AT HOME: Memories, friends, timing push wish for 2nd home

The authors longing to own a beach getaway started as a far-fetched fantasy that gradually grew. (Dreamstime.com/Maksim Pauliukevich)
The authors longing to own a beach getaway started as a far-fetched fantasy that gradually grew. (Dreamstime.com/Maksim Pauliukevich)

The beach-condo pipe dream traces back to June, but really to my childhood, a big idea with a minuscule chance. Though I tried to snuff the daydream of buying a coastal getaway, the whale of an idea kept surfacing. What was I thinking? Second homes are for other people. One home is more than I can handle.

Be careful what you wish for.

In June, my husband and I sold a condo that we had bought for our youngest daughter for her to live in while she attended grad school. That sale resulted in something exceedingly rare in our lives: available cash. Here was money that for once didn't need to go toward a child's tuition, or housing, or orthodontia, or bail, or some other form of child support.

Meanwhile, several of our friends who live near us in the Orlando area, only an hour's drive from the Atlantic, were getting beach condos in the same way city dwellers buy country homes, and those living near mountains get ski cabins.

Yet one more driver was in play -- my childhood. I grew up not on but near the beach, in Southern California. As a teenager I spent my summers on the sand. Before I could drive, four quarters and the OCTD bus got me to and from Newport Beach, where I spent the lazy, carefree summer days of my youth.

So, timing, friends, proximity, nostalgia and those freed-up funds conspired to pull me under the ocean's influence like a riptide. When I could no longer keep this crazy dream to myself, one summer night during a rare inning when the Pirates were winning, I shared my idea with DC. He raised his eyebrows and matter-of-factly said words I loathe. "We'll have to look at the budget."

This time, however, I was ready. I had concocted a Marni-math scheme that showed how we could not quite break even if we bought a modest place that generated exceptional rental income through Airbnb. The plan also had as part of the calculus that I would never ever in my whole life stop working.

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 condo to see how we liked beach life. "We have selfish motives," Cindy confessed. "We want you to get a place."

"Let's go," I said to DC. "Maybe we'll hate it." We accepted the offer and lined up a local broker to show us a few properties. Enter Bob, soon to be known as Saint Bob. Little did Saint Bob know.

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 Saint Bob. We wanted a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a straight-on ocean view that was also popular with renters and in our price range.

Over the next few months, we saw dozens of condos in person and online. We almost 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 would have to pay 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. Level-headed and conservative, my 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, which would entail a two-year construction project that would shut down rentals much of that time. Hard pass.

◼️ Read HOA documents. A complex's bylaws and covenants will contain important details like rental rules, what HOA dues cover and pet restrictions.

◼️ Talk to other owners. We seriously considered another condo 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. We kept looking.

Join me next week when I tell you about the deal that stuck.

Marni Jameson is the author of seven books. Her newest book, "Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow," is due out in January.