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Speaking out

Joys, Chores of Vacation Home

February 18, 1990|T. L. BRINK

When I was 25, the idea of owning a second home for vacation retreats seemed both impossible and undesirable.

I had not even saved enough for the down payment on my primary residence, and besides, why would anyone want to commit themselves to having every future vacation in the same spot?

But, as I approached 40 and heard my friends and colleagues boast of their condos in Hawaii or cabins in Tahoe, I came to feel deprived.

Three years ago we purchased our "dream" house in our "dream" location. It was to serve the dual function of vacation lodging and eventual residence upon my retirement.

One of the hopes I had nursed was that with a vacation home, I could travel lighter, not having to lug around all the clothing, athletic equipment and personal items in suitcases, back and forth on each trip. The vacation home could serve as a field base of operations in foreign territory.

Of course, to actualize that potential, you first have to get all the supplies to the base.

Remember that a home is not a hotel. Hotels come with beds and towels and maids who don't ask you for mops and cleanser. So we had to bring furniture and household supplies.

Neither is a home a restaurant. We had to bring a refrigerator and stove, and (subsequent to its becoming a necessity) a microwave oven. Don't forget carpets and artwork: you won't want to look at the same bare floors and walls each year.

Could we get along without a TV? (Make that three TVs, we have kids.) The channels in your vacation location probably won't come in that clear, and they may be fewer, so remember to bring a VCR, and don't forget your favorite tapes. (You'll end up owning two copies so you won't have to carry them back and forth through airport bomb-detection machines.)

We knew that we could not take everything we needed in a couple of suitcases checked aboard a commercial flight. It became obvious that we would have to drive (a four-day road trip instead of the four-hour plane flight).

So we purchased a pickup: wide side, 8-foot bed and V-8 engine. We put racks on the sides so we could pile cargo as high as the cab. We have made three trips (with full loads) in that truck, and will be making a few more it seems.

Even after you are done with the "moving" you will want to keep a second vehicle at your vacation residence, unless public transportation there is ideal, or unless you want to drive back and forth each time.

Once you have invested the time and money in establishing your home away from home, you feel so foolish if you don't use it as much as possible. The kids and a non-working spouse may be able to spend all summer there, but if you are a breadwinner, you may end up a summer widow(er) in the primary residence.

To avoid this, I brought down some of my business suits and a computer. I obtained a summer teaching position at a private university near our vacation home (only a 2 1/2-hour commute, each way), worked on a book and tried to get some consulting assignments.

It was not as hard as starting out, straight from grad school, but all of the California contacts I had built up over a dozen years were of little help.

Any house has maintenance requirements, it merely seems that vacation homes have more of these. There is something in the mountain (or ocean or desert) air that makes the paint peel every six months, so that whenever you arrive for a vacation, there is a painting chore.

Some bureaucratic foul-up means that your water (or electricity or gas or phone) has been turned off, and the office that takes care of it is 30 miles away, and when you arrive, you find it closed for the holidays.

Then there are the local tradespeople, who live in that spot rather than where you came from because they prefer a slower pace (or maybe they were not qualified to practice their trade anywhere else). I noticed, for example, that our plumber's little shack has an outhouse and well, and that our carpenter lives in a brick house.

You worry most about your vacation home when you are not there. You read about an earthquake and visualize your boat, computer and microwave under a ton of rubble. You read about a jailbreak and imagine that the fugitives have commandered your house as a fortress in a gun battle with the sheriff's SWAT team.

You let your teen-age daughter and a couple of friends go down to the home alone during Easter vacation and have a nightmare about "Fort Lauderdale West."

There is no place on earth that I would rather be than in my vacation home. I look forward to my retirement when it will be my primary residence. I recommend the second home as an investment and bridge to the later years' life style.

Like any other great life event (college, marriage or parenthood), it should be undertaken only when one is fully cognizant of the great dangers (and many more minor frustrations) and prepared to meet the challenges.

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