Monday, December 4, 2023 / by Richard Eimers
The beach-condo pipe dream began unfolding in June, but really, it goes back to my childhood — a big idea with a miniscule chance. What was I thinking? Second homes are for other people. One home is more than I can handle.
But in June, my husband and I sold a condo our youngest daughter had lived in while she attended grad school. And suddenly, we had funds that for once didn’t need to go toward a child’s tuition, orthodontia or some other form of child support. The last kid had flown.
Meanwhile, several friends who live near us in the Orlando area, only an hour’s drive from the Atlantic, were getting beach condos. Adding to the motivation: I grew up in Southern California and as a teen, spent my summers on the sands of. Newport Beach.
So, timing, friends, proximity, nostalgia and those freed-up funds conspired. When I could no longer keep this crazy dream to myself, I shared my idea with my husband, DC, one summer night during a rare inning when the Pirates were winning. He raised his eyebrows and matter-of-factly said words I loathe. “We’ll have to look at the budget.”
But I was ready with my Marni math. I showed him how we could not quite break even, if we bought a modest place that generated exceptional rental income through Airbnb. (OK, the plan made some big assumptions.) The plan also promised that I would never, ever in my whole life stop working. DC stayed quiet, which I took as the door opening a crack.
Then came a stroke straight from heaven. In July, our condo-owning friends Chris and Cindy, whom I just might have told about my pipe dream, invited DC and me to spend a weekend at their place to see how we liked beach life. “We have selfish motives,” Cindy confessed. “We want you to get a place.”
DC liked the getaway more than he wanted to. (YES!) We spent the next two months talking each other into and out of the idea by turns, while seeing properties with our realtor. Let’s call him Saint Bob. We wanted a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a straight-on ocean view (not one where you can only glimpse the ocean if you look out the bathroom window on tiptoes and crane your neck), that was also popular with renters and in our price range. Our first day out proved this would be impossible.
Over the next few months, we saw dozens of condos in person and online. We almost, but not quite, bought two and kept searching. Here’s what we learned along the way.
Run the numbers. Before we went condo hunting, we researched what expenses we might incur beyond the price of the property. Cindy and Chris kindly shared what they paid annually for insurance, property taxes, HOA fees and utilities, as well as rental income less property management and cleaning fees.
Talk to your accountant. My level-headed, financially conservative accountant is a great sounding board, who has talked me out of many cockamamie ideas over the decades. When I ran this one by him, his answer surprised me: “Go for it,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle. You will love it.” He added this caveat: “But make a pact. One year from the day you close the deal, if either one of you wants to sell it, for whatever reason, sell it. It only takes one vote.” Agreed.
Look under the hood. Liking a property for its view, location and amenities is not enough. We liked a condo enough to want to buy it, but a review of the association minutes revealed that owners needed to pay a large assessment to retrofit oceanside balconies. The two-year construction project would shut down rentals much of that time. The minutes also revealed that many of the condos in the complex, including the one we were considering, had popcorn ceilings containing asbestos. Hard pass.
Read HOA documents. A complex’s bylaws and covenants contain important details such as rental rules, what HOA dues cover and pet restrictions.
Talk to other owners. We seriously considered one possibility, until we talked to the listing agent, who also owned a unit in the complex. He made clear that most owners in the building frowned on renters. A well-established property manager confirmed that the complex was not renter friendly. If you can afford the luxury of a second home that you don’t have to rent out to defray costs, this type of place is for you. We, on the other hand, kept looking.
Join me next week when I tell you about the deal that stuck.
Marni Jameson is the author of seven books including the forthcoming “Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow,” due out Jan. 2. Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.