There are lots of interesting places in the U.S. to live — and some remarkable spots for a vacation home as well. Maybe you’ve always wanted to escape to a place on the water, or next to a great ski mountain.
Or maybe you would like to retreat from the big city to a small town oasis. Forbes named Thomasville, Georgia as one of the coolest towns to buy a vacation home due to the generous acreage and reasonable proximity to Florida’s panhandle beaches. (Other options on the list: Palm Springs, Calif., and Livingston, Mont. — there’s something for everyone.)
Nearly 15% of Americans between the ages of 18-64 own a second home. Regardless of location, it’s likely that you put some thought into it: where you purchased, how you decorate it and how you plan to use it. But when you’re not living there — or have renters staying there and vacationing — how do you ensure that your investment is protected?
Here are some things to consider:
You’ll need insurance.
If you’re using your second property as a second home and not as a rental, you’ll need a homeowners insurance policy on it, just like your primary residence. However, insurance on your vacation home will probably look a little different, because second homes are considered riskier. “Because you’re not there all the time, you can be subject to more problems with your property,” said Loretta Worters, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. For instance, a pipe could burst and you wouldn’t know about it until it had done a substantial amount of damage, or there could be a fire that develops when you’re not there to notice the smoke.
So if you would like to buy a home in one of the coolest vacation towns in Georgia, insurance may be pricier than the average Georgia policy of $1,522 and it may also be more limited. You may have to purchase a “named perils” policy that only covers events that are specifically listed, such as theft or smoke damage.
If you rent it out, you’ll need different coverage.
If you’re renting your property while you’re not there — and in this economy of VRBO and Airbnb, that’s not unusual — that’s considered a business activity and your homeowners insurance won’t cover it. If you rent the property infrequently, your insurer may offer you a rider or endorsement that would cover you. If it’s more regular, you may need a commercial or business liability policy.
Those policies cover the usual things (the building and its contents) as well as things like liability if someone is injured on your property and lost income if the property is damaged and can’t be rented for a while.
Consider home surveillance.
One of the biggest disadvantages of owning a vacation home is that you aren’t there to keep an eye on it. You can partially solve this problem by installing outdoor cameras. Smart Home Kits, which include cameras and smart water shutoff devices could earn owners discounts over 3% in some cases.
“Burglars have stated time and time again that the presence of a security camera can push them to skip your home and move on down the street,” said Rebecca Edwards, senior security writer and safety expert with SafeWise. “At a vacation home, a good security camera with a mobile app can be your eyes and ears no matter where you are.”
Matthew Ross, co-owner and COO of MySlumberYard.com, owns a vacation home in California and recently installed three cameras there. “Last week, one of the cameras caught some teenagers snooping around the backyard,” he said. “I was able to quickly log in and even talk to them through the speaker on the camera. They immediately got scared and hopped the fence.”
There’s also a range of video doorbells that can alert you when someone is at your door, complete with video on your app and the ability to talk to the person who’s there through the doorbell. “In addition to catching people on video, it lets you say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’” Edwards said.
(A caveat: If you’re renting your home out to guests, make sure they understand that there are exterior cameras for home safety — and none on the interior.)
Make your home burglar-repellant.
A security system or evidence that you might have one can make a thief think twice about targeting you. Motion-activated lights are also a big deterrent to someone who’s trying to sneak around on your property unnoticed. “You can even get motion lights that come with apps that will send you alerts when the lights are triggered,” Edwards said.
Think about landscaping as well. First, keeping it up will make your home look lived-in instead of neglected and empty. Second, overgrown bushes and trees can hide your house from view and make it easier for someone to break in unobserved. Keep greenery pruned and under control. “Unkempt hedges and bushes can also provide hiding spots for burglars,” Edwards said. If you must have bushes under your windows, make them thorny.
Make friends nearby.
The people who are near your second home when you’re not, can be handy in an emergency. “I’ve become close friends with one of my neighbors, and he alerted me that one of my sprinklers was broken in the front yard,” Ross said. “Apparently, water was gushing down into the sidewalk. Because he alerted me right away, I was able to call my landscaper and he was able to fix the issue the next day.”
Your vacation home should be an exciting addition to your life — not a headache. Luckily, keeping your second home safe doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Make some smart decisions about insurance, home security and greenery, and you’ll be set for the season.