up for sale soon apparently. It has us considering it – rural Indiana is inexpensive and the guesstimate on the listing price makes it something we could pay for from our savings.

    It’s close enough I can see us using it every 2 or 3 weekends during the season, so we’re thinking hard about if it’s worth it, or if we’d be better off using that money for something else. The fact that we’d have friends there too is a big plus – our kids get along and (for now at least) have fun playing together.

    1. @Sheila- Having friends nearby would definitely be a plus. That’s another reason that family compounds serve this function so nicely — cousins running around playing together. That’s probably a big chunk of the appeal!

  8. My husband’s family owns a house on Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks; his grandparents bought it in the 1970s and their children/grandchildren spent many summers there. Now it’s co-owned by the three children and used by everyone in the family. We will be up there this week! It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s comfortable and homey with a gorgeous view. I don’t think I’d ever buy a second home myself (unless I was wealthy enough to have a staff to oversee the other home and the transfers) but in my husband’s family, it seems to have been a source of wonderful memories and intense family bonding. From those trips and other vacations with family, I’ve learned that there’s nothing like fun, freedom and new experiences to strengthen family relationships.

  9. We almost bought a 2nd home in Arizona a few years ago, but stopped the process when we got a unexpected low appraisal when refinancing our house. In hindsight, this was a blessing, because we had our first child the next year, and that would have made the two-house thing a lot more stressful.

    We’re definitely homebodies, so we’ve decided instead to put some money into improving our current house. (And forgoing any kind of vacation that doesn’t involve a car and a tent for the forseeable future.)

    A handful of our friends have a cabin or condo somewhere else, depending on what it is they like to do on vacation (skiing, lakeside, ocean beach, gambling, etc)

    Growing up we went to the same beach nearly every year, but always rented.

    1. Oh, and my parents bought their “vacation home” near us, which seems more like their “unpaid labor” home considering all the babysitting they do for us 🙂

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