Help me find a summer home on the cheap!
May 29, 2006 12:47 AM   Subscribe

Can you help us find a cool place to locate our summer home? (USA)

My wife and I love the mild winters here in Florida, but we can't take the sweltering, brutal summers. However, since we are both educators, we finish work the first week of May and don't need to return until mid-August. Hence, we are interested in buying a summer home in a place where the summers are very cool. We have a number of criteria (ranked in order of importance) for such a place, and we're wondering if you can give us some suggestions for locales that fit the bill:

(a) Very cool summers. As in AC not neccessary except on the hottest days. As in sweatshirts at night. As in sleeping under a comforter with the windows open. (I'm getting excited just thinking about it ...)

(b) We live in a big city, but we were both raised in small towns. We'd like to spend our summers in a small town setting so our son can ride his bike without the constant fear of getting hit. Easy access to outdoor fun and nature would be great as well.

(c) It has to be in a place with very low housing costs. (Did I mention we are both educators?) Ideally, I'd like to find a two bedroom cottage (say, 900 sf) in the 75 to 90K range.

(d) A college or university where I might be able to teach a class or two as an adjunct for an extra buck would be a nice plus. My school is always dying to find people to teach in the summer session. Even a community college would do.

So far, we've been looking at Marquette and Sault Ste Marie, both in Michigan's Upper Penninsula. Anyone know what the UP is like? What other places fit the criteria? Also, any tips on how to secure the place during the winter? Any tips on how to secure my house during the summer? I've never lived in two places before, and I'm interested in any advice you can give about problem or pitfalls I might not be anticipating. Thanks in advance.
posted by Crotalus to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total)
If the Upper Peninsula is anything like, say, Sudbury, the summers can still be damn hot. Your ideal climate sounds a lot like the Northwest Coast. Maybe somewhere like Aberdeen, WA, or Bellingham WA (has college/university), or Port Angeles WA (has community college). I pick those because they are somewhat smaller towns, and I suspect they have lower property values because not traditional tourist towns (compare Pt. Angeles to Pt. Townsend!), but I also suspect prices are still higher than you want to pay. You need to be ok with some rain.

Somewhere like Alert Bay BC could be an option but getting the work permits might be hard.

The other way to get cool summers could be to go for some altitude and/or some fairly windy place - for example, the rocky foothills, some place in Idaho or SW Alberta -- lots of cool winds flowing down from the mountains.

If you're looking at the Great Lakes, Duluth has fantastic industrial scenery of grain silos and loading cranes, and seemed like a nice city the one time I was there.
posted by Rumple at 1:36 AM on May 29, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks Rumple. Canada is an option. Working is not a high priority. However, would we run into any entaglements trying to buy a house and live there every summer? Would we need some kind of visa?
posted by Crotalus at 1:45 AM on May 29, 2006

Rumple beat me to the Bellingham suggestion ... the UP can get sticky-humid in the summer.

Other places ... Eureka/Humboldt/Arcata, California ... Astoria, Oregon ...
posted by frogan at 1:45 AM on May 29, 2006

Crotalus -- I don't believe you would have a problem, I think you would need a visa though to stay for the six months. Pretty routine from what i understand, a lot of USians have summer places up here now. Working is a different matter,

The trick in Canada would be to pick a spot that just lost its mine or mill, is in the mountains or on the coast, or in the interior cool-zone (mainly the Monashee mountains), and which either doesn't have much tourism or the tourism is winter only. So, off the top of my head for BC, you could look at Kitimat, Gold River, Port Renfrew, Port Alice, McBride, Valemount, Barriere, Blue River, Nakusp, New Denver, Rossland, Invermere, Windermere, or Little Fort. Valemount is choice, western slopes of the rockies, about 1.5 hours from Jasper, superb hiking and canoeing, at least one EXCELLENT cafe. it is also strong on winter sports, especially heli-ski-ing, so you might be able to rent out your place over the winter. Try to get an idea of prices. Be warned, the Canadian dollar is very strong right now.
posted by Rumple at 2:00 AM on May 29, 2006

I live in Sarasota. I am working for a couple weeks in Maggie Valley North Carolina. The place I am staying in is at the top of a mountain. It is very cool in the early morning hours and late at night. I have been wearing a sweater. Housing looks cheap and there are schools around. It is only an 11 hour drive back home. You may be able to find a place closer to home that suits your requirements if you consider elevation. It's cooler up in the hills.
posted by thenextword at 4:09 AM on May 29, 2006

If you're going to make a trip twice a year (up to the summer home and then back down to the winter home) and you think you might drive rather than fly, think about what's on the way, too.

