Home by the slopes Attraction: Buyer's and seller's markets for vacation ski and lakefront homes are just a few hours' drive from Baltimore in Western Maryland and Pennsylvania.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bob White wants you to buy his vacation home.

It's near a lake and a ski resort. But alas, his family doesn't need it anymore - hasn't since he first put it on the market six years ago. But the Poconos are flooded with 4,000 other vacation homes competing for the buyer's attention. And so, he waits.

"I'd like to get rid of it, but I'm not willing to take a huge loss," said White, whose six-bedroom house is listed at $129,000.

Supply and demand for second homes in the Poconos, although more extreme, is no different than other major ski resort areas within 200 miles of Baltimore. So, if you ever dreamed about owning that little chalet with the sparkling fireplace overlooking the slopes, now just might be the time.

"A house a year or two ago that would have sold at $145,000 might only be worth $125,000 because there are so many houses on the market that are being sold at a lower price," said Patt Potter, an agent with Century 21 Ruggiero of Blakeslee, Pa. "If enough people sell at a lower price just to get out, it affects the whole market."

Potter and other Realtors say the '80s were a wonderful time to be in real estate. Many people were building and buying. Then the '90s came along and the term "downsizing" entered people's vocabularies, making them afraid to extend themselves. But now, they say - they pray - the market is coming back.

"We're back to less [business] than what we were before, but it's not dramatic like it was in those five years [1990-1995]," said Dottie Taber, a Realtor with Pocono Mountain Real Estate.

Though there may be an avalanche of homes in the Big Boulder area, the same can't be said for three other areas: Wisp Four Seasons Resort in Garrett County; Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, Pa.; and Ski Liberty ski area in Carroll Valley, Pa.

Vacation homes near Wisp seem to be holding steady in value. In the last 10 years, sales have picked up as more second-home buyers travel from the Baltimore-Washington area. In fact, the area has become so upscale that, in November, it listed its first million-dollar home.

Figures from the Garrett County Board of Realtors show there were 61 lakefront properties sold in 1996, 10 more than in 1995.

According to Realtors, prime lakefront lots have jumped from $80,000 to $235,000 in a decade, and lakefront homes from $250,000 to as high as $775,000 last summer.

"It's still a seller's market because properties are holding their value," according to Larry Nesline, a Realtor with A&A; Realty/Better Homes & Gardens. "It's not a depressed market."

The housing market at The Villages at Seven Springs on the grounds of the Seven Springs Mountain Resort appears to be the healthiest of all the ski resort areas within 200 miles of Baltimore. Supply is meeting demand.

Ken Plummer of Chambersburg, Pa., calls Seven Springs the best ski resort, by far, in the mid-Atlantic states.

Plummer owns two properties at The Villages. In 1988 he bought a furnished condo for $128,000 and immediately put it in the rental pool. But it was being rented so often they couldn't use it themselves and decided to buy a townhouse a year later for their own use. He said the condo is like having a savings account, because the worst he does every year is break even.

"I've researched all over the country and most of them don't break even," Plummer said. "[For] most of them the numbers don't work; you have to subsidize them."

If you want the slopes right outside your door all year long, the closest ski area is Ski Liberty, 90 minutes from Baltimore near Gettysburg, Pa.

Although still a vacation-home and four-season area, in the last 10 years it has become a primary residence for people who work in Baltimore or Frederick and want to get more house for the

dollar, plus save on taxes.

It's a buyer's market in this area as well.

Charles Dalton, owner of Century 21/Mountain View Realty, said newer homes are moving quicker than older homes. Most buyers are younger, first-time buyers.

"There's a large inventory of homes and there's a choice for people. [The older homes are] very competitive with the newer homes and because of that they can't demand the higher prices," Dalton said.

Charlie Frederick recently bought in the area because of lower real estate prices and taxes, and for its resort-like atmosphere. He and his wife, Kathy, are teachers in Carroll County and don't mind the commute to work.

In the summer they spend their time at their second home, a cottage on Deep Creek Lake near Wisp. They say they have "the best of both worlds."

"The reason it appealed to us here is it's actually very much like Garrett County," Charlie Frederick said. "Our friends, when they come to visit, often say this is like living at Deep Creek Lake, only 2 hours closer."

