Buying our second beachhouse

Las Brisas

Las Brisas

As we watched the financial situations of our country, our state, and our family unfold, we became much more convinced that beach property was the way to go in terms of building a secure and lasting retirement for our family. Maggie and I thought we’d talk through some of the things we wanted to accomplish in this blog.

Economic Reasons

When I saw others with vacation homes, I always thought they were frivolous investments, with little hope of outpacing other more traditional vehicles. As the prices have come down somewhat, and as it becomes more possible to manage your own home remotely, we’ve come to understand that in the right circumstances, a vacation home can become a strong investment, and one that we and our kids could enjoy. Here are some of the drivers.

Threats of inflation

As the economy deteriorates and our nation continues to print money, we feel that tangible assets, including real estate, can be an important hedge against inflation. As we age, with the stock market becoming increasingly volatile, we wanted to spread out our portfolio.

Texas Beach Real Estate

For a vacation home to grow in value, it’s best for there to be a shrinking pool of new properties, and a growing demand for your properties. The Texas population is growing, as we’ll talk about in a minute. We’re also seeing growth in use of such properties, as the home rental market continues to grow as well. So you have a constrained resource, and a greater pool of people needing that resource. That can only drive rents up.

Texas Population

Texas’s population grew by 20.6 percent, to 25,145,561 last year, from 2000 – more than twice the 9.7 percent national rate of increase, as shown in this Washington Post article. The population closest to our Port Aransas rental, San Antonio, is especially explosive, and Houston is growing rapidly too.

As with the national population, we are aging too. As these people age, the demand for home rentals like ours will continue to grow. The off season for us is a nice complement to the high season. We shift to a monthly model, servicing winter Texans. Those are the younger retiring couples.

A Family Business

As our girls get older, it’s good for them to see our family business get put together. Kids that see their parents start a business are much more likely to do so themselves. We are also likely to have increasing roles for our girls to play in this business.

Cash Flow

When we’ve looked at vacation properties in the past, interest rates and higher management costs made it much more difficult to maintain a positive cash flow. Beach homes were strictly a domain for the locals and for the rich. Prices are falling. As intrest rates come down as well, the technology has made it possible to take on part of the management roles on ourselves. These factors drive down monthly costs to the point where after an initial expense, you can actually make some monthly income. Our goal is to keep investing in our houses, so that when the 15 year notes are done, we’ll have some strong assets for our overall portfolio. Minimally, we’ll have a nice monthly income to supplement our retirement. Better yet, we will have assets that are worth much more than we paid for them.

Technology

So there are a few economic reasons  that have contributed to our decisions. Being able to take on some of the management ourselves, thus driving up returns, is a big piece of the overall equation. Here is our technology stack that we are currently using.

Homeaway

Homeaway, the vacation rentals company, lets us advertise our property in a way that others can find. We currently use three of their sites: Vacation Rentals, VRBO, and Homeaway. So far, they have served us very well.

We’re also able to take credit card transactions and track our bookings, without setting up a merchant account. The costs per transaction are better than I could secure for myself.

Schlagelink

Schlage locks let you create custom codes for your guests and contractors over the Internet. I can know exactly who’s in the house, and when. I can also have some cameras around for security, should I decide to do so.

Group Lists

We use Google Groups to manage a list of local owners. We can better keep an eye out for local politics and conditions that might impact our property. We can also understand in advance how our cost structure is likely to change, as the home owner association discusses issues like trash removal or grounds maintenance contracts.

Personal

Of course, the biggest reasons to get a rental are all personal. We like the beach, and we like the idea of putting in some blood and sweat to build a better life for ourselves. Both of our kids love the beach, and their friends do too. We want to be able to take our kids to places that they love to go while they are still with us. We are also looking ahead, and we would love the ability to let our kids join us from college at the beach.

We love our second beach place as much as the first. Early returns are promising. In the months to follow, I will be writing a little about the house, the island, and the process of getting it ready.

Relaxing on the deck!

Relaxing on the deck!