For instance, a summer home in or near a college town in Maine would give you two road trips the length of the east coast every year, with potential stops in places such as New York and Washington. If you end up working in both places, your vacations might be the trips between them.

Living in the new place for a summer, you will be able to make contacts with people who might want to (or might know someone who wants to) rent your summer home during the off-summer months. If it's a college town, this can't be hard to find. The trick will be finding the right tenants. Maybe other professors?

Now do the same with your Florida home. If it's in a college town, maybe near something of interest to scholars (including your college's holdings and staff), you might find other professors who would jump at the chance to relocate for summers to teach or do research. Think what your Florida home has that might attract certain professors, then advertise in something that those professors read. Just be honest about the "sweltering, brutal summers" if you want a happy tenant.

Just remember that this turns you into a long-distance landlord, with all of the potential aggravation that entails. When you're in Florida and a pipe breaks in your northern home, you'll have to deal with it long distance and maybe take a lot of things on faith (what repairs actually have to be done and how much it should really cost), so you'll need to make contacts you can trust. Of course, you'll also be a no-distance landlord for the parts of the year you are living in these homes, so you'll have plenty of time to do things in preparation for the next season.
posted by pracowity at 4:09 AM on May 29, 2006

Find an offseason tourist spot. Ski regions like Vermont, the Rockies, etc. are probably your best bet. As an added bonus, you can rent out the space in the winter, so it'll pay for itself after a few years.
posted by TTIKTDA at 4:18 AM on May 29, 2006

I live in Southeast Michigan and am about to move to Kentucky for a professorial position. My first thought with your inquiry was the UP. I think there are places you can go up there that are probably pretty inexpensive without being impoverished or in a real economic bind. Northern Michigan University probably offers summer classes. I think the weather would be pretty agreeable, especially compared to Florida. You're living near the largest inland bodies of water in the world after all.

For what it's worth - I don't have air conditioning here in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area! I'm only an hour from Ohio. There are places you could go in the UP that would be six or seven hours straight north of me. I think the weather would be fine on all but the very hottest days (I grew up in the South, though). I find the weather here to be fine on all but the hottest days.

(I will say I've vacationed twice in the Seattle area and would love to move there)
posted by Slothrop at 5:54 AM on May 29, 2006

Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine would be good choices. To get extra cool, look for something with some elevation. A house on a hilltop will be several degrees cooler than one in the valley. My sister and I have a cabin on a hill in VT. There's no AC and I don't recall ever being uncomfortable in the summer.
posted by justkevin at 6:25 AM on May 29, 2006

The Oregon Coast somewhere like Manzanita or Neskowin
Anacortes, WA on the border of Canada
posted by Packy_1962 at 6:32 AM on May 29, 2006

Have you looked at homes in semi-rural coastal portions of Maine?

The town of Lubec, for example, is convenient to several nearby landmarks, including as FDR's childhood summer home on Campobella Island, the eastern-most point on the continental United States (and one of the most photogenic lighthouses therein) on West Quoddy.

Though the area has fascinated me for several years, I've never had an opportunity to visit myself, so I can't vouch for the quality of the beaches.

A search for nearby real estate on reveals several properties that seem to be well within your price range.
posted by The Confessor at 7:06 AM on May 29, 2006

I think our climate on the West Coast of Canada is what you're looking for. Very few people own air con. We also don't have a lot of bugs.
posted by fcain at 7:19 AM on May 29, 2006

What about Wyoming or Montana? Large chunks of it are quite high elevation and therefore cool. When I was camping at Yellowstone (in August) it was downright cold at night. You could see your breath. During the day it was warm but not stifling hot.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:46 AM on May 29, 2006

My wife and I love the mild winters here in Florida, but we can't take the sweltering, brutal summers.

