How To Buy A Vacation Home On Hilton Head – Tips From The Experts

Make Owning A Hilton Head Vacation Home Easier

Another peak vacation season has passed here on Hilton Head, and many island visitors drive home dreaming of their next vacation – enjoying more of the Lowcountry charm that Hilton Head is famous for. A common question we get as a local Island resource is, “How can I buy a vacation home on Hilton Head?” It’s a great question! And now that interest rates are low, home prices are on the rise, the economy is progressing, and general consumer confidence is growing, it has never been a better time to buy a vacation home on Hilton Head Island or anywhere for that matter!

There’s no shortage of advice online when it comes to buying a second home or vacation home and it’s easy to see why it can be a wise investment both to your finances and your family unit. However, it’s not all “peaches and cream” where a vacation home is concerned, so we asked five local real estate experts from the Hilton Head area their advice on buying a second home and what pitfalls to avoid or other factors that can sneak up on you. When it comes to owning vacation property on Hilton Head, here is some great first hand experience which could help turn your dream into reality.

With the real estate market making normal corrections over the last few years, home prices are once again in-line with local values and consumer demand. In a nutshell, we are back to buying property at “fair-market” prices. In addition to the easing of financing guidelines and low mortgage rates, owning a vacation home is now “back on the table” to a wider range of prospective buyers. Factor in the explosion of vacation rental opportunities such as VRBO, Airbnb, and more, cash flowing a vacation home is easier than ever.

1. Get A Property Inspection Before You Buy

The first local expert we turned to was Brad Tholen with Horizon Home Inspections. His company has been performing pre- and post-sale home inspections in the Hilton Head area for a very long time. Brad likes to point out that a home inspection is an objective view of a property from a structural and mechanical vantage. His tidbit may seem obvious at first, but can really make or break your purchase down the road. Choose your home inspector wisely.

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“The skill and knowledge of home inspectors varies widely. A relatively sure sign that your home inspector is qualified, not just licensed and insured, is how long the company has been in business within the market that you are looking to purchase.”

“An inspector who has worked in the same market for many years has the advantage of getting to know the local builders, both the good ones and bad ones. Furthermore, long local experience will teach the inspector what to look for in homes of varying ages, the effect of the local climate, and the nuances of different communities. In the end, do you want the new kid on the block inspecting one of the biggest purchases you may make?”

2. Budget For Repairs And Upgrades

When we posed the question to Rick Clanton with Group 3 Design, he didn’t hesitate with a wealth of guidance and things to watch out for, but perhaps his best advice was, “Resist the temptation to do to much!” With numerous awards, including a National Home Of The Year, Rick knows what he’s talking about. Specifically, if the home you are purchasing “works” as it is, you can just freshen it up and focus on a few details. Most sellers will do some minor cosmetics to get a house ready to sell, but this usually is superficial, “eye candy.” You should be prepared to do a little work after closing.

Rick had some practical areas to look out for, noting the harsh sun and high humidity we deal with here on Hilton Head. “It’s a rare home in the Lowcountry that doesn’t have a little rot somewhere. Try to repair wood rot as soon as possible and make sure to budget for new paint and caulking. The caulking is a key component in protecting your home from moisture. Another item that is overlooked is your duct work. If you are replacing HVAC units, replace the ducting at the same time. Inexpensive and old ducts can never really be cleaned adequately.”

3. Think About The Off-Season

The great thing about asking experts for their advice is that you get a pointer you may not have thought about. That was the case when we spoke to Peter Moersen with Lowcountry Coastal Rentals.  Peter is a vacation rental specialist located here on Hilton Head. Peter’s big eye opener to us was to think beyond the normal vacation season and contemplate how you will use the property the rest of the year. Here is what he had to say about renting your home:

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“If you are considering making your property a rental unit from the beginning, we recommend that you look beyond the summer season and factor in your personal use of the home along with the rent-ability of the property in the winter season. Because the demand is lower in the off-season, longer term guests have plenty of properties to choose from and usually end up renting more space than they would in other times of the year. Attracting guests in the winter months is going to be heavily dependent on the offered amenities and proximity to the ocean. Lastly, don’t overlook decor.  The quality of the furniture and decorating can be a deciding factor for many renters, particularly in the off-season when the rental market can be flush with choices.

4. Have A Plan For Emergencies

 “An empty house always springs a leak!”, this was the sage advice we got from Ike Callaway with The House Butler is the top home watch company on Hilton Head Island. As one of Hilton Head Island premiere absentee owner and home watch services, Ike had a unique perspective on the perils of leaving a home unattended. When your vacation home is more than a few hours away, it’s always a good idea to have someone local look in on your recent investment.

“If you are more than 3 hours away from your second home, it’s vital to have a professional property manager make regular inspections of your home. Imagine if your dishwasher line starts leaking and you don’t find out for 2 or 3 months? Think of the damage that can be done during that time. Also, empty homes are a prime target. Consistent visits can deter criminals and give the impression that the home is not seasonal. And lastly, a home watch service can follow up on contractors, landscapers, and assist in deliveries when you’re not available.”

5. Embrace New Technology

New home technologies are evolving every year. Some are superfluous, some are just a convenience, and some can truly make owning a vacation home a breeze. We love how easy it is to control thermostats from a phone or check who’s at the door! Ron Angner with Play Custom Home Technology is the top home theater company on Hilton Head. They specialize in home automation, motorized blinds and shades, and home theaters, among other amazing things.

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“The majority of our clients own a second home or vacation home here on Hilton head, so we see first hand what becomes important when a client is managing their property from afar. Having control of HVAC, lighting, and a few security cameras goes a long way towards peace of mind when your property visits only occur a few times a year. Being able to look at your phone and monitor your home with a few choice security cameras is invaluable. Many of our automation packages allow you to even control access to your property via wireless door locks. You can tell exactly who’s at your home, what time, and for how long. It makes letting in the plumber or painter as easy as a swipe on your smart device.”

6. Think About Taxes, Expenses, And Income

Of course the first thing that might come to mind when we talk about a second home is whether your will rent your property. There are tons of pros and cons, and the answer can be different for each homeowner, but for a reliable answer we went to Steve Janning with HH Island Rentals. Steve manages many long term rentals on Hilton Head and brought up a few key points.

“Many people plan to rent their property to offset the investment, but often don’t realize all the hidden expense a second property can harbor. Taxes are higher, insurance is higher, and most Hilton Head properties have POA / Association dues. Then you have all the added expense of the actual renting of the property, listing fees, management fees, cleaning fees, and more. Choosing the right property from the start will go a long way in seeing a return on your investment. This is where a realtor who sells a lot of rental property can steer you out of trouble.”

Owning a vacation home on Hilton Head has never been easier and the Island offers so many options for buyers. Whether you are looking for an income producing property, a private second residence, or a vacation home that can be rented during the peak season, you can find it here in the Lowcountry. Having the facts and a team of professionals ready to assist you can make any of the above options an easy reality.

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They keys to having a stress-free “home away from home” are: planning before you buy, thinking about how you intend to use the property, and having the right team in place for your needs before and after closing. This is why it’s always sage advice to use a local real estate professional.

Blair Witkowski
Author: Blair Witkowski

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