Frederick said his second home at Wisp has appreciated 30 percent in the last 10 years, but that is secondary to the reason he keeps the property.

"Spending time there is an investment in ourselves and the quality of our lives," Frederick said. "The fulfillment that we get from time with friends and family there can't be measured economically, but we know that it has paid a great return for us."

The good news, for people who want to buy, is there is healthy rental market out there that will help new owners meet their expenses, while allowing them to enjoy their property at least two weeks a year.

While Bob White has been waiting for his vacation home by the Big Boulder Ski Resort in the Poconos to sell these last six years, he hasn't allowed it to sit empty. He's renting it to vacationers. He tried renting it on his own but couldn't make enough money doing it himself. Now he contracts with Pocono Mountain Real Estate to sell his home and act as its rental manager.

"Seasonal rentals work out really well, but you have to have a Realtor who will mother-hen the property around," White said. He added that the company "treats it like their own property and they just send me checks every so often."

Ned Perry couldn't be happier with his investment. He bought a $305,000 four-bedroom home in 1992 on Deep Creek Lake at Wisp. Last year, he rented it out enough to meet his expenses, plus a $1,000 profit.

"It was always a dream to have a second home for my family," Perry said. "I thought it was going to be a beach house because we had one when I was growing up. But when I saw Deep Creek it reminded me of New England and growing up, and therefore became my dream when I saw it. I didn't know it was possible down here."

Perry and his wife originally bought the place as a hideaway where they could ski and relax. But then they had three children in three years and couldn't always make the 2-hour trip from their Rockville home.

So they put the property in the Coldwell Banker Deep Creek Lake rental program, which earns them $1,000 a week in the winter and $1,800 a week in the summer, before an 18 percent management fee and cleaning expenses. The home is usually booked for six of approximately 10 ski weekends this year.

"Paying 18 percent of rents and being billed for cleaning is so worth it," Perry said. "It's turned into a really neat investment for us. We had no idea when we bought it that there would be this much demand for it."

Perry, president of First Republic Mortgage, and a former Realtor, said the Deep Creek Lake and Wisp ski area is one of the best places for investing in a second home in Maryland because it draws people in winter and summer. He advises against investing in just a ski area if you're relying on rent to help meet expenses. And the agency selling it and managing it must be of the highest quality, he said.

Buying a single-family home on the lake and close to the slopes remain the most important factors in ensuring that an investment property will not only rent, but retain resale value, according to Gail Reed, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Deep Creek Realty.

"I believe that your resale options are better with a single-family home because there are so many condominiums here now that are on the market," Reed said. "Condos aren't moving as quickly."

Erland Heginbotham, of Potomac, owns two properties near Wisp and can attest to the results of the condo craze. He said it's affecting what rental income he can bring in and the appreciation of his condominium, which he bought in 1989 on Deep Creek Lake.

His other property, a 1930s log cabin on Beckman's Peninsula, on Deep Creek Lake, was purchased in 1976. It, however, has risen in value. The cabin is worth 2 times what he paid for it. It's paid off and it's still bringing in money through the rental program, he said. And he gets to use it two weeks a year or when it's not being rented.

Buying a home near a ski resort can be an emotional decision. Bob White will tell you it shouldn't be. Emotions propelled him to buy the six-bedroom vacation home in the Poconos for his family - the same one that is lost in the sea of others competing in the crowded resale market.

His recommendation is to make sure potential buyers have the financial wherewithal to support a property. That means preplanning for the worst-case scenario - no income.

"If you think you're hot stuff, you're going to fall off your bicycle," White said. "You can't eat a door frame. If you want to eat part of your house, you better be a termite. There is no such thing as a partial liquidation on a house."

A comparison: What you need to get in

WISP FOUR SEASONS RESORT

The following are home-cost comparisons based on examples of what you might pay for a home on Deep Creek Lake near the Wisp ski slopes in McHenry. Figures supplied by Coldwell Banker Deep Creek Realty of McHenry.

