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