The Market

Renting in the city but dying to buy a vacation house? Look before you leap

By Virginia K. Smith  | September 15, 2015 - 12:59PM

New York City's real estate market being the insanity that it is, renters who would, in any other city, be able to make the leap to home ownership are instead buying vacation homes as their first step onto the property ladder.

It's not an entirely new phenomenon, but the Times wrote about it over the weekend, profiling New Yorkers who'd grown increasingly disillusioned with what they could get in the city these days. Some of the city's better-off renters see properties upstate and in the Catskills for under $400,000—and with less stringent down payment and liquidity requirements than a typical NYC building—and wonder why they'd ever drop their hard-earned cash on a cramped co-op studio when they can land a woodsy getaway instead. And why not, right? As we wrote earlier this summer, so long as you can reliably afford both your rent payment and the mortgage on your vacation home, you shouldn't have a harder time getting approved for financing than any other buyer. 

But—and there's often a 'but' in this market—buying a country home comes with its own unique set of headaches, often of the variety that blindside handyman-reliant city-dwellers. Don't believe us? Aside from the Times' caveats about basic maintenance tasks like getting the lawn mowed and the driveway shoveled when you're not there, take a little trip to the comments section for a dose of cold, hard, reality.

One commenter named "Charlie" laments as follows: "I just sold my 'second' house in CT. I had it for over 30 years. Considering the cost of buying, running and repairing it, the cars needed, paying its taxes, etc. that house cost nearly $1 million more than I got for selling it."

Another, who goes by "Realist," notes that while you're building equity by buying a home, with the combined expenses of maintenance, mortgage, and taxes, "You can probably rent a very nice house in the country during the prime season for less than your annual expenditures." There are also a number of tips about keeping bears at bay, not a problem most of us have encountered within the five boroughs. (Hint: Be careful with your compost.)

None of which is to say you shouldn't spring for that lake house if you've got the cash and the desire—just that you should go into it with eyes wide open about potential extra costs for repairs, travel to and from the house, maintenance, security, and more. Once you've done all that, the vacation can begin.


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