Home Sweet Vacation Home

Men laying new hardwood flooring

Each year, as the weather warms up, thoughts begin turning to vacationwhere to go, what to do, how best to spend your money. Wouldnt it be great to have your own private getaway to escape to whenever you need a break from the daily grind? Three Atlanta-area residents who have invested in second homesat the beach, in the mountains and at the lakehave plenty of advice on maintenance, the elements and the ups and downs of renting out your second home when youre not there.

Photo courtesy of Warner McConaughey, HammerSmith Inc.

The splashing waves, the wind in your hair, the sand between your toeswho doesnt love spending time at the beach? Warner McConaughey, owner of HammerSmith Inc. in Decatur, owns two condos on Seagrove Beach in the Florida panhandle. Along with his wife and two young children, he loves visiting the areawhen he can. Since we rent the properties out, its hard to find time to get down there ourselves, McConaughey says.

Often, when they are able to visit Seagrove Beach, McConaughey and his wife, Allison, who is an interior designer, spend more time working than playing. A lot of work goes into furnishing and decorating a high-end four-bedroom unit, but its fun, too, McConaughey says. You get to come up with different decorating themes and really have a good time with it. Its like having an alter-ego home.

One of the tricky parts about owning a home thats five hours away is making sure that any renovations, and even regular maintenance, go smoothly when you cant be there to supervise. Even though theres a lot involved in owning a property that you rent out, its almost easier than just letting it sit while youre not there, because theres always someone around to report any problems, McConaughey says. I knew someone with an apartment at the beach whose air conditioning went out, and by the time someone discovered the problem months later, there was mold everywhere.

The advantage of owning a rental property is that the rental company has a constant eye on whats happening. You have to let go of the feeling of total ownership since youre at the mercy of other people, but the rental company really does a lot of work for you, McConaughey says. Being part of a condo or homeowners association helps a lot, tooall of your landscaping and community services will be taken care of.

Photos courtesy of Warner McConaughey, Hammer Smith Inc.
WARNER AND ALLISON McCONAUGHEY’S Florida condo on the beach is usually rented out, but they enjoy the occasional trip down with children Wilson and Zadie (top left).

Having a vacation home at the beach raises some special maintenance issues that cant be ignored, whether you rent out your home or not. The heating and air conditioning have to be constantly running to prevent mold, and filters need to be changed frequently. Also, the salty spray from the ocean can wreak havoc on a home. You dont realize just how bad salt and corrosion can be until you have a place down there, McConaughey says. Everything metal will rust. Stainless steel is your best choice for anything metal, but even that will rust over time. The salt spray, combined with humidity, will also cause a film to form over windows and sliding glass doors, blocking ocean views.

Of course, one of the most common problems at the beach is the sand. It comes inside constantly, in and on everything, McConaughey says. Youll get lots of clogged showers and toilets, and it even gets into the washer and dryer. High winds and hurricanes are also a concern, especially recently. If you cant get to your home, its important to have someone lined up to batten down the hatches. There are companies, for people who dont rent their homes out, where someone will periodically check up on your home, making sure everythings working and secure, to give you a little peace of mind, McConaughey says.

When it comes to renovating or maintaining a house from a distance, McConaugheys got some great advice. When youre down there, be respectful and friendly with everyone you meet, he says. Dont burn any bridges, and make friends with your neighbors, the realtor, the rental company and local handymen. Form real relationships so people will be willing to help you out when you call. And return favors whenever you can. McConaughey also sees differences between the big city and his smaller beach community. Down there, people will always help you out, sometimes for just the cost of parts, he says. We have never felt that weve been taken advantage of.

Even with the work that goes into the upkeep of his beach properties, McConaughey still feels that owning them has been a rewarding experience. The best thing about owning a vacation home is just getting down there when you can, to really enjoy getting away and spending time with your family, he says.