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The water’s great. Come on in…

 Inspiring travel to the Texas Coast, beach house decor ideas and vacation rental management tips with an occasional recipe in the mix.

Inspiring travel to the Texas Coast, beach house decor ideas and vacation rental management tips with an occasional recipe in the mix.

We are a family in Austin, Texas dipping our toes into Texas beach real estate. We bought our first place, the Blue Roost, in Port Aransas, right in the heart of town. We’re renting it out part time. We just added a place in Galveston at Pointe West, the far Southern end of the island. We wanted to share the experience with you. Read about what’s happening in Port Aransas and Galveston, our ideas about running a vacation rental business, our experiences with the houses and occasional helpful tips for vacation meals and recipes.

Welcome to our Texas Coast Beach House!

 Inspiring travel to the Texas Coast, beach house decor ideas and vacation rental management tips with an occasional recipe in the mix.

Continue reading: Beach or Bust

Jay’s Place, a Port Aransas Institution by Any Name

I was sitting alone in the restaurant enjoying my shrimp tacos. I knew I wanted to blog about the place, but I didn’t know what to call it, so I asked. The waitress I asked happened to be the owner, and surprise. She didn’t really know. She turned around and asked a couple of locals. Then she told me the story. I’m reciting from memory, so ping me if I miss the details.

The locals called it the Spaghetti Works. It turns out that they did have that name a few years back (it was also a water slide), and as the menu evolved, they added seafood. They changed the name to Seafood and Spaghetti Works. Some observant locals asked if they were under new management (not good), and they waffled back and forth a few times. Later, Stephanie had an idea for a slogan, “Eat at Jays”.  Now, I think they’re called Jay’s Seafood and Spaghetti Works. Most of the regulars knew the place as Jay’s place anyway. So you can see the source of confusion.

If you want the story in detail, you can read it here http://www.seafoodandspaghettiworkstx.com/

Over the past weekend, we went once for dinner with the whole family, and  I returned for lunch. Overall, I’d have to say that we were all impressed.

The kids all enjoyed various rice and pasta dishes. I sampled all of them, and my favorite was my daughter’s tempura shrimp with a lemon cream sauce over rice. Fantastic. It had the crisp, tart flavor that I crave in a shrimp dish. The other two kids had the Shrimp and Chicken Alfredo dishes.

My wife had an artichoke and shrimp dish. It had bold flavors with garlic, mushrooms, I want to say some Parmesan, and gallons of butter. Actually, a little too much butter for my taste, but that’s definitely a Port Aransas thing. Everything has oceans of butter.

I had flounder with a dill cream sauce. Are you getting the picture here? The sauces are great. The dill sauce was delicate enough that it didn’t overpower the flounder, but strong enough to give me the tangy zip that I am always looking for. And of course, the fish could not be any fresher. I swear, you can’t throw a dead jellyfish without hitting a place that has excellent flounder or redfish in this town.

If there was a down side at all, it was the salad bar. It looked like something right out of Pizza Hut. But clearly, the salad is not the main attraction here. You come for the fish, or pasta, or pizza. We gave Jay’s an A for dinner. Everyone’s food was good, the service was absolutely perfect, and the atmosphere was excellent, even in mid October.

For lunch, I had fish tacos. My expectations were pretty low (I’m a bit of a snob for fish tacos), but these were great. The corn tortillas were fresh and moist, a basic requirement that you have to satisfy to even get a passing grade. The shrimp and fish were proportioned about right. The cilantro cream sauce was the star of the show, with perfect balance, and just a hint of zip. I would have preferred the traditional carrots and cabbage, but I am picking nits. I ate them all and enjoyed every bite. I’d give them a solid B+.

I still don’t know quite what to call this place. If you plan to go, it’s on Highway 361 right at G street. Look for the Eat at Jay’s sign. For now, I’m just going to call it good.

