What Are the Different Types of Second Homes?

As noted in a recent post, Should I Invest in a Second Home?, a second home can take many forms.

  • House or townhouse
  • Condominium or apartment
  • Mobile/manufactured home
  • Recreational vehicle or trailer
  • Boat

 In this post, we’ll closely examine each of these alternatives.

Second Home: House or Townhouse

One second home option is a single-family house or a townhouse in a multi-unit building. Such structures often have a dedicated driveway and garage and possibly a yard. This configuration usually has a greater degree of privacy than other options. On the other hand, for those seeking social interaction, it might take some personal initiative to reach out to neighbors, although some communities offer organized activities.

Houses may also have more storage space. However, due to affordability issues, the size of a second home might be smaller (e.g., a cabin or cottage) than the primary home.

A house typically comes with exterior and interior maintenance responsibilities. Exterior tasks include lawn care, snow removal, and tree/shrub care. Interior tasks could range from painting to appliance repair to full-scale remodeling. Maintaining two places could be daunting if a second homeowner also has a house as a primary home.

Of course, some of these items depend on whether the house is owned or rented. In a rental situation, the landlord may be responsible for some tasks.

Second-home buyers will want to know if the house is under the Homeowner’s Association’s (HOA) authority. If an HOA is involved, prospective buyers must decide if they will abide by the association’s rules. Such rules can cover the following: 

  • Architectural and maintenance standards
  • Allowed noise levels
  • Lawn ornaments and holiday decorations
  • Number of people residing in a house
  • Parking
  • Short-term rentals like VRBO or Airbnb
  • Trash and recycling
  • Types and numbers of pets 

An HOA may also manage contracts for lawn/landscape care and snow removal, which are expenses for the HOA. As a result, a second homeowner usually will pay a maintenance fee to cover these costs.

Second Home: Condominium/Apartment

Another second home option is a condominium or apartment. In fact, in some larger cities, some smaller spaces like studio apartments have gained the sobriquet “pied-à-terre” (French for “foot on the ground”). Therefore, this type of second home provides a temporary presence (or foot on the ground) in another location.

For many, a condominium or apartment is the only way to afford the cost of a second home. However, there are tradeoffs. An obvious one is that multiple unit dwellers must follow more rules because they live close to their neighbors. This restricts activities that could impact the person next door, such as noise levels, the number and type of pets, and the ability to rent out an owned unit. Depending on the situation, the building manager, HOA Board of Directors, or landlord usually enforces these rules.

Those looking into a condominium or apartment as a second home should ensure the building accepts temporary living since some HOAs, landlords, or property managers prefer year-round residents.

Another compromise comes from other building residents who don’t follow the rules or neglect building maintenance. Noisy neighbors, messy hallways and elevators, or outdated common areas can cause headaches that mar the enjoyment of a second home.

On the positive side, condominium or apartment residents usually have fewer maintenance responsibilities. This could be the ticket for someone interested in relaxing at their second home rather than attending to a long to-do list. Also, social interaction opportunities may be more numerous because more people are around.

Second Home: Mobile/Manufactured Home

With affordability in mind, a mobile/manufactured home makes sense for second-home seekers. The average cost of these homes was $145,200 in 2022 compared to $428,700 for traditional homes.

These homes can be situated on their own lot or in a space in a dedicated mobile/manufactured home community. One difference between these two arrangements is that residents of dedicated communities probably don’t own the land underneath their homes but instead lease the space.

Despite the affordability advantage, mobile/manufactured homes suffer from the stereotype of being an inferior style of living. As with any housing, there are areas with distressed properties. Yet today’s mobile/manufactured homes are better constructed than in the past, allowing them to withstand severe weather like traditional houses. Also, most of these homes can be found in communities featuring many amenities, including well-maintained streets and sidewalks and communal areas like pools and clubhouses. These latter conveniences can be a catalyst for social interaction.

The flip side of affordability for mobile/manufactured homes is they tend to lose value over time unless the land underneath is owned. In that case, the land beneath the home appreciates rather than the home itself. Also, financing a mortgage may need to be done with a lender specializing in mobile/manufactured homes.

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Second Home: RV Living

While mobile/manufactured homes arrive on wheels, they rarely move once they reach their home sites. On the other hand, recreational vehicles are made for mobility. Subdivided by motorhomes and towable RVs, this type of second home has unique pros and cons that must be carefully considered.

The pros of RV living:

  • Ability to move or stay as desired
  • Social interaction with other RVers
  • Traveling in both comfort and style
  • Lower costs versus staying the same amount of time in hotels and motels
  • Closer to nature

 The cons of RV living:

  • Smaller living and storage space
  • Lack of privacy/too much togetherness
  • Depreciating asset
  • Weather risks
  • Maintenance time and expense
  • Constant planning for destinations and resources

RV sales and prices skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020-21, finding a quality RV at an affordable price became difficult. Many who purchased RVs during this time now realize it is not a long-term lifestyle for them. As a result, availability is increasing, and prices are dropping.

Before taking the plunge into the RV life, do your homework. A wealth of online information will help you learn the realities of this way of living. Seasoned RVers recommend taking short journeys in rented motorhomes or towables before making a big financial or lifestyle commitment.

One trend that has emerged in the last decade is the rise of the upscale RV experience. Many people have the image of RV living as noisy, rustic campgrounds with spartan amenities. The growing higher-end segment destroys this notion. These communities feature luxury conveniences, including pools, tennis courts, fitness centers, clubhouses, and restaurants.

Some of these upscale RV resorts require that owners own newer, well-maintained motorhomes or towables. The idea resembles an HOA requiring residents to adhere to architectural and maintenance standards.

Although not confined to the upscale segment, RVers across the board mention that one of the best things about the lifestyle is the people. The sense of community and ease of making friends among like-minded people are excellent benefits of RV living as a second home.

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Second Home: Boat

Often called an “RV on the water,” living in a boat as a second home has many of the same pros and cons as an RV lifestyle. The challenges like small spaces and high maintenance concerns are perhaps even more pronounced for a boat. The positives are also similar. Living on the water brings one closer to the natural rhythms of life. Also, the camaraderie among other “boat people” creates a great social atmosphere.

Want more? Download our eBook, Your Second Home: Making the Dream a Reality!

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