Photo courtesy of Joni Alpert

When the sights and sounds of the city start to drive you crazy, theres no better escape than a home with a beautiful mountain view. For Joni Alpert, a producer of The Clark Howard Show on WSB radio here in Atlanta, her home in the mountains of North Carolina has been a dream come true. We try to go up there at least once a month, more if possible, she says. My husband calls it my toy house, or my playhouse. The home is nestled in the Trillium Community, a resort about two and a half hours away in the Highland-Cashiers area of North Carolina. We do rent it out, but if its available, were usually up there, Alpert says.

Because the home is part of a community, the homeowners association takes care of basic maintenance, like lawn care and painting, while the rental company takes care of the home between rentals. The rental company has an extremely thorough cleaning service, Alpert says. They do walk-throughs of the house before and after any guests are there, and when we show up for a weekend away, its like no one else has ever been there. For privacy and security, there is an owners closet where the couple can lock up personal belongings while the house is rented out.

Right now, the couple is working on building a second home to rent out in the same neighborhood. Weve totally been renovating the whole thing, Alpert says. And the only thing harder than renovating a home is renovating a home in a different state. Even though some of their friends think theyre crazy, Alpert says the experience has been a good one for them overall. The one thing that you have control over is who you hire to do the work, she says. Since its not possible to see whats going on everyday, you need to make sure you have great workers that you really trust, that come highly recommended and that are great about communicating with you. And it also helps to be very flexible and patient, and a little bit crazy.

Photos courtesy of Joni Alpert
THE ALPERT FAMILY (Joni, Hal, and daughters Lisa and Jamie) loves their North Carolina mountain home. It offers them a great escape from Atlanta, and renting it out helps them keep it affordable and well maintained.

When it comes to going back and forth between two homes, Alpert says that being organized is important to making the experience a positive one. Its also good to keep things as simple as possible. The one thing thats been a lifesaver in terms of having a second home is just keeping a list, she says. If theres something we need to remember to take up to North Carolina, we write it down, and we keep a basket in the garage that we can fill up and carry back and forth each time we go. Alpert points out that its not as easy to run to the store for things once theyre in the mountains, so its best to keep close track of things like batteries and light bulbs that are easier and cheaper to buy in Atlanta.

One thing that owners of mountain homes must always keep in mind is the weather. For us, the biggest concern is that because the elevation is so high, you can get extreme weather conditions, Alpert says. You have to remember to respect the environment. Being mindful of the weather is especially important when it comes to pipesthey must be kept wrapped and insulated, and Alpert uses a heat lamp near areas that are particularly prone to freezing. Also, mountain roads can ice over much more quickly than those in Atlanta, so its vital to keep a close eye on the weather when planning a trip to a mountain home.

Overall, keeping things simple has been key for Alpert in making sure the home is a pleasure instead of a pain. What you dont want is to have a vacation home where you have to work all the time, Alpert says. A wonderful housekeeper and friendly neighbors help keep things together. Were lucky to have found great people in a great area, she says. Everyone looks out for each other. In the end, from a financial and investment standpoint as well as a personal one, the experience has been a wonderful one for Alpert and her husband. Working with such great people, its been such a surprisingly low stress and such a great joy, Alpert says. And its nice to get out of the city to a place where the main action is watching the stars and the moon.

Photo courtesy of Linda Mohan

After several years of checking out different vacation home spots in Florida and along the Georgia coast, Linda Mohan, along with her husband Dan and their two sons, visited some friends at their second home on Lake Keowee in South Carolina, and finally made their decision. The lake was beautiful, and since its only about a two-hour drive away, it seemed like the perfect spot, Mohan says. So in August 2004 they purchased a vacation home at the lake, just over the border with Georgia.

The Mohans dont rent out the lake house when they are not there, preferring to keep it as a personal getaway that they make it a point to escape to as often as possible. We try to get up there at least once a month to check on things and spend the weekend, Mohan says. During the summer, the boys and I stay up there a lot, and Dan joins us on weekends and when he can get off work. Even though they dont rent the house to strangers, the Mohans do let friends stay there occasionally.