Beach Vacations From Hell

If you’re brave enough to travel often, you’ve had some vacation experiences you’d rather forget. HomeAway picked Chevy Chase for a company mascot for a reason. They were tapping deeply seated fears that we all know are out there. Heck, I’ve driven my own Family Truckster

throughout most of high school. But I want to focus on those trips to rental homes where you might not have gotten what you thought you should. Here are the few that come to mind for me.

7. The “Well-stocked” kitchen

The well-stocked kitchen

Of all of the items on this list, this one is probably the closest one to a sure thing. What started out ten years ago as a cupboard filled with fine china and silver has dwindled to six assorted tupperware lids for plates, three chopsticks (?) for eating, two rusty spoons, a Ronald McDonald’s collector cup featuring the Hamburglar,  a Memphis Chicks stadium cup, and three toothpicks. The owner stammers something about good intentions. Well, at least these roads are paved.

6. The Yard Next Door

Dude, could you please mow your couch? After three years, you’d think they would figure out that the trash man is not going to take it. At least the rats have eaten (most of) the edible trash.

mow your couch

5. Beach Balls

There are many descriptions of beaches from Hell, and Port Aransas is not fully immune. My friend told me a story this week of a toddler in her first (exorbitantly expensive) swimsuit who brought over a beach ball to mommy.

A tar ball.

It’s a good thing that we missed this spill. I don’t think I could afford a new summer wardrobe every trip for two girls and a wife.

beach balls

4. The Security Deposit

Some landlords reasonably expect to take a cleaning fee out of a deposit, but some owners go overboard. If you plan to throw a fit every time that antique Stickley Cherry dining room table gets a tiny new scratch, then maybe you shouldn’t be renting that place to families with dogs and four kids.

And no, I am not the reason you can’t log on through your ancient ten year old wireless router.

3. Wild Life

Best kept outside.

Enough said.

wildlife

2. The Neighbors

With rental properties, you can’t always control your neighbors. I can tolerate a lot. The usual problems are neighbors that are too noisy when you want it quiet, too quiet when you want to make a little noise (like with a wedding), or just plain inconsiderate. I did have a place next door to a Harley convention of some sort. Truth be told, except for the bikes coming in at odd hours, they weren’t too bad.

But those aren’t always the worst neighbors. Ever find some neighbors that are just a little bit too curious? Friendly, sure, but in a creepy sort of way. Hey, this is a two night trip. I’m not ready to be your best friend. And with two daughters that are increasingly beautiful, I’m getting more suspicious about motivations, if you know what I mean.

neighbors

1. What have ya’ got?

Whoo hoo! We’ve closed

Friday, we signed our final papers and sent our first born to the bank and the title company. The O’neils, the previous owners, promised us that they did the same. So we’re now in this thing for the long haul. If you’ve stayed in our house before, we welcome you to stay again. If you’re a beach house renter, tell us what you want. If you’re a land lord, tell us what makes you successful. More to come…

The Blue Roost is OURS!

The Blue Roost is OURS!

Location

Port Aransas Rental Location

These are the maps to get to our house from the major areas in Austin. If you’re using Google Maps, we’re part of a private community, and the address doesn’t always work right. You can paste in the location, like this:
27.816032,-97.068326
and then you can click get directions. Here are a few maps that will tell you where we are relative to the beach.

Here are directions links from some of our common guest locations:

Note that if you’re coming in at rush hour, you’re going to be taking a ferry so there could be a wait. You may want to reroute to go through Corpus Cristi. It’s best to have both maps in your car, just in case.

The Boardwalk

No houses are right on Port Aransas beach because there’s a state park road running down the middle of it, and the protected dunes separate the houses from bordering the beach directly. That said, what you’re looking for is direct access to a walkway, and shorter is better. We’ve got great beach access:

Emmy on the boardwalk

You can see the house, and the entrance to the private La Playa community board walk, and the beach. We’re close enough for you to hear the waves on the beach, and the walk and drive to the beach are about 5 minutes. Here’s the larger view, showing you where we are on the Port Aransas beach:

View of walking through dunes

That’s probably exactly where you want to be. You can see that we’re right in the heart of the beach, but not too close to either end of the park.

