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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker

HOME AWAY by Malia Rulon Herman

How some local families are living the dream both here and afar.

At home in Asbury Park

Meg and Rich Whalen wanted to vacation at a beach with a vibrant live music scene. Ricky Cortez loves sailing and has always dreamed of owning a house on a lake with a sailboat. Lisa Landers and her family fell in love with the broad beaches of an island off the coast of Florida.

These Maplewood families all have one thing in common: They have taken a leap of faith in the last year and purchased a vacation home.

What if you could own your own piece of paradise? Would you buy a cabin in the woods or an airy beach house on the shore? As summer vacations kick into high gear, we asked these SOMA residents for some tips on buying that second home.

At home in Asbury Park
The Whalens like the convenience and proximity of Asbury Park to Maplewood.

The Whalens have two boys, aged 5 and 7, and although the days are long, the years seem to be slipping by quickly. With their youngest headed to kindergarten in the fall, Meg Whalen found herself dreaming about a family getaway – a place to make memories, a home base, a project for her to work on while the kids are at school.

“I had been holding onto this idea of a home in Asbury Park since about 2012, after spending a night in Asbury to see a show at the Stone Pony,” she explains, adding that she had been watching real estate in Asbury Park ever since, and realized it was now or never.

“The idea of the beach and music in one spot, just a quick ride down the Garden State Parkway sold me,” she says; with no traffic, she can get from her Maplewood home to her Asbury Park residence in less than an hour.

Once you’re there, she adds, you can park your car for the whole stay.

“We walk and bike or scooter to the beach and to all the best restaurants, shops and music venues in town,” she says. “There’s live music just blocks away every night throughout the entire year.”

Whalen says buying a house – a four-bedroom retreat just four blocks off the bustling Asbury Park boardwalk – has been a learning experience. There are permits to secure, renters to please, and details to take care of that keep her busy. But the payoff is being able to spend magical weekends in Asbury Park with her family.

“It’s a lot of work to set up a home and, like a first home, there’s no end to the to-do list. But I’m highly motivated by the belief that when my boys leave the nest, a house at the beach will keep them coming back to visit dear old mom,” Whalen says.

Meg enjoys time with her boys at the beach, even when it's chilly.
Meg enjoys time with her boys at the beach, even when it's chilly.

A ski chalet in the winter or lake home in the summer

Ricky Cortez didn’t go on many family vacations as a kid. Now, living in Maplewood with his husband, Anthony Zuco, and their two children, a son aged 5 and a daughter aged 7, he started thinking about how he could give them the experiences he never had – while also making a living.

“We wanted to add value to our family and at the same time create a job for me,” Cortez says, explaining that they started looking at vacation homes to buy about a year ago.

“We go up to the Poconos every couple of years so we knew the area,” he said. “Then, when we started looking at real estate, and the cute little homes and stuff to do, we discovered that there were activities all year round.”

Lake Naomi in the Poconos.
Ricky Cortez and Anthony Zuco purchased their "Mt. Maplewood Lodge" at Lake Naomi in the Poconos.

Cortez said they chose to buy a cozy chalet on Lake Naomi – their “Mt. Maplewood Lodge” has five bedrooms and sleeps 15 – because of the rental opportunities a large home provides, as well as the amenities that come with owning at a premier lake community.

“I can’t describe what it means to me, being able to take my kids to this 277-acre lake community with sail boating and canoeing and kayaking,” Cortez says. “That is stuff that I never thought I would get to do.”

He adds that skiing at nearby Camelback Mountain has also been a new experience for his family. “I had never skied myself until this year. It seems like a different world, a dream.”

A family’s ‘happy place’ on Anna Maria Island

For Lisa Landers and her husband, Shaun, the idea of buying their second home started on a vacation to Anna Maria Island, a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast that is known for beautiful beaches and quaint streets lined with shops, galleries and eateries.

“We had fallen in love with Anna Maria Island the first time we went there and decided it might make sense for us to own an income property there that we could use, too,” Landers said, explaining that they researched rental income in the area and what they needed to make each year to make it worthwhile.

Anna Maria Island in Florida
The Landers bought this income property at one of their favorite places: Anna Maria Island in Florida.

“It had to be an economically- driven decision,” she says. “Our goal is to break even and gain equity in the house, but if we end up being profitable in a few years, we’ll take it.”

They settled on a two-bedroom, 2½-bath condo, perfect for small families and located in the quiet Holmes Beach area. They plan to head down on spur-of-the-moment trips when they have breaks in rentals, ideally three or four times a year.

Lisa and Shaun Landers, Anna Maria Island
Lisa and Shaun Landers fell in love with Anna Maria Island from the start.

“All of us are happiest when we are down there,” Landers says. “It’s given us the opportunity to escape the madness for a little bit.”

Thinking about buying your own vacation/summer home? Here’s some advice from our local vacation home experts:

Buy a place that will appeal to renters all year round

  • Whalen said that’s one reason why they chose Asbury Park. “By choosing a town that has so much going on throughout the year, not just the summer months, we hope to have the opportunity to offer it as a rental for a longer window,” she explains.

Location, location, location

  • Being able to rent a vacation home means paying attention to things that matter to vacationers, such as walkability and being close to the beach. “If it’s an income property, the same rules apply as with your primary residence: location is key and do your homework,” says Landers.

Decide if you are buying the home for an investment or for personal enjoyment

  • “That was the hardest part for us,” Cortez confesses. “But once you decide, that will impact where you buy and the size of the place that you buy because smaller places don’t make as much money. Then, if you are thinking about it from an investment strategy, you need to think about how can I market this? How can I make my place stand up above all the rest?”

Be creative with your marketing

  • Whalen is trying flash sales as well as discounted pricing for SOMA residents through the SOMA General Store. Cortez is experimenting with offering special add-ons, such as a linen service, food shopping, a private chef and massage therapy.

Malia Rulon Herman lives in Maplewood with her family. If she were to purchase a vacation/second home, it would be in Hawaii, Spain or Ocean City, NJ.


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