Choosing a Home in a Resort Community

Choosing the best single-family home, townhome, or condo in a resort area.

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So, you’re ready to buy your dream home in a resort community -- congratulations! Assuming you’re a frequent visitor at a particular resort, and know you want to buy in that area (it’d be unwise to buy unless this is the case!), the next step is to know what to look for in order to find the best home for you.

Types of Resort Home Ownership

Resort areas (where the economy is based primarily on tourism), are popular places to visit -- and thus favorites with developers. They therefore, tend to boast a wide variety of home types, including single-family homes, townhomes, and condominium units. Before you can choose the individual home, you'll want to decide which of these ownership models best meets your needs.

Single-Family Resort Homes: Pros and Cons

If you’d like total control over your property as an owner, your best bet is to look at single-family homes. These offer you complete control: for example, you can furnish, decorate, maintain, renovate, or remodel as you wish (subject to applicable laws and any community regulations, of course).

You will also, however, have all the responsibility for keeping on top of (not to mention paying for) all repairs and upkeep. That might be difficult if the home will be your vacation or second home, and you plan to use it only during limited times or seasons.

Most likely you will need to hire an on-site manager to take care of the everyday maintenance and repairs. Even with a manager, inevitably problems will arise (such as leaking plumbing or a broken window), which can be stressful to deal with when you’re not present. (For a detailed comparison of expenses between housing types see Nolo’s article “Life in a Development -- Which Costs More, a Condo, Townhome or Single-Family Home?”.)

Of course, it will be up to you alone to pay all the home’s expenses, including all maintenance and repair expenses, taxes, utilities, and any applicable dues and fees, whether or not you’re using the resort home.

A single-family home might be the best ownership option if you are a private person. Single-family homes have no shared walls, and if you purchase a home on some acreage, you can even avoid next-door neighbors. Since neighbors in resort areas are often transient and renters are common, you never know what you’ll get. The privacy of a single-family home might help avoid nasty neighbor surprises.

A single-family home might also be the best option if you need a lot of room. Single-family homes typically offer more space than condos or townhomes. If you must house a family of ten plus a nanny, for example, you might only find the space you need in a single-family home. Large, expansive homes are common in resort areas, and shouldn’t pose much of a challenge to find (providing you can afford the price tag).

Condominium Units in Resort Areas: Pros and Cons

One alternative to a single-family home is a condominium unit. Even if you are the sole owner of a condo, however, you will be subject to rules and regulations regarding how you use your property. For example, your community's regulations might govern remodeling the interior, or you might encounter rules against renting the unit out. Find out the applicable rules and regulations by obtaining a copy of the development’s governing documents before you buy.

A condominium unit owner is responsible for much less maintenance than a single-family home owner. Typically, condominium developments are run by a homeowner’s association (HOA), which takes care of much of the property’s maintenance. A condo owner must, however, pay dues and fees to the HOA to cover the maintenance expenses. The owner is usually responsible for maintaining the interior of the unit. (However, things such as plumbing or electrical systems might be common areas maintained by the HOA.) (For detail on an owner’s responsibilities with a condo, see Nolo’s article “Buying a Condo -- What Property Will You Actually Own?”)

Condominiums commonly offer a number of perks, such as spas, fitness rooms, or pools. These amenities are typically common areas maintained by the HOA. This gives you freedom as an owner to enjoy the amenities, without worrying about maintaining them. On the other hand, you’ll be paying for a portion of their maintenance (as a part of HOA assessments) whether or not you use them.

If you’re a very private person, a condominium might not be for you. Shared walls mean you‘d better like your neighbors (and hope they’re quiet).

You’ll also have no property of your own to play with in a condo. If you need room for a dog to roam, or want to cultivate an extensive garden, for example, a condominium unit is probably not the answer.

Townhomes in Resort Areas: Pros and Cons

Townhomes are sort of a hybrid between a condominium unit and a single-family home. Although townhomes have at least one shared wall, there are no neighbors above or below.

Townhomes are also typically located in planned developments, which means townhome owners must pay dues and fees to an HOA. A townhome owner commonly has more maintenance responsibilities than a condo owner, but not as many as a single-family home owner. The owner of a townhome, for example, might be responsible to maintain the yard surrounding the townhome, as well as the exterior of the home, but not the development’s fitness room or spa.

Townhomes might offer more leeway to make the place your own than a condominium unit does. For example, an owner might be allowed to paint the townhome’s exterior, or landscape and garden the yard.

As with a home in any development, to know an owner’s maintenance responsibilities and what rules and regulations apply, you must obtain and review a copy of the documents governing the development.

Sharing Ownership in a Resort Home

If you are buying a resort home as a second home, or vacation home (rather than a full time residence) you also might consider sharing ownership. This can be a great solution if you want to cut down on responsibilities and expenses.

If you know others willing to share a resort home, you might buy a property jointly. Whether this type of co-ownership works well depends on the owners’ ability to work amicably together, and the structure of the ownership. Although sharing expenses and responsibilities with co-owners can be nice, it can also result in misunderstandings and conflicts. If you opt to buy into a co-ownership, make sure you know the potential co-owners well, and hire an experienced attorney in the area to help structure the deal. See Nolo's article, "Legal Issues to Consider When Sharing a Home."

Resort areas typically offer a number of multi-owner home sharing options, such as timeshares, fractional or interval ownerships, and vacation clubs. These can work well for someone who takes shorter (one to three week) annual vacations. You’ll have virtually no maintenance responsibilities as an owner.

The dues and fees an owner must pay with shared home ownership are typically quite high. Also, a multi-owner option is probably not the best choice if you are looking for a good return on investment. It’s notoriously difficult to resell this type of ownership interest (sometimes the resale market is so dismal, and the maintenance fees so high, it can even be difficult to give one away). For more details on shared home ownership see Nolo’s article “Shared Resort-Home Ownership Options (Timeshare, Fractional, Interval, Vacation Clubs”).

Choosing the Best-Located Home

In a resort area, the home’s location is especially important. Living or vacationing in a home close to the attractions and amenities the resort offers is typically the most enjoyable option. For example, you can’t beat the convenience of a slopeside property at a ski resort, and living on the greens at a golf resort has unique charm.

Of course, buying a home in a prime location will require paying a steep purchase price. If your budget doesn’t allow it, look for a home farther out. Just don’t make it so far out that you will spend your vacation fighting traffic, and searching for parking close-in to the attractions you want to frequent.

Don’t forget to consider the home’s accessibility. Make sure the home isn’t on a hill so steep that an ice storm will prevent you from reaching your front door, for example. And, you might want to avoid the home on the charming dirt road that gets so muddy in the off-season you need a 4X4 vehicle to get there.

Where to Get Help

Purchasing a home in a resort is a big commitment. To make the wisest purchase, investigate before you buy. Once you’ve narrowed down what you are looking for, consult an experienced real estate professional in the area to show you what’s available, and to help in the decision.

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