What You Need to Know Before Buying A Second Home in the Mountains


A small mountain cabin in California.
A vacation cabin in the woods - Photo by Jennifer Gutierrez

So you want to buy a remote mountain cabin in the woods? Has there ever been a better time to retreat to the mountains? Personally, I think it’s always a good time. With COVID-19, my hometown has definitely seen the real-estate demand increase significantly. Owning a cabin in the woods is such a picturesque storybook dream. When it becomes actuality, though, it does come with a few harsh realities. Look, I’m not trying to kill your dream. I just want you to be prepared.


Hire a Local Realtor

First off hire a local realtor. Just do it. There are many perks to hiring a local realtor. First, off they understand the community lifestyle and culture. This will give you a major advance as you settle into your new community. An out-of-town realtor won't necessarily have an understanding in things like the construction of mountain homes, cell service and other things you will need to be aware of. Additionally, they will know the area. Mountain homes are often down private roads and GPS services do not work well in these areas. Did I mention that by hiring a local realtor you are also securing local jobs and stimulating the local economy?


Hidden Costs

You probably got a great deal on your new weekend cabin… or maybe you didn’t. Those who live in the city are often surprised by the costs they didn’t expect. I’m going to help you out by giving you a heads-up. One of the first things you will probably realize is that mountain towns often lack conveniences. The businesses that do exist probably have shorter hours of operations than their urban counterparts. Next, let’s talk about grid reliability. It sucks. The Internet is slow. Shipping times are longer. Don’t let the water pipes freeze. The power may just randomly shut off. Snow-plow crews are understaffed. Lastly, heating and cooling the home are often underestimated expenses. But you bought a cabin in the woods to spend more time in nature, right? So enjoy the fresh air (which comes with no hidden costs).


Wildlife

In the city, the animals have to learn to live among humans. In the backcountry, we live among wildlife. The skunks aren't afraid to throw a stink bomb on your day. The spiders overstay their welcome. The mountain lions will drink from your birdbath. Don't worry, I'm half-joking. Point is, when you live in nature, you have to coexist with nature. Honestly, there’s nothing more magical than seeing a deer out your window or hearing the birds sing. I just want you to be aware of this going into the move so you can be prepared and not caught off guard. I have lots of proven tips to help you make this adjustment. You can learn them here.


Regular Property Maintenance

Four-season properties require lots of maintenance. In the spring, the grass will need to be cut multiple times. Bushes must be removed or trimmed off the ground. Dangerous trees will need attending to. Do not wait for a tree to fall to care for it. As winter approaches, buildings need to be ready for precipitation and freezing temperatures. Whether or not the house will be regularly lived in, wildlife-proofing is required. In general, the home should be wildlife-proofed. The best way to stay on top of the maintenance is by being proactive, not reactive.


Local vs. Weekender Status

In small towns, local status is a big deal among the full-time locals, who have an immense sense of pride in their hometown. It’s more than just your residential address. With it comes friendship, trust, a shared connection, and a true sense of community. Other perks may also be included, but you have to be a local to learn about them. To most full-time residents, those who visit the region, even regularly, are known as weekenders, not locals. Why is this? Because weekenders are vacationing from their primary residence. They don’t live in the community they vacation in. Vacationers are guests. This distinction is not held against you. Local status is earned. Full-time residents may give honorary local status to weekenders who are well-liked and very active in the community. Otherwise, one has to become a full-time resident established in the community to be viewed as a local.


The Community Needs You

In small communities like my hometown of Julian, most local groups depend solely upon teams of volunteers to help them do their work. Every short-term vacation rental and weekend cabin means there is one less home occupied by full-time residents contributing to the community. It is wonderful that our hometown is where you choose to vacation. It’s really important to the long-term economic stability of your vacation town, however, that you support the locally owned businesses. If you could spare a few hours to volunteer or make a financial contribution, your generosity will go far. Locally run, grass-roots organizations provide essential services, offer aid to worthy causes, help people in need, and support the community as a whole. Without donations and volunteer hours, this wouldn’t be possible. Being involved in the community also means remaining loyal to local businesses. Shopping locally is so important for the long-term survival of our community, and it’s a great way to show you care about the town.


Driving in the Snow

If you are going to live/vacation in the mountains during winter, first, you need an all-weather vehicle, and second, you need to know how to drive in the snow. You can learn more here.


Small-Town Culture vs. Urban Culture

In small towns, we do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. There’s no need to overreach with crazy accusations about potential motives for the act of kindness. I promise you, it is merely an act of kindness. A big part of the small-town culture is being neighborly, so much so that being neighborly is expected. In a small town, when we pass by anyone, we greet them in one form or another. We are trustworthy. We look out for our neighbors, and they look out for us. In general, people who live in small towns tend to do things more on the traditional side.


Short-Term vs. Long-Term Rentals

Short-term rentals are having major impacts on communities around the globe. In particular, small rural communities are facing a housing shortage, employee storages, a spike in housing costs, and more. In communities like my hometown, new development to address the housing shortage is not an option. I strongly believe in economic freedom. I acknowledge that you have a right to do whatever you wish with your money. I ask that homeowners not go into the business of short-term rentals in rural communities as a way for homeowners to be part of the solution not as an order to restrict freedom. There is a big difference between occasionally renting out a vacation house when the owner is not there and running a full-time accommodation business. Small rural communities heavily depend on active community members to keep the community afloat. If these communities lose their full-time population, workforce, and the charm visitors have come to love there will be no reason to visit in the future. I highly encourage all property owns and residents to get involved in the local community through a combination of volunteering and financial donations. Learn more here (link coming soon).


In Conclusion

The mountain regions have a well-established reputation for being the perfect place to escape the grind. I have no doubt that you will find this to be true. It’s important to point out that your vacation destination is a place many permanently reside in. Don’t forget that common sense is still needed when you are in vacation mode. The items we discussed above can be hurdles, but they also contribute directly to why mountain destinations are so loved.