Second Life

Wall Street Journal
Own Magazine
September 2010

With mortgage prices at record lows and vacation home prices ready to soar, it's time to stop dreaming and start shopping for a second home.

Dupont Circle residents Tim Ayers and Christine Smith have long been dividing their time between the city and a weekend retreat. First there was the condo in Ocean City, now there are ten bucolic acres in Sperryville, Virginia with a view of Old Rag Mountain.

Beach vs the mountains? "You don't go to Ocean City for tranquility," he says. "We finally liked the mountains better. It's extraordinarily beautiful."

The couple, "I'm in PR, she's in HR," he quips, are part of an expanding pocket of city that have discovered this western smidge of Virginia, just a  couple of hours from downtown D.C., where people often live on plots the size  of small towns.

"I married into Rappahannock County," says Aires, who easily fell in with Christine's custom of spending holidays with a friend who owned  a weekend home in the area. Three years ago they found an affordable place of their own--and are now anticipating retirement. "I'm going to get Christine a chicken," he says with a grin.  

If you're getting serious about a second home but don't haven't the advantage of friends in fine places letting you marinate in the culture before making your move -- an exploratory opportunity is coming right up.

"A lot of people start out thinking 'we know we want to get away from 495 but beyond that?'" says David Robertson, president of Live South Real Estate Expo, which will be  bringing an array of luxury living exhibitors from the southern states  and the Caribbean to the Hilton Hotel in McLean on Saturday and Sunday, September 25th and 26th.

Between exhibitors and seminars, "We help you narrow your priorities," he says, "to chose a place as well as a type of property -- a condo or house on an ocean or lake, within a community or outside."

The Landings is one of them. 

Short of a Cessna, a home in Savannah might seem an unrealistic weekend retreat-- but for vacations, winter stays, and retirement there are few places that can compete with its mix of mossy romance, flamboyant history, cultural sophistication--and a pearly beach on the Gulf of Mexico. 

Just 12 miles from the historic center of the city, this 6500 acre gated community of 4000 homes offers full resort amenities, including six golf courses, 34 tennis courts, a 48,000 square foot fitness and health center, and marinas.

The Landings is "a small town--not a  homogeneous retirement community. There are 1000 kids, " says company president Bill Houghton. Like small towns everywhere, there are a variety of neighborhoods and a broad price range. "You have upscale retirees buying and building million dollar homes," he says, "and young people from Savannah moving in and rehabbing homes built in the 1980s."

For many, the financial stability of The Landings holds particular appeal. "We've been around for 36 years and are not owned by a developer," says Houghton. "The real estate and the club are owned by the home owners' association, there's no debt, and there's millions in reserve funds to do renovations. You don't have to worry that five years down the road the developer goes out of business with the clubhouse unfinished.

The Live South Expo will also feature the renowned Reynolds Plantation in Greene Country, Georgia, a spectacular haven seventy-five miles outside of Atlanta with six golf courses, a marina, walking trails, superb dining and shopping, and a Ritz Carlton hotel on site.

Representatives from The Peninsula, on Delaware's Indian River Bay, will also be present with information about this country club community, its Jack Nicholas golf course, array of resort facilities, and residential styles ranging from condominiums to custom homes.

"If you're looking for a preretirement place, it's pretty tempting," says Paul Bishop, vice president of research for the National Association of Realtors. "The vacation market has bottomed out and is beginning to recover."

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