Gary and Cynthia Shore purchased their 80-acre property in the Boston Hills more than 20 years ago with intention of building a home to move into. But life and careers intervened, and it simply wasn’t practical for their family to leave their centrally located Kenmore home.
“It’s just such a beautiful piece of wooded property, and we loved it so much that we decided we wanted to have recreation property,” Gary Shore explained. “We wanted a place where we could have our own area to do whatever we wanted. We could ride four-wheelers, we could swim in the pond, we could hike, we could shoot a bow.”
Built in 2002, the couple’s 1,350-square-foot, two-story cabin sits at the end of a 750-foot driveway, totally secluded from the road. Inside, the family gathers around the stone fireplace that extends 24 feet from floor to ceiling. The cabin is completely open — save for one private master bedroom — with a kitchen, living and dining area, and lofted bedroom upstairs.
“We have a bass pond on the property that the kids use for swimming, fishing and paddle-boating,” said Shore. “We have beautiful trails and one beautiful stream that runs through the back of the property.
It has waterfalls and it’s a beautiful hiking property. We use it all year long.”
And guests are plentiful. In addition to the couple and their two grown children, extended family and friends visit frequently for birthdays, graduation parties and other celebrations. Best of all, Shore said, is the chance to get away and relax with his family whenever they’d like.
“My wife and I live hectic, busy lives,” he said. “I work in the power plant in Niagara Falls, and it’s loud. Just to have a place to go where it’s quiet and it’s private and to see nature — we have deer walk by, every kind of bird you can imagine. A quiet, natural setting is just priceless.”
While many Western New Yorkers head south for homes in Florida each winter or take vacations every year, others opt for something closer — a second home less than 150 miles away from their first.
From condos in ski country to cabins in the woods to cottages on the beach, they’re all here and, according to those who own them, come with many benefits. Some cite the investment potential and affordability compared with recreation properties in other areas. Others list the chance for privacy and relaxation. But all said they had one primary goal: quality time with family.
“We’re hoping to build family memories,” said James Patterson, a Cheektowaga police sergeant who bought a townhouse in Ellicottville earlier this year with his wife, Diana. “When I grew up, my grandparents had a home on Chautauqua Lake that we used to go to on weekends, and those are some of the best memories I have in my life. I want to build those same kind of memories for my son.”
Patterson was an avid skier as a teenager and rediscovered his love for it last winter. He plans to enroll his son, 5-year-old Brody, in lessons this winter. Conveniently, their new place sits across from HoliMont ski resort and is an easy drive from restaurants, shops, golf courses and other all-season attractions.
“It’s nice to have something that’s under an hour to get to,” said Patterson. “We wanted something we could drive to and check on, but that when you get there you feel like you’re in a whole different world.”
It was the ski slopes and summer activities that attracted Eric Recoon to Ellicottville, too. He and his wife, Sue, co-own a condo at Glen Burn Trail with his sister and brother-in-law. Located within walking distance of the village, the condo mixes rustic and modern features and furnishings, and has two master bedrooms and a second-floor great room adjacent to an open kitchen, wet bar and dining area.
“We relish time spent with family and friends. For years, we rented units in ski areas with extended family for long weekend vacations,” said Recoon, whose primary residence is in Clarence. “We wanted a place for ourselves to be a home away from home. More importantly, we want our kids to feel that same connection borne out of special times with family and friends.”
To help with costs, many people choose to co-own their recreation properties with close family or friends. Sue and Peter Bunting purchased their cabin in Angelica last year with their son and daughter-in-law. Located at the top of a hill, the cabin sits on 20 acres of wooded land, can sleep 12 people comfortably and has a wraparound deck and the “cutest green tin roof you’ve ever seen.”
“When we go there, we kind of leave everything at home,” said Sue Bunting, a retired teacher. “It’s like mini-vacations every weekend, and when you come home, you feel refreshed. It’s good for the psyche.”
When she looks to get away, Kim Whelan heads north to Crystal Beach, Ontario. She grew up spending summers at the beach, so it was only natural for her to bring her children there and, eventually, purchase a second home there. From Memorial Day through September, she spends weekends in Crystal Beach and weekdays at her home in Williamsville.
“I absolutely love spending my summers at the beach and having access to the water,” said Whelan, who works at the Amherst Chamber of Commerce. “This is something I can enjoy for the entire season. If I had purchased a home, say, on the beach in California, I would probably not have the ability to use it very often.”
Whelan’s siblings also own homes in Crystal Beach and her grown children, two of whom live in New Jersey, visit frequently each summer to hang out with family and reconnect with childhood friends.
“There’s an expression we use: You have to be schooled in doing nothing,” she said. “I walk the beach every time I’m there until we run out of real estate. There are definitely things to do, but for me it’s about hanging with family and friends and enjoying my day. I work really hard during the week to ensure that I can do that on the weekends.”
Of course, all of this fun comes with a price tag. Bruce Carrow, a financial planner at M&T Bank, recommends asking a few basic questions before considering a second home: Can you fit the monthly payment and taxes into your current budget? Do you have the funds needed for a down payment? Who will maintain the property when you’re not there? Do you have good tenants, whose rent could cover expenses when you’re not using the place?
He said that while vacations can be postponed if your budget gets tighter, maintenance expenses and mortgage payments on a vacation home cannot.
“Real estate has the possibility to be a good investment and can act as an inflation hedge as part of your overall asset allocation,” Carrow said. “On the flip side, real estate can be a riskier investment than a lot of other investments due to its sensitivity to the market.”
For these families, the expense is well worth it. Patterson hopes to retire to his Ellicottville townhouse someday, Whelan can’t imagine summers without Crystal Beach and Bunting said the peace and serenity at her cabin is priceless.
“Rarely in life do you make decisions you absolutely know was the right thing to do before you do it, and 10 or 15 years later — this is one of those cases,” said Shore. “I could never imagine not having this place.”
“This is definitely a legacy I want to leave for my children.”
To help cover the costs of owning a vacation property, some homeowners rent out their second house for the weeks or months they’re not there. A search on VRBO.com (vacation rentals by owner) reveals more than 150 rentals near Ellicottville, 50 in Crystal Beach and a handful each for Cuba Lake, Rushford and Lime Lake.
James Patterson has his three-story, three-bedroom Ellicottville townhouse listed on VRBO and Airbnb, with rental rates from $200 to $450 a night, depending on the season and if any special events are taking place.
“We will focus on short-term rentals with a minimum of two-night stays and upward of a week or two at a time,” Patterson said. “We had an inquiry to rent for the [entire] ski season, but decided that wasn’t why we bought this place and we, as a family, want to use it during those months as well.”
Bruce Carrow, financial planner at M&T Bank, said renting part time helps financially — if everything goes smoothly. Some lenders, he said, may require homeowners to complete a course on being a landlord if renting the house is part of their financial plan.
“It’s nice to have rent checks flowing in. However, you need to make sure you have the proper tenants — tenants who can pay the rent on time and ones you trust not to cause you more financial and emotional stress,” Carrow said.
After closing on his property in May, Patterson spent a few weeks completing renovations to get it ready for his family and upcoming rentals this summer.
“I probably ran the numbers a thousand times to make sure we could afford it without renting at all, but the rental income will certainly help,” he said. “Making a profit was never our priority.”