Finally, here’s a map with pins in the rental and in town:

You’re close enough, and far enough, if you know what I mean. We’ll be adding a few walking and driving maps to places in the Port Aransas area.

3 Rental Decisions: Credit cards, calendar, cost structure

After a couple of false starts, we’ve finally moved into the last phase of buying our beach house. This experience is entirely remote. We found a notary, signed until our fingers bled, and overnighted our documentations to the title company. We now have to make a couple of key decisions that will have a big impact on both our day to day operations, and also the experience of our potential customers.

Credit Card Strategy

The first decision was whether to take credit cards. As the author of 13 technical books (including, most recently, Seven Languages in Seven Weeks), let me tell you, I like technology. But I don’t like technology for the sake of technology. So I needed to get my head around whether the low-tech solution would work, and whether the benefits of taking credit cards would override the cost. The possible players were:

1) Checks. The paper method.

I must confess, I would really like this decision to work. Sign our rental agreement, mail us a check, and you’ve reserved the house. Pay when you get into town, and you buy the keys. Behave yourself, and we mail you a rental deposit back to you. Ultimately, we decided that renting without credit cards is a dying model. We’ll accept them, somehow.

2) Pay pal.

This is the lowest tech solution of those who remain. Pay with a paypal transaction. We don’t have to have a merchant account. We just have to have a paypal account. We don’t even need to use paypal to return the security deposit, so we save a little bit on the transaction fees. Handling disputes can be problematic, because Paypal can lock up the funds.

3) A merchant account.

Eventually, this is where we’ll wind up, one way or another. Whether the management company handles it or not, this solution is a little bit cheaper, but we’ll need to make sure that the merchant account that we use will allow our policy for deposits and cancellations. If you go in this direction, make sure you know the story here. There are a few credit card companies that specialize in vacation rentals. HomeAway has a new one, and there are a few others as well.

4) Let my management company solve the problem.

Since we’re trying to do some of the marketing of the house ourselves, we are going with a management company that is a little less experienced. Wherever we land, I am going to help make the decision to get us there.

In the end, we’ll take credit cards somehow. We’ll start with Paypal because of the low setup costs. Moving on…

Calendar.

No one has the perfect solution for marketing a beach house. There are national chains that have great search engine optimization, but a poor user experience. Other sites have great local affinity, but don’t cast a broad enough net. I also wanted a whole site for the house (this one) that allows us to personalize the user’s experience.

But that means you need to synchronize calendars. What will we do? I am not sure. There are a couple of automated solutions that we’re looking at, and a few manual approaches too. In the end, we may just use HomeAwayConnect or the MyVRZone widget. We are also considering GoogleCalendar, or a WordPress plugin. Sorry we’re late with this. We know it’s a problem.

Cost Structure

The final question is what to do about the cost structure for the house. Do we take a pet deposit? Do we charge a cleaning fee? Do we pass the credit card fees on to the customer? I think we’re just going to keep the previous owner’s policies intact, with one exception. We’re going to start charging a security deposit.

So the cost structure is easy to understand. You will pay the rate dependent on the season, and city and state tax. You’ll reserve the house with one day of rental, and you’ll pay the security deposit (plus a pet deposit if applicable). That’s it. Deposit, the seasonal rate, and tax.

We’ll know if the closing all went through on Monday, and we’ll keep you posted. How do you like the decisions we’ve made so far?

Port Aransas: Heaven and Hell

Remember the old joke about heaven and hell? It goes something like this. In Heaven, the British welcome you and provide the hospitality, the Germans provide the transportation, the Italians feed you, the French romance you, and the Swiss make the schedule and keep things running on time. In Hell, the Germans provide the hospitality, the British feed you, the French provide the transportation, the Swiss romance you, and the Italians run the schedule.

I must confess that I often have a similar love/hate relationship to the beach, especially at Port Aransas. I can give you one word, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Sand.

I mean, you’ve got some of the best sand in all of Texas. You have the SandFest and the PortA sandcastle guy. Burying little bodies and sometimes big bodies. Tiny footprints next to big ones, with an invisible held hand in between.

