Tips For Buying a Vacation Home in California

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The following is a post courtesy of Joseph Miller of HomeAway.com.

The perfect vacation home sets the stage to relax, has a few luxurious amenities and a fantastic location. Vacation homes near the beach, near mountains or near resort towns are perennially popular to short term renters. With all of these places nearby, California is one of the best places in the country to own a vacation home. With a long stretch of coastline, a variety of climates, wonderful scenery and tons to do, a vacation home or condo in California can provide rental income and be a weekend getaway.

Start with the Basics

Contemporary home in California with pool.

When buying a vacation home, start with the basics. If you are not a frequent visitor, you are going to want to acquaint yourself with the different regions of the state and its different weather patterns. California is a huge state and with a range of experiences. Northern California includes stunning coastline, urban and iconic San Francisco and the Bay area, and a picturesque inland wine country that rivals the best wine regions in the world. Northern and Central California have a warm, enjoyable climate but is subject to seasonal fluctuations and are home to some of the prettiest places in the country: the natural wonderlands of Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel Bay.

Head south where Cali is best known for beachfront destinations in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County. Temperatures here are higher and the climate is quite Mediterranean. The California Desert boasts some of the best golf resorts and warmest winter getaways, and, speaking of winter, skiers and snowboarders love the deep California snow at Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and Big Bear.

Get More Specific
Once you have narrowed down the areas in California where you would consider buying a vacation home, there is some serious research to be done. Important factors to investigate include town population, proximity to services, property tax rates, and how the values of homes have performed in recent years. Be an informed buyer and look into the strength of the local economy and resale values. When house hunting, always keep in mind the average price per square foot in the town and a general budget for upgrade to make it rent-ready. Some people prefer to purchase a vacation rental that has been completely modernized, while others prefer to do the work themselves.

Hire an Expert
View of LA from Echo ParkYou can do all the research in the world, but nothing will help you make a decision like talking to an expert. Find the best real estate agent in town and call or email them with a list of questions. Inquire about the neighborhood, the current market, and whether rentals are popular in the area. Be frank with the agent and tell them what you’re looking for in a vacation home and whether you intend on renting it out (remember, this is subject to income tax). The more information you have before you begin looking, the better. You’ll also want to speak with a mortgage professional to find out about investment property financing guidelines and what you’ll need to do in order to potentially finance a rental outside of your home state.

List Your Desires
Before you start looking, sit down with your spouse or family and talk about what features your dream vacation home has to have. Maybe the kids would love a game room or you want killer ocean views. Is a gourmet kitchen necessary? Or how about a rooftop deck? By talking about these features out loud, you will discover your top priorities. Start looking at potential vacation homes with your priorities clearly outlined. This way you won’t be sidetracked and waste time looking at properties that don’t meet your basic needs. Sometimes agents think that number of bedrooms equals basic needs, but that isn’t always the case. Before you start looking, define your budget and whether you have any financial flexibility. If you’re planning to rent out your second home short-term to vacationers, research what amenities and features make vacation rentals in the area popular.

The Fine Print
San Francisco from across the Golden Gate BridgeBefore you fall in love with a vacation home, be sure to read the fine print. For example, just how involved do you want to be in the maintenance of your second home? Many people choose to go down the condo or co-op route that requires less maintenance (but you will have to pay a maintenance fee). Ask the real estate agent about recent special assessments and what the costs were. This will help you to know exactly what lies ahead financially. Before you sign on the dotted line, insist on a proper home inspection to get an idea if any repairs are necessary.

Your New Home
With research and time, you can find the perfect vacation home. Whether that means a cottage in Santa Barbara, a mountain cabin in Lake Tahoe, or an oceanfront villa in Malibu, the choice is up to you. The pleasures of the Golden State will be waiting to welcome you to your new vacation home.

About the Author
Joseph Miller is a writer and analyst for HomeAway’s Travel Ideas site. He was born and raised in California and loves to take vacations.

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On a related note:

If you plan on renting out your vacation home, you should learn about the responsibilities of being a landlord in the State of California. The landlord and tenant relationship can end up being one of the most frustrating experiences people can have. Ask any experienced landlord and they will tell you that knowing the basic rules governing Landlords’ rights and responsibilities if one of the most important aspects on managing their investments. Tenants also need to have a fundamental understanding of their rights and the expectations of what is required under California law and the consequences of not adhering to those responsibilities. Luckily the State of California has produced a great pdf booklet online that discusses basic tenant and landlord responsibilities, covering topics such as termination notices, resolving problems, giving notice, responsibility for repairs, paying rent and rental increases, subleases, and more. The booklet is very detailed (over 111 pages) but there is a nice glossary which can help you find out more about what you are looking for in seconds. This should be a “must read” for anyone considering entering the rental market as either a landlord or renter in California.

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