A WARM BREEZE rippled the lake. A hundred yards from the beach. I flipped over on my back and began quietly floating. In the distance, two small sailboats played tag, their orange-and-white-striped sails vivid against the blue sky. Beyond them on shore, a string of horseback reders galloped into view from the pine woods.
Sounds inviting, doesn't it?That's how my wife, Sandy LaFevre, and I spent part of last Labor Day. The place is a weekend resort in the Shenandoah Mountain of Virginia. We had bought a condominium apartment there two years earlier. The rest of Lobor Day we spent moving out. After two years, we had decided to sell.
Why, if we found the place so attractive (and we did), were we giving it up? For anyone toying with the idea of a weekend getaway at the beach or in the mountains, here is a guide to what we experienced and what led to our decision.
It was a year ago February when we first began to question our purchase. We'd put in a good day of skiing at the resort, and after a last, fast run down "White Lightning" we headed for our apartment just five minutes away. We started up a fire, poured some drinks and popped some corn over the flames. Very romantic.
Just the sort of thing we'd dreamed about when we decided to buy the place. No more of those grueling oneday roundrips to the slopes, six hours of skiing and six hours in the car.
We'd finished the first popper of corn, and with our drinks refilled we watched the snow just beginning to fall on the mountain that rises across the valley. But as I watched the farmer in the distance spreading hay on the snow for his cattle, numbers began clicking in my head - large numbers.
"How many times did we come here in the past year?" I asked Sandy. Puzzled, she replied, "About 20, I think."
"At that rate," I said, "do you realize that this weekend in the mountains is costing us about $300? And with what we're paying for this place, it's costing us an average of $300 every weekend we come here."
Now that's not the price either of us had figured on when we took a hard look at our budget to see if we could afford to buy. There just seemed to be all those extra costs once we signed all the papers.
What we bought, pretty much on the spur of the moment, was a new tow-bedroom, two-bath garden apartment with a grand view of the mountains of George Washington National Forest, Fresh air, quiet nights.
We paid $35,500, putting 10 percent down in cash and taking a three-year second trust for an additional 10 percent down. This worked out to a $275-a-month mortgage payment (and taxes) over 30 years plus $113 a month for the second trust for three years. So far, $370 a month.
But that was only the beginning. The condominium fee ran$60 a month (and increasing) for each of the 42 apartments in four buildings that made up our association. This paid for water, sewer, fire insurance, management and wood for the fireplace.
Then came the utility costs. The apartment is all-electric. In the summer we kept the air conditioning switch off, and the Vepco bill ran only about $12 to $20 a month. But in the winter, the bill soared to $50 a month in January and February. It averaged about $20 to $25 a month over the year.
Then there was the country club fee, optional at $350 annually for a couple, but that's what we wanted a weekend place for in the first place anyway. It gave us full use of the swimming pool, the lake, tennis courts and two double chairlifts at the ski slopes for summer skiing (on grass) and winter skiing (on snow). We skipped the golf course, since neither of us played.
If you're keeping score, the monthly cost now adds up to about $480 to $490. Take a 12-month total and divide by 20 weekends, and it comes out to about $300 a weekend. You can have some pretty good weekends for $300.
But that wasn't all.
The closing costs at purchase came to about $1,200, and additional insurance ran another $45 a year. It took a tank of gas to make the 240-mile roundtrip.
The next big expense was furnishing the place. Beds, a couch, dining room table, chairs, lamps, a dresser - the list seemed endless. Curtains to cover large expanses of windows. Blankets, sheets, pillows, pots and pans, dishes, glasses, a toaster (duplicate wedding gifts helped some), a vacuum cleaner, a potato peeler, even. Always one more thing to make the place livable. Pictures and posters, and I almost forgot - a corkscrew.
We could have rented the place out, perhaps for several hundreds or even a couple of thousand dollars a year if we had pushed it. But then it might almost seem only a hotel room to us, and who wants strangers tramping mud across your new rug and burning cigarette holes in your sofa. Deducting the interest payment on the mortgage from our income taxes did not make any big difference in our tax refund that we could see. After all, the mortgage was only part of the expense.
From February through the summer, additional factors nudged us into finally deciding to sell: Noisy dogs in neighboring apartments wouldn't stop yapping. Some peace and quiet.
We started getting itchy feet to spend our weekends someplace else, but we couldn't because much of our recreational money was tied up in the apartment.
We spent only five weekends there during the whole summer, and even then the drive was becoming tiresome. There seemed too often something more interesting to do in Washington. The call of the city is strong.
The resort's weekly newsletter warned of increased vandalism, and though we experienced no such problems we weren't comfortable not being around very often to keep an eye on things.
More apartment buildings were going up each year, resulting in fewer trees, more traffic and longer ski lift lines.
We sold the place within two weeks after putting it on the market for $3,000 more than we paid for it, though a good chunk of that went to the real estate agency. We sold the furniture we didn't need and moved the rest to our Washington residence. Anyone need an extra potato peeler?
Sometimes we think we sold the place just in time to escape the gasoline shortage. At other times we think we could have made money renting it to people looking for a vacation spot within a tankful of gas of Washington.
Would the value of the place have increased if we had held on to it longer? Would the cost have been easier to handle in a few years as our salaries grew? Will we regret selling? Perhaps, but for the moment we feel as if we've been freed from a burden. So much for a dream cabin in the mountain.
Many of the apartment owners, of course, feel differently. Some spend almost every weekend there, and their families spend the entire summer. Others plan to retire there. For them, it is probably a recreation bargain.
The thing is, floating out there on the lake under a clear blue sky on a perfect end-of-the-summer day, I couldn't help thinking that maybe the two-years were worth it whatever the cost. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By Robin Jaureux - The Washington Post