But as the years go by, I become less tolerant of sand in places that it doesn’t belong. In my car. In my house. In my shorts, and in my shorts, if you know what I mean. In my daughter’s hair, and two minutes before I told her we were getting in the car. In metal things that work, which soon after become metal things that work poorly and then not at all. I’m elevating my blood pressure as I type.

In the balance, since we got the beach house and out of our tents, sand is a whole lot more heaven and less hell. But I love it, and I hate it. You get the idea. Shall we move on?

Salt water.

Is there any greater point in the drive to the beach than when you get that first whiff of salty air? It means vacation, and as a land-locked Texan who was previously a land-locked Tennesseean, the mere proximity takes me to another state of mind. The first taste of salt water as I’m on a wave board or just swimming in the gulf is bliss. But good things are sometimes best in small doses.

Like when Spinner, our Aussie who could not swim with her mouth closed, swam for an hour straight, and then…

expelled that salt water in forms too vile to describe in detail for the next two hours straight. Speaking of metal things that used to be nice, our car was never the same. Don’t you feel like that dog sometimes? I mean, wave boarding is nice, but there’s nothing nice about a nasal… um… cleanse. To move my mouth to a happier place, I will slip back across that razor-thin line to heaven. On to food.

Fish.

Red fish, crabs, flounder, shrimp. When the oil spilled in the Gulf, my first brief panic was that I was going to lose our supply of the freshest fish in Central Texas. And that fish is so easy to catch in Port Aransas.

My fondest childhood fishing memory is of a trip when everyone in a family of five caught our limit, and brought our catch home. We didn’t even have enough room in our huge freezer to keep it all. We kept it at a neighbor’s house. And we had fresh fish every night for a week.

And then we had not so fresh fish every night for another period of time that I’ve blocked out. By now, if you’ve done your share of Port Aransas fishing trips, you know exactly what I mean. A successful trip is one where you’ve caught what you want to eat, and you were wise enough to stop, or throw the rest back. There’s nothing quite as miserable as a trip with high seas where you catch nothing. (That doesn’t happen too much around here.) Except maybe a trip when you catch too much.

To give you a happy ending to the bountiful catch, someone kicked the plug out of the freezer that had all of our neighborhood fish. We took that skunky fish and buried it in my mother’s tomato bed, and we buried them deep. We had the best tomatoes ever that year. I’m going to take this blog to a risky place, but trust me.

Bikini Clad Teenagers.

Well, so much for trust. But I’m going somewhere slightly different than you think. My daughters mean more to me than anything else in the world. My wife feels the same way. It’s awesome to see them grow. But it’s also terrifying in ways that only parents of beautiful teenage girls can believe. The beach has a way of bringing out the best of people watching. When I’m watching the people that I love play, the experience grows tenfold.

Now, you can see exactly where I’m going here. Just the words “teenage girls” can tell you about all about heaven and hell that you’ll ever need to know. The car trips and the stops to eat and the stops to pee and the stops to shop and the stops to pee again. The laughter and the late-night laughter (and the later night laughter).

Of course, these are the reasons we go to a beach house. When you can pack six girls into a room and let moms and dads get a good night sleep in the rooms below, you have the recipe for heavenly memories.

And just a tiny little slice of hell.

The Check List

In the last article called Picking a Rental House, I wrote about why we chose the house we did. In this post, I want to talk a little bit about the process of actually buying the house. I don’t know very much yet, but I’ll share a little bit of what I do.

In the end, this is going to be a good property for us if we’re able to rent it out, and keep it rented. That means I need to be able to do a couple of things:

  1. Find renters. I’m going to do so with a variety of on-line services, some word of mouth by us and the previous owner, and possibly a little bit through some real estate management.
  2. Keep them happy. We want to charge a fair price, and we want repeat customers. That means we’re going to bend over backwards to keep our renters happy. The previous owners did an excellent job of this.
  3. Keep the smoothest possible transition between the owners. We don’t want the water, or the power for that matter, to run out in the middle of the long, luxurious shower in the middle of the peak rental season, now, do we?
  4. Satisfy our partners. We need to keep some people happy, including the bank that actually thought it was a good idea to loan us money; the contractors that will make those repairs that showed up in the inspection, and the previous owners who can help us, but are not obligated to.

