AH, A SECOND HOME—a fond dream for so many. While we try to justify a weekend house as a “good investment,” they’re often bought to fulfill some emotional need.
For some, it’s a beach house. For others, it’s a mountain getaway. But for me, it’s always been a place in the country. I’m an introvert. The prospect of getting away from crowds and noise to a secluded place of peace and quiet is my ideal.
After marrying and becoming the father of four, I wasted little time before starting to scout the beautiful Texas Hill Country outside of Austin for our weekend getaway home. On many Saturdays and Sundays, I’d load the younger kids into the car. Promising them a great adventure, we’d head out for a long afternoon spent checking out various rural properties for sale. Our older kids were, by then, completely involved with friends and school activities. Meanwhile, my wife was too smart to go. “Let me know when you find it,” she’d say.
My first find was a beautiful 25-acre property on a high hillside with spectacular views and a creek below. I thought it was paradise and we had many fun times there. But it didn’t have a house or even a cabin. We built a spacious covered gazebo on the hilltop, but it still meant camping out if we wanted to spend the night. This didn’t bother me. But when I showed my wife the very comfortable tree trunk in the woods, which I thought made for an exceptional open-air potty, she was not impressed.
So, after a few years, I resumed the search. Lo and behold, I stumbled on another incredible place: 83 acres with great views, beautiful trees and half a mile of good creek. Though it was considerably farther out, which also made it affordable, the key feature was a large cabin with three bedrooms, two baths and a functional kitchen. We sold the first place and bought this one, and began an eight-year adventure as part-time rural denizens.
We spent many weekends there and got a lot of pleasure from making major improvements. We were lucky to find local folks to do badly needed renovations on the cabin, while also getting sore and blistered ourselves chopping “cedar”—the ubiquitous Ashe Juniper, an invasive demon that sucks up water and crowds out native grasses all over the Texas Hill Country. My wife and I had some of our happiest times at “the ranch,” which was truly magical in many ways.
But eventually, reality began creeping in. Our older girls were already graduated or soon to graduate from college, while our younger two kids were entering their teenage years and preferred being with their friends than out in the sticks with Mom and Dad.
Moreover, the cabin—while a big step up from the gazebo and tree trunk toilet—was not of high-dollar construction, and increasingly needed plumbing, roof, appliance and other repairs. I’m no handyman, so we needed a variety of professional help and that became a major issue. Our property was many miles from the closest sizable town and we were typically there only on weekends, so arranging for repairmen to make the trip was problematic.
Gradually, we began to experience our own version of the old joke about the two happiest days in the life of boat owners—the day they buy and the day they sell. The negatives began to overtake the positives, and we put our beloved ranchito on the market. At that point, we were once again reminded of one of the fundamental truths about real estate: It’s often very “illiquid.” Finally, more than two years later, we sold the place.
How did we do investment-wise? We sold the ranch for more than we’d put into it, but not by a whole lot. If you compared our return to what we would’ve made by simply investing in the S&P 500, it would bring a tear to the eye.
Do I regret it? Not a bit. I’m under no illusion that it was a great investment. But we got so much enjoyment out of our country place that we’ll be cherishing the experience and the memories for the rest of our life. Sometimes, it isn’t all about the money.
Andrew Forsythe retired in 2017 after almost four decades practicing criminal law in Austin, Texas, first as a prosecutor and then as a defense attorney. His wife Rosalinda and he, along with their dogs, live outside Austin, at the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Their four kids are now grown, independent and successful. They’re also blessed with four beautiful grandkids. Andrew loves dogs, and enjoys collecting pocketknives and flashlights. His previous articles include Cheap and Proud, Slim Pickings and The Path Not Taken.