Sunday, July 27, 2008

Can't afford a mountain home? A ski lease may be the way to go.

Before children we skied nearly every weekend during the winter. We went to all the resorts surrounding Lake Tahoe. We took trips to Utah, Colorado, etc.. We free skied...we did recreational racing. We skied enough we had a rotation schedule for new gear. We were young and the California housing market was peaking, so just owning our primary residence was a big step for us. And we were younger and didn't mind getting up before sunrise and driving 2 hours to catch first chair.

But now we have two small children. One who started tackling the blues at the end of last season and the later stood and walked on skis about three times last season. We are excited to be introducing the children to this sport we love, but these little people have sleep schedules and feeding schedules to attend to. How do we balance that, their learning the sport, our our needs for fresh powder, first tracks, and newly laid corduroy. How do we meet every one's needs without having the funds or really even the desire to own a second home in the mountains?

Ski Lease or sometimes referred to as a seasonal rental.

This is exactly what it sounds like. You rent or lease someone else' property for the season...generally 4 or 5 months. These can be houses, condos, town homes, etc.. Generally these are located through property management companies. It is a middle man basically between you and the owners. They take care of showing the property, drawing up the contract, collecting and distributing money (including some utilities), and the go to for moving into the property, any issues while there, and moving out of the property. These companies generally take a percentage of the rent to pay their services. However, you can also find properties being offered directly from the owner. It's more work for the owner and you want to ensure everything is still very business-like in contracts, etc, but it costs them and therefore potentially you less money as there is no middle man to pay. Craig's List and Vacation Rentals by Owner are two popular sites to find properties being offered by the owner directly.

Literally this past Friday we went to Tahoe and with a property management agent looked at several properties and placed a deposit on one. This is after beginning our search via the Internet right after the July 4th holiday. So I thought it would be a good time to share some things we considered when looking for a property and having small children...oh and a dog.
  • Timing: Property owners generally start listing after the July 4 holiday. The heavy booking period is from then until ~Labor Day. If you need a pet-friendly property you want to look early and quickly. These tend to be few and go fast. And many of us with small children followed that old tradition...try a dog before children. So we have a dog.
  • Location: With small children proximity to the hill is very important. Due to those nap, feeding, etc schedules the ability for parents to trade off or roll-out when a melt-down starts is very important. Last year we were lucky and could walk to the hill in 10minutes...this year we can drive there in a couple of minutes and also have a shuttle stop 3 doors down. Also careful of the topography of the place you choose...will it be treacherous either driving in or out or getting the children into or out of the house.
  • Amenities: Laundry, Proper amount and layout of bedrooms (we like multiple levels to put the children away from the high traffic or socialization areas for sleeping), microwave, safety with regards to lay-out or design (i.e. open lofts). Honestly...look at it as if it was your home as you will be spending a huge amount of time there during the winter season. Last year we spent 3o nights...and we are guessing 40+ days between Dec1 and the end of April at our lease.
  • Price: Generally the price quoted only covers the rent. You will need to ask about other bills...utilities, snow removal, cable/phone, security deposit, etc.. Also ask about payments schedules...month to month, all upfront, 2x during lease period. Also any processing fees. For example generally a credit report is required in the application process and will run you about $25. Another way to help your budget is to get another family to join you. This year we are excited to be sharing a lease with some good friends who have a small child.

So if you were a huge skier before children you can still do it with small children without paying a second mortgage. You still obviously need to budget and save for a ski lease. But for our family who do a lot of traveling and enjoy our primary residence during the other seasons of the year it makes sense for us to have a ski lease. And by getting on it early we got a dog-friendly home that met all or our requirements and our budget and we can return to enjoying the remainder of our summer knowing we have a place to lay our little ones heads when the snow begins to fly.

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