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Home sweet (second) home

by Debra Gelbart on Jun 5, 2015

Investing in a second home in Northern Arizona can be a great way to prepare for retirement in a cooler climate, enjoy four seasons or gather extended family together during the hottest months in the Valley. 

“It’s nice to be able to bring your family to your home up north for a holiday weekend where the weather is so inviting,” said Denise Warfield, a Realtor in Phoenix who, along with her husband David, bought a second home in Talking Rock in Prescott in 2010. Talking Rock is a 24-hour guard-gated golf course community that opened in 2002. New-home prices today start in the mid-$400s with many of Talking Rock’s buyers coming from Phoenix, Tucson, Palm Springs and cities in Oregon. 

Crisp fresh air, the great outdoors

The outdoors and crisp fresh air are both a huge attraction in Flagstaff and Prescott — in fact, the American Lung Association has declared that Prescott has the cleanest air in America for year-round particle pollution.

“We also have wonderful hiking on the Prescott Peavine National Recreational Trail and kayaking on Watson Lake,” said Sam Dumas, a real estate agent with Windermere Real Estate of Northern Arizona. Dumas helps prospective buyers find homes in the Prescott and Flagstaff areas. 

Fabulous four-season climate

For folks who enjoy a true four-season climate, Flagstaff is ideal, said Deana Keck, vice president of community development for Pine Canyon, a luxury golf community that began selling real estate in Flagstaff in 2002.

Whether for skiing in the winter — the Arizona Snowbowl is just 25 minutes from Pine Canyon — or for appreciating 78-degree weather in the summer months, “Flagstaff is a great place to create a family legacy and Pine Canyon offers a diversity of real estate products from custom home-sites to custom homes to townhomes and condominiums,” Keck said. Homes at Pine Canyon start at $599,000.

Who’s buying?

“At least 50 percent of my transactions are with buyers who are out of our immediate area,” Dumas said. About half of the home purchases she facilitates are for second residences, she added.

“It is still possible to buy an upscale home or condo in Northern Arizona for under $300,000 that continues to appreciate in value,” Dumas said, noting that one of the biggest differences between Prescott and the Phoenix area is the sheer volume of new-home communities from which to choose.

“Up to 18 miles outside Prescott’s city limits, you can choose from communities that are located either in the pines or in flatter areas and many are filled with amenities,” she said. Some communities offer home-sites only and have lists of designated or recommended custom homebuilders, while others offer high-end production homes, sometimes on oversize lots, Dumas said.

The largest homebuilder in Northern Arizona is Dorn Homes which offers homes from the high $190s to $1 million in nine neighborhoods in Prescott, Prescott Valley and Sedona, said Jim Gunby, vice president of sales, marketing and acquisitions for the company. 

“We have two kinds of second-home buyers,” Gunby said. Some buyers may live in the Midwest for eight months out of the year and come to Arizona for the other four months, he explained, or buyers nearing retirement age who live for most of the year in the Phoenix area want to see how they like living in Northern Arizona in anticipation of possibly moving there full-time.

“We call those transitional buyers,” Gunby said. “If they own their current home free and clear, they can take advantage of low mortgage interest rates for their second home but pay off that mortgage if they decide to sell their current home.”

Making the right choices

Choosing a builder — whether a custom builder or a production builder — should be a careful process, Dumas said. Check with the state Registrar of Contractors to see if there are any outstanding complaints against a builder, she advised. Warfield suggested asking residents who already live in the community you’re interested in if they’re happy with their builder and then research builders’ reputations online. 

When deciding which community would be best for your lifestyle, you may want to choose one that offers a variety of amenities such as a pool, fitness center, golf course, hiking and biking trails, dog park, tennis courts and a restaurant within the community, suggested Jim Jones, director of sales for Talking Rock. “It’s easy to make friends through these amenities,” Jones said, “and through social activities that a community may offer.” For example at Talking Rock, residents’ dogs can compete in a ‘doggie derby’ race and residents enjoy watching their dogs visit with each other at a weekly ‘yappy hour’.

If you’re considering buying a home-site where you’ll build a custom home, Warfield advises making sure the size of the home you choose to build fits your lifestyle. “If the home is too large,” she said, “maintenance and upkeep can be more challenging, especially during the months you’re not living there.” 

However, Gunby said that maintaining a residence when you’re not there doesn’t have to be burdensome. Some homeowners ask neighbors to check on their homes periodically, others hire professionals, and some, especially if they live in the Phoenix area like Warfield, drive up regularly to maintain their homes themselves.

Before buying a second home, “picture how you want to live,” Warfield said. “Are the views important to you? How important is the floor plan? How much do you value privacy? These are all questions to think about before you buy a second home.”

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