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Leisure Spending

A Summer Home May Not Be Ideal in Winter

Moving to your vacation home year round may seem like a great idea, until winter comes.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the September 2007 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Ah, your summer home. The sun setting behind the lake as you nurse a glass of wine. Devouring novels and biographies while nestled in the Adirondack chair in the garden. Endless rounds of golf. Now past Labor Day, you may be thinking: Wouldn't it be nice to live there year round?

Before you put your winter home on the market, perhaps you should first ask Linda Stryker-Luftig, 63, and her husband, Mark Luftig, 69. Several years ago, he retired from his Wall Street job and she left bank public relations. After selling their Manhattan apartment, they moved into their vacation home in Ancramdale, N.Y., a two-hour drive away.

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Their intention was to live there for 18 months before moving to Chapel Hill, N.C. "We hated leaving this house when the summer was over, but we soon discovered that after the summer ended so did most of the area's cultural events," Linda says. "It became a ghost town."

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Their house was located in a summer colony a few miles from the town where the local people lived. "They were farmers, craft workers, artists and writers with a different lifestyle," she says. "I tried to get involved in some community groups, but I wasn't welcome. What's more, we were isolated. If I ran out of mayonnaise, it required a 30-minute drive."

The story is similar at other beach, lake and mountain areas, from Flathead Lake, Mont., to Block Island, R.I. Getaway homes often located in popular resort areas are not necessarily the best places to retire. During the winter, there are fewer daylight hours. Amenities like snow removal may not exist. And coffee bars and restaurants are often closed until spring.

As long as you're prepared, though, the move can be a positive one. In 1996, Phyllis Miller, 70, left Needham, a Boston suburb, for Cotuit, Mass., where she had been vacationing since the 1950s. Her husband had died in 1988, and Miller continued to work as a financial manager at a Boston hospital. After it merged with another hospital, she took early retirement and sold her Needham home. "I knew I could not afford to keep two houses on my retirement income," she says.

While the Luftigs were treated as newcomers, Miller had become a Cotuit insider long before she moved there full-time. Her home is in town, where she associates daily with other 12-month residents. "I already knew the locals at the library and the stores," she says. "I was a member of the garden club, and I had attended the local church for many years."

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She says that "the winter months here are as full as you like to have them," noting the cinema that shows new foreign films, the courses she takes at a lifelong learning center and her Wednesday bridge game.

Take a Winter Test Run

Fred Roven, a real estate agent in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., has retiree clients who buy vacation homes with the idea of moving into them year round. At 61, Roven is similar in age to many of them. He moved to the island 14 years ago after managing a home-furnishing chain in Fairfield County, Conn.

Retirees who are thinking of moving full-time to their summer home should first spend "some time out of season to get a feel for the surroundings," Roven says. Seven miles from Cape Cod, the Vineyard is often inaccessible during the winter.

As the population declines to 13,000 in winter from a summer high of 105,000, restaurants and service businesses close. Roven's advice to newcomers: Get involved in group activities or social projects.

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Even the most diehard year-round vacation-spot residents need to travel at times. Miller often visits her son and grandchildren, who live 90 minutes away in the Boston suburbs. And for a real vacation, there is Boston's Logan International Airport, the jumping-off point for winter in the sun on Florida's Sanibel Island.