If you are thinking about buying a vacation or second home, first read “Second Homes for Dummies” by Bridget McCrea and Stephen Spignesi. It will alert you to virtually all the pros and cons of owning these unique properties, which are often hundreds of miles away from one’s primary home and are frequently for personal use and renting to tenants.

McCrea, a former real estate agent, explains virtually all the considerations of buying a second home. Although the book starts out very slow and basic, it picks up pace in the second half where the author gets away from the home-purchase basics and into the specifics of vacation homes, such as supervising from afar and avoiding costly mistakes. There is even a chapter about buying a foreign vacation home, but it is very incomplete and hardly worth reading.

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The book could have used more personal examples, but the author shares her few limited experiences with vacation homes and managing rentals from long distances. She never really says it, but making sure renters don’t trash your vacation home appears to be her theme of the sections about renting second homes.

About all McCrea can do is alert readers to the possible pitfalls and explain the importance of having reliable neighbor “informants” and possibly a property management company specializing in short-term rentals.

In the chapters about selecting a vacation or second home, the author spends considerable effort discussing the usual home-purchase precautions, including working with a local buyer’s agent and other real estate professionals. Heavy emphasis is placed on hiring an experienced professional home inspector to alert buyers about possible undisclosed defects of the home under purchase contract.

However, one key topic that was missing was the vital subject of water and sewer connections. Because many vacation properties are not on community water systems and do not connect to a city sewer, these can be major problems for uninformed buyers.

Lack of adequate well water and/or a poor septic system is something most buyers of vacation homes don’t think about until after they hold the title to the property. Detailed advice on this topic would have been invaluable, including the importance of well water and septic system tests.

Most of the book is about topics which first-time buyers of vacation or second homes might overlook. The importance of location is heavily emphasized, both for rentals and for potential resale appreciation in market value. McCrea explains the pros and cons of buying in a resort area where, if you plan to rent to tenants for part of the year, competition from other rentals is an important consideration.

Because the book raises so many topics that might easily be overlooked, it should be read from cover to cover, perhaps skipping only those topics in which the reader is not interested, such as buying a vacation home in a foreign country.

Chapter topics include “The Lowdown on Buying and Owning a Second Home”; “Figuring Out Whether You Can Afford a Second Home”; “Relying on the Experts When Buying Your Second Home”; “Inspecting Your Second Home Before You Sign on the Dotted Line”; “Setting Up Your New Digs”; “Renting Out Your Second Home to Pay for Itself”; “Handling the Maintenance and Upkeep on Your Second Home”; “What Uncle Sam Wants to Know: Important Tax Implications”; and “Selling Your Primary Home and Settling into Your Second Home.”

One topic that looms in the background throughout the book is the possibility the reader will buy a vacation or second home now and later convert it into a retirement home. McCrea explains special considerations for buyers who may be thinking of future retirement use. On my scale of one to 10, this excellent new book rates a solid 10.

“Second Homes for Dummies,” by Bridget McCrea and Stephen Spignesi (Wiley Publishing Inc., Indianapolis, Ind.), 2007, $19.99, 340 pages; available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries and www.Amazon.com.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center

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