Investing in a Second Northwest Home

Craving a coastal getaway? Seeking a chalet on the slopes? Longing for lakefront sunshine?

Lives are hectic, but calming aesthetic beauty lies just hours away. Puget Sound is rich with jewel-like locales perfect for family and friends to disconnect, reconnect, and decompress in a vacation home.

The first step is deciding where to buy. Options range from the ocean to the mountains, from inland beach cabins to Eastern Washington lakefronts.

Depending on the location, square footage, and condition of the home, buyers can expect to pay an average of $300,000 to $1 million-plus for a second home, said Chris Murphy, Realtor at WashingtonWaterfronts.com. More affordable homes, starting at about $150,000, can be found in Packwood, just miles away from White Pass Ski resort southeast of Mount Rainier National Park.

Hood Canal offers miles of saltwater beachfront with clamming, crabbing, and water-sport opportunities, Murphy said. The shallow and narrow nature of the channel leaves the water warm and calm, making for easy paddleboarding and kayaking conditions.

Whidbey Island has beach properties in Useless and Mutiny bays, many that have been in families for generations. There, a 1,000-square-foot beach cabin may sell for $1 million, Murphy said.

Camano Island is another popular second-home location.

There, about 30 percent of 2016 home sales were second homes, said Marla Heagle, owner of Windermere Real Estate Camano Island.

Most second homes are purchased for family getaways, she said. But some buyers purchase specifically for the Airbnb or VRBO opportunities.

On the coast, Seabrook is a planned community that is able to maintain its value through the amenities available and the cache it has developed with Seattle and Eastside residents, Murphy said.

Casey Roloff, who founded Seabrook in 2002 with his wife, Laura, designed the community after historical towns centered on walkability and mixed-use planning. They were inspired by California beach towns like Carmel. At Seabrook, current for-sale home prices range from the low $400,000s to more than $1.5 million.

Fifteen years into the plan, existing homeowners are still considered the “first adopters.” Home prices remain relatively low, compared to what they will be when the retail town center is complete, Roloff said. Still to come: Fifteen businesses that will include an arcade, luxury theater, brewery, outdoor outfitter, jewelry store, restaurants, and ladies boutique. There’s even a high-end yarn store for all those knitters out there.

Some people prefer the sun over the waves. For those, Lake Chelan is always a good option.

Dustin Thomas, inside sales director at Nick McLean Real Estate, said houseboats are a fun second-home option for many buyers. Starting at about $300,000, the houseboats can troll around the lake and then park at a local marina.

Also there, The Lookout at Lake Chelan is a planned community popular with second-home buyers. So far, 104 homes have been sold, and 63 are complete. A total of 320 homes are planned. Prices range from $520,000 to $880,000.

The Lookout sits on a bluff looking out over the lake, said Laura C. Harris, director of sales. All homes share access to the lake, and development will only go about halfway down the property, allowing for good communal access to the beach.

Only 80 miles from Bellevue, Suncadia is a popular location for second-home buyers, as well. Current sale prices range from $695,000 for 1,900 square feet to $3.2 million for a 12,000-square-foot home. Hiking and biking trails, golf courses, a pool, and waterslides create plenty of fun for everyone in the family. Winter activities include skiing at Snoqualmie Ski Resort, tubing, and ice skating.

“I encourage people to buy what they are going to use, what fits them best, and what fits their specific needs. Don’t buy more than you are going to need when you are there with your family.”

– Casey Roloff, Seabrook founder

Like other second-home areas, Suncadia’s sales are booming. The community hit an all-time record in 2015 for the number of real estate transactions. It has increased every year since. This year, Richard Seay, the vice president and director of sales and marketing for Suncadia, expects transactions to be 22 percent higher than 2016.

Many second-home owners put their properties on the vacation rental market. If the home is well-cared-for, the homeowner can recoup between 50 to 100 percent of the cost of owning the home, said Murphy.

The Lookout at Lake Chelan runs a cottage-rental program in which about 65 percent of the homeowners participate.

It makes sense to consider the rental program, Harris said. The average owner spends about 45 nights a year in his or her home. Each cottage rents out about 120 nights per year.

Murphy has put together an Excel spreadsheet so buyers can assess what type of return on investment they can expect by renting out their properties.

That said, Murphy urges his clients to buy a home for its intrinsic value and to buy something their family will use.

Roloff concurs.

“I encourage people to buy what they are going to use, what fits them best, and what fits their specific needs,” he said. “Don’t buy more than you are going to need when you are there with your family.”

Suncadia’s Seay also believes second homes shouldn’t be considered a strictly financial investment.

“Vacation homes are investments in your family’s time,” he said.

Murphy, who owns a second home himself, said vacation homes are part of a renewal process.

“Going to a second home, or a vacation home, for the weekend leaves you refreshed and ready to go for the next week and gives families the opportunity to bring all the generations together under one roof.” 

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