Single-family home

For a lakefront, contemporary, three-bedroom, 2,100-square-foot single-family home that is part of a condo development near the ski area:

Cost: $289,000

Financing: With 20 percent down on a 30-year fixed mortgage at 8 percent, an approximate monthly payment of principle and interest would be $1,700.

Taxes: $2,700 a year

Association fee: $100 a month

Potential gross rental income: $20,000 to $25,000 a year. (Subtract 18 percent for management fee, plus any other expenses, such as cleaning and repairs.)

Condominium

For a two-bedroom condo on Deep Creek Lake, next to Wisp ski slopes:

Cost: $115,000 to $120,000

Financing: With 20 percent down on a 30-year fixed mortgage at 8 percent, an approximate monthly payment of principle and interest would be $675.

Taxes: $1,200 a year

Association fee: $120 a month

Gross rental income: Average is $11,600 a year. (Subtract 18 percent management fee, plus any other expenses, such as cleaning and repairs.)

Rentals: There's a diverse selection, everything from the basic cabin tucked into the woods to a newly built home. You can pay as low as $425 to sleep six for a week in season, which is summer, or you can pay as much as $2,200 a week to rent a lakefront home with six bedrooms that sleeps 13.

SEVEN SPRINGS

The following is an estimate of what a buyer might pay for a 10-year-old condominium with three bedrooms, three baths and a loft at The Villages at Seven Springs on the ski slopes. Figures supplied by Kettler Forlines Resort Homes.

Condominium

Cost: $195,000

Financing: With 20 percent down and on a 30-year fixed mortgage at 8 percent, the monthly payment of principle and interest would be $1,145.

Master association dues: $145 per month, includes cable television, other amenities.

Condominium association dues: $50 per month, includes firewood, among other services.

Net rental income: Average is $12,185 a year.

Management fee: 30 percent of gross, cleaning included.

Rentals: For two nights at Mountain Villa and Swiss Mountain at Seven Spring -- 1 bedroom is $430; 2 bedrooms, $625; 3 bedrooms, $825; 4 bedrooms, $950. For two nights at The Villages -- 1 bedroom, $485; 2 bedrooms, $680; 3 bedrooms, $925; 4 bedrooms, $1,135. Renters can buy a ski package that includes skiing and lodging.

THE BIG TWO RESORTS

A buyer of a 14-year-old three-bedroom townhouse on Big Boulder Lake next to the ski slopes might expect the following. Figures supplied by The Big Two Resorts.

Cost: $134,900

Financing: With 20 percent down and a 30-year fixed mortgage at 8 percent, monthly payments of principle and interest would ++ be $806.

Association fee: $159 per month, includes maintaining grounds, exterior of building, watch patrol, road maintenance and firewood.

Lake Mountain Club (optional): $400 per year, includes use of lake, boating, swimming, fishing, tennis courts, walking and bike trails and pool.

Condominium

To buy a 1986 two-bedroom condominium on Big Boulder Lake next to the ski slopes, a buyer might expect:

Cost: $129,000

Financing: With 20 percent down ($25,800) on a 30-year fixed mortgage at 8 percent, monthly payments of principle and interest would be $770.

Association dues: $165 per month, includes insurance and upkeep of building, maintaining grounds, Midlake pool and Jacuzzi, watch patrol and firewood.

Lake Mountain club: $400 per year (optional), includes use of lake, boating, swimming, fishing, tennis courts, walking and bike trails and pool.

Net rental income: Average $8,000 per year.

Management fee for rentals: 45 percent of gross, includes housekeeping, linens, supplies, advertising and discount ski tickets to renters.

Rentals: A two-bedroom condominium or townhouse (sleeps six) $170 per night, for a three-night weekend. A three-bedroom (sleeps 8) is $280 per night. Renters can purchase a package that includes skiing and lodging.

SKI LIBERTY

The following is an estimate of what a buyer might pay for a 7-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bath rancher that's within minutes from ski slopes. Figures supplied by Century 21/ Mountain View Realty.

Single-family home

Cost: $105,000

Financing: With 5 percent down and on a 30-year fixed mortgage 8 percent, the monthly payment of principle and interest would be $731. County township taxes are $450 per year. School tax is $1,100.

Association dues: None.

Net rental income: Not applicable.

Pub Date: 2/09/97

TC

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