That means I needed…

a list.

I’m not the most organized person in the world, unless I have to be. But my wife is fantastic in that regard. On the way to the Texas coast, we broke out the iPhone and started writing. Slowly. With my fat, old fingers.

The Money Man

We started with the things that the mortgage company needed. Fortunately, our good credit scores and excellent bank (thanks, Amplify) made the process pretty easy, and they kept our checklists for us, and on line. We were able to sign and deliver most of the documents on line, and we dutifully packed up the documents and the kids to deliver the rest. I have to say it was the smoothest process to date that I’ve ever gone through. So this part of the list was mercifully short.

Honey Dos

Next, we focused on the short-term fixes we would need to make to the house. We set a goal of things that needed to happen pre-close and those that could wait until after. We wanted to handle all of the moisture related issues and anything electrical quickly. Also, a few safety issues turned up, and we decided to do a few of those things as well. Finally, there were some issues that probably weren’t a big deal, but we wanted to handle them.

Things like keyless entry. You can get a Kwikset combination lock for a hundred bucks or so at Home Depot, and that makes the management process simpler and more secure, because you can have the code changed when your guests leave, and nobody has to handle a key. And new smoke detectors, or batteries where they are needed. Codes change, and we wanted to keep up.

Utilities

We also made a list of utilities we needed, and built a schedule. We wanted to make sure that they happened uninterrupted. I’ll let you know how that goes. Truth be told, we may have started a little late.

Especially wireless. I mean, today’s customer can live without food and water for 48 hours, but take away wireless, and you’re in a world of hurt.

Nicities

The previous owners did an outstanding job of furnishing the place and keeping it nice. Still, we had a vision of adding a few things to the house, like beach gear, that would make the stay much more pleasurable. We have our list, and we’ll work on starting to accumulate some of the stuff. We want to add a big new wagon for lugging stuff to the beach, and also a few things to the kitchen that we will like to have when we are in town. Each new owner will want to put their own new stamp on the place.

In the next article, I will talk a little bit about the final rush to the close. I hope you’re enjoying the experience.

Picking a Rental House

This is the first article in my series of buying a rental house.

As we spread out beneath the dwindling sun in Scituate, Ma, I was at peace, and surrounded by the people I love. I looked across my shoulder at my wife, and didn’t have to say a thing to understand that she felt the same way. Every happy line on her face was screaming so. I talked with my uncle about the five bedroom beach house and the market conditions that made its purchase possible. It was an eye opening conversation. I’d noticed the for-sale signs lined up like the endless relentless waves that pounded the shore. I had always considered beach houses to be the domain of the rich, an unattainable goal.

Clearly, conditions had changed, and there was opportunity. After talking to my wife, we considered the possibility that a beach house might not be just an impulsive buy. It might actually be smart. We decided to give this decision some serious thought.

Why?

Buying a house is a big decision. I wanted to shed some light on the sometimes dark and personal places to show you how we came to the decision to buy ours. I also want to talk about the business side of this decision. People buy a second home for many different reasons, and we had a Texas Gulf sized bucket of reasons to consider buying ours:

  • We have always loved hospitality. We have often had housefuls of youth or guests, and love to set up an environment that others enjoy.
  • We’ve long considered rentals as a possible business. Back when we were first married, we considered buying a house in the Northeast as a bed and breakfast. We didn’t have the financial resources to pull it off, but filed the idea away for later application.
  • Our kids are growing up. They are old enough to enjoy beach vacations, and we love sharing this kind of time with them. Our oldest is going into the 8th grade, and we feel like we have five more years of vacations with her.
  • We love the beach. We were told to buy a rental property in a place that you love to go. Chances are, others will love it too.
  • We think that right now, real estate represents a better investment than equities.