Because they already had friends from Atlanta with houses at the lake when they purchased their home there, the Mohans had a little bit of built-in security. We all keep track of who is going to the lake when, so we can be sure to drive by each others homes and check in if we think there might be a problem, Mohan says. It really gives us a little peace of mind.

Living in a subdivision that comes with its own maintenance department also helps. If were worried about anything with the house, we can call up the maintenance guys and theyll swing by and check on things, Mohan says. They charge by the hour, but it can be worth it to know everythings safe and secure. After one crisis, when their boat sank in the lake while they were away, the Mohans have taken advantage of the checkup service more often.

Photos courtesy of Linda Mohan
VISITING THEIR LAKE HOUSE on Lake Keowee in South Carolina is always an easy and fun experience for the Mohan family, including Linda and son Jack (above), and Dan and son Quinn (below).

Because their home was built around 1980, there were a few things the Mohans knew they wanted to update, with the walls and floors being first on the list. We had the interior painted pretty quickly, Mohan says. The painters, who were recommended by friends at the lake, did most of the job while the Mohans were in Atlanta, and luckily, the process went smoothly. We didnt have any problems with the painters being there while we were away, Mohan says. We also had some pine t
ees cut when we werent there, and there was no problem with that, either.

With the house painted, the next order of business is to replace the flooring. The house has this awful, worn-out carpet, Mohan says. Were about to put in cork flooring, which hopefully will look much better and be more functional in the lake house. While more upgrades, maybe in the master bath, may take place in the future, for now the Mohans plan to spend their vacation time just enjoying
the lake.

As for keeping their second home clean, Mohan does some of the job and enlists the rest of the family to help her. So far, trying to hire help has not worked out very well. I found a woman to come in and clean for us before and after we had guests up, Mohan says. Then one weekend when my husband was bringing some people up with him, she was a no-show. It ended up she had decided not to clean houses anymore and just hadnt bothered to call. Despite being burned once, Mohan is determined to find someone reliable to help her out. I feel like its imperative to have someone, especially before and after we have guests, she says. Otherwise, you have to spend the first few hours youre there dusting and making beds, and you just dont want to have to deal with that kind of stuff when youre trying to enjoy your vacation.

Hopefully, by this summer, the Mohans will really be able to enjoy their cozy lake house, complete with brand-new floors. Im always looking forward to the next time we get to go up there, Mohan says. It really is our own personal haven.


This month, HGTV will make someones vacation-home dreams come true when the network gives away a breathtaking North Carolina lake house in a community built by Atlanta-based Land Resource Companies.

The HGTV Dream Home 2006 sweepstakes, which ran Jan. 1 through Feb. 17, will culminate with a special airing on Saturday, April 22, at 8 p.m., during which the winner will receive the keys to his or her new home.

Every year since 1997, HGTV has built a beautiful, fully furnished home for the sole purpose of giving it away to one lucky viewer. Grey Rock at Lake Lure, one of the most exclusive luxury mountain living communities on the east coast, was selected as the site for this years Dream Home.

The Dream Homes 5,700-square-foot design offers a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. It features classic Southern mountain architectural style, incorporating natural materials native to the region, such as weathered stone, poplar bark siding and heart pine timbers. It also features a large covered porch and terrace, and the living quarters and sleeping quarters are separated by an open-air walk-through in the center of the home.

This is the second time a Land Resource Companies property was selected for the contest; the 2004 Dream Home in St. Marys, Ga. was in one of the companys communities, as well. Obviously, we are thrilled to be selected for this honor as the HGTV Dream Home celebrates its 10-year anniversary, says Bob Ward, the companys CEO. Id like to thank HGTV for their continued confidence in Land Resource Companiesit says a lot about the quality of our company and the quality of our people.

Last years giveaway drew more than 39 million entries. The number of entries for 2006 is expected to top 60 million.

To find out more about the HGTV Dream Home, visit www.hgtv.com or contact Land Resource Companies at (770) 818-0100 or www.landresource.com.

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