Western North Carolina is already filling up with its seasonal flock of Florida retirees who can't take the summers. That said, it's already in the 80s here, AC is necessary during the day unless you're in the higher elevations, and Florida oldies are killing the property market. Go north.
posted by holgate at 9:19 AM on May 29, 2006

You want someplace like Grand Marais, MN. Right on the shores of Lake Superior. Rarely gets to 90 in the summer. Most temps are 60-75. Great weather, great town, artistic population, cheap living.
posted by unixrat at 9:29 AM on May 29, 2006

Upstate NY? 90K could get you someplace near Lake Champlain or a ways up in the Adirondack Preserve, and you'd be shooting distance to SUNY-Plattsburgh or Potsdam.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:42 AM on May 29, 2006

Well, the U.P. is pretty delicious. You can buy a house in Ironwood--right on the border of Wisconsin--for like, $35K. It's very cute, has gorgeous nature every which way you turn, is not really scary, though of course a bit depressed, and actually has an amazing town newspaper. And you can shoot lots of animals, if you're into that. Heh.

If I were you--and I wish I were!--I'd look high, not far, as thenextword suggested.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:43 AM on May 29, 2006

Think altitude. Flagstaff, Coeur d'Alene, & Missoula might all do the trick. Flagstaff and Missoula have full-on universities and I believe Coeur d'Alene has a community college.
Actually, Coeur d'Alene is really very beautiful, and there's a lot to do outside. That's probably where I'd go, though I can't vouch for real estate prices there these days. Or someplace on lake Pend Orielle (Sandpoint, maybe or Kootenai), which is in the same area and–if memory serves–a little less populous. Plus, if there's no academic work to be found right there, it's a not-totally-ridiculous commute to Spokane, where colleges grow on trees and the streets are paved with students!
posted by willpie at 12:24 PM on May 29, 2006

Ooh, or maybe Fort Collins.
posted by willpie at 12:24 PM on May 29, 2006

THe Lake Ontario coast of Upstate New York is rarely hot in summer and since upstate outside NY of say Hudson Valley or Lake Champlain is not doing well economically you should be able to get a house quite easily. It is still undiscovered by the Yuppies in the megalopolis. Buffalo to PA border tends to be cloudy but you could do worse than spend summers, say outside of Rochester, teach at U of Rochester, perhaps take in a show at the Eastman house. As an added bonus, it is the heart of NY Apple country, so you can grow your own artisanal apples.

Frankly I am looking to see how I can save money to buy something and retire there in twenty years.
posted by xetere at 1:26 PM on May 29, 2006

I meant to say Upstate NY outside of Hudson Valley or Lake Champlain.

(although I am beginning to like the enigmatic and epigrammatic sound of the original mis-typing.)
posted by xetere at 1:27 PM on May 29, 2006

Buffalo to PA border tends to be cloudy but you could do worse than spend summers, say outside of Rochester

I don't know if it will meet their needs, climate wise. I live in downtown Buffalo, which is less than an hour away from Rochester, and right now it's over 80, and humid as can be, and June is never our warmest month.

Although my definition of "hot" may vary from someone in Florida, I remember being painfully exhausted for most of last July and August, since the only time the temperature dropped below 90 in my apartment (even at night) was during rainstorms. It was bad enough that my roommate and I are moving in a month or so, and AC is now a dealbreaker.

Granted, that was the hottest summer on record, but even so... I can't remember ever wearing sweatshirts on all but the most unusually cold summer evenings my entire life, or sleeping under a comforter without the AC going most of the time.

But hey, the housing market is cheap!
posted by Kellydamnit at 5:30 PM on May 29, 2006

I'll also recommend the UP - I spent summers there as a kid. You can get a cottage on any number of small cute lakes for very cheap. And something "in town" for even cheaper. You didn't say what kind of education, but Michigan Tech is up there. Just a caveat - the winters there are all kinds of brutal and you'll need to hire someone to shovel your roof in the winter when needed (so it won't cave in from the weight). But on the plus side, you can eat pasties!
posted by j at 11:13 PM on May 29, 2006

I'll throw another vote in for upstate New York. I think we only had three days this summer that were in the high nineties. Mostly in the eighties, and we're back in the low seventies before labor day. I live near Potsdam, on a lake, and have 4 colleges and universities in a 20 mile radius. Our street is a dead-end and about 30% of the homes are seasonal. It's only 1 hour to the Adirondack mountains. There are tons of lakes and rivers for boating and fishing. Also many trails for hiking and ATV's. I found several waterfront homes in your price range here.
posted by saffry at 12:48 PM on September 1, 2006

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