But there were also some risks to consider. The real estate market is far from stable; the very same forces driving prices and interest rates down are a weak economy that will impact the pool of renters. Beaches have storms; the Gulf coast has oil and possible spills; the wrong customers can hurt you. There was no hiding the fact that real estate always involves risk.

In the end, we decided to buy. So are we looking at this house as an investment or a second home? Well, yes. Both, I think. We definitely want this house to pay for itself through renters, but we also want a place that we enjoy going, and we want something close and spacious enough to share with our family and friends. We think any hassles will be worth it.

Where?

Having decided to buy, and understanding why we were doing this to ourselves, we started to look around. We did some reading about demographics. We considered getting a house in a college market like Starkville, Ms. (where I got my undergraduate degree) or Austin, Tx. (where we could live and manage the properties).

We then took a closer look at Scituate, and found that we could possibly buy a place for $500,000 or less, but that place would take lots of work and the peak rental season was short. We considered the Florida market, and found more severely depressed prices. In the end, we thought Florida was attractive, but there was risk with the Gulf oil spill and we would not be able to take advantage of the property with any real frequency.

Finally, we looked closer to home. We quickly zoomed in on Mustang Island and the surrounding areas, and South Padre with its surrounding areas. Of course, the beaches in South Padre are a little cleaner and bluer. You don’t have to worry so much about things like jelly fish and seaweed (though they were never too bad to handle for us).

Mustang Island

In the Port Aransas area, we had a location that was less developed, and that idea was attractive to us. We like NATURal better than HOTel. There were other advantages as well. Port Aransas is a four hour drive from our home, and South Padre is closer to seven.

But location is big for potential renters too. With any rental property, you need to understand who your customer is likely to be. Port A. gives us the Houston (2 million plus), Austin (1 million), and San Antonio (1 million) markets, to put more than five million people within around a four hour drive. That’s about what I’m willing to drive for a weekend, so it was attractive. We also considered the variety of season. Texas peak season runs March (Spring break), and May through mid September. We also get Winter Texans as potential renters. Port Aransas gave us the near perfect combination of a wide renting season and huge markets, with relatively scarce resources.

South Padre

This area has very nice beaches, and a nice proximity to Mexico. Though the United States renting population  close to South Padre is not as great, there is a broad pool of Mexicans who like to vacation in the United States. The water is a little bluer and clearer; the beach a little cleaner. There are no cars on the beach, either. It feels more like a big city beach than Mustang Island, and that has its set of advantages and disadvantages. In the end, it’s a nice beach, but it wasn’t our nice beach.

Mustang Island was for us.

What?

The next decision we had to make was what to buy. We considered a condo or a free standing house. We looked at both. As we honed in on Port Aransas, the amount of new condo development was concerning if we wanted to buy an inexpensive condo and be able to resell it, as new condos will come way down in price in a down economy, but they are not yet seriously depressed in price. There is 5-10 more years of development for condos in Port A, and we did not want to wait that long for our property to appreciate.

We did consider condos in a complex (we could generally get some very attractive rental properties that way) and free standing one or two family condos and homes. We eventually decided that it didn’t matter to us how the property was zoned. We’d find a place we liked. We also decided that proximity to the beach mattered, and it mattered a lot.  Location, location, location.

We also wanted a place that would sleep a lot of guests, and sleep them comfortably. We often travel to the beach with friends, and as our daughters get older, bringing friends will be important to them. Form a rental perspective, the number of comfortable beds is everything.

We finally settled on a three bedroom home (really, a free-standing condo) that slept twelve in three bedrooms comfortably. We could actually sleep more, if people want to take advantage of the various sofas and floors. The great sleeping accommodations make it cost effective for large families and groups and just about perfect for us.

So, we found the right location and the right set up, and now we needed to know the rental history. The owner had a good marketing plan and a good understanding of what it would take to keep the place full and had been very successful. We’ll tell you if what we’re doing keeps working.

I’m curious. What did you look for in your rental house?