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FAQ About seasonal houses

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FAQ About seasonal houses

When you’re looking for a getaway home upstate, in the Catskills, the Adirondacks or the Finger Lakes, you may come across houses that are categorized as ‘seasonal’. Seasonal houses are often found in vacation home areas in colder climes, like Sullivan County.

I’ve put together this page to give you an overview about ‘seasonals’. The thumbnail is that seasonals are houses that are not winterized for year round use. They can be categorized as seasonals for a number of different reasons, which can impact whether they can possibly be ‘winterized’ for year round use or not.

A quick background on seasonals

Up until the 1950’s, many vacation homes were only built for summer use. Few  second home owners came up to ‘the mountains’ during the winter, and particularly at the lower end of the price spectrum, buyers had little interest in paying extra for a fully winterized year round house if they weren’t going to use it off season. Even in some of the ‘fancier’ lake communities of the day, like Merriewold or Wanaksink, most of the pre-1960’s houses were seasonals. Bungalow colonies, which were a Catskills staple, were also built for summer only use. It wasn’t until the 1960’s, with the advent of the Lake Louise development, that year round houses became the norm for second home communities.

What makes a ‘seasonal’ a ‘seasonal’?

The most common factor in categorizing a house as ‘seasonal’ is that the water supply to the house is not winterized for year round use. In Smallwood, for example, the houses got their water from a community water system. That system, which still supplies the seasonal houses there, wasn’t designed for winter use. The supply pipes aren’t buried below the frost line, so the system needs to be turned off and drained before the onset of winter (in the case of Smallwood, generally in late October.) Over the years, wells were drilled at many of the houses in Smallwood, enabling year round use, but that isn’t an option for most of the remaining seasonals there for reasons I’ll go into in the next section.

In other areas, seasonals may have drilled wells capable of providing water in the winter, but the houses and systems haven’t been upgraded for year round use. For example, at Hunter Lake near Parksville, a house may have a drilled well, but the house itself sits on piers (not a full foundation), with the pipes from the well to the house not winterized. These houses typically also don’t have much, if any, insulation and may not have a year round heating system.

Can seasonal houses be winterized for year round use?

That depends. In Smallwood, generally no. While many of the cottages there do have their own drilled wells (and therefore can be used in the winter), most of those wells were put in before current regulations requiring a minimum separation between wells and septic systems. The parcel sizes in Smallwood are geneerally about 1/4 an acre or less, which doesn’t provide enough separation to get a well permit. The houses that have wells are grandfathered in.

In other areas, where the seasonals have their own wells it may be possible to winterize them. But it’s more involved that just enclosing the foundation area, winterizing the pipes and plumbing and throwing in a heating system. Upgrading from seasonal to year round is generally a use change, and requires township approval. Each township has different rules, but you may be required to upgrade the septic, install rainwater drainage or make some other modifications. And even then it’s not a slam dunk, depending on the lot size, proximity to a lake or presence of wetlands.

Are seasonals a lot cheaper than year rounders?

Generally yes. In Smallwood, for example, seasonals tend to be priced about 30-40% less than comparable year rounders.

Are seasonals financed the same way as year round houses?

No. There are some requirements for what’s known as a ‘conventional, conforming’ mortgage, which is the standard type of mortgage issued by most lenders, including that a house have an “uninterruptible year round water supply” and an “unattended heating system.” Those attractive rates you see on line from Quicken or Citi or Chase are for “conventional conforming” mortgages, which are usually packaged into mortgage backed securities and sold into the secondary mortgage market.

You can get a mortgage on a seasonal house, but you need what;s known as a ‘portfolio loan’, which is funded by the lender’s own funds and doesn’t need to meet the criteria for being packaged and sold in the secondary market. The loan terms are usually not as attractive — the down payment may be 30-35% rather than the more typical 20% on a conventional mortgage, and the interest rate is usually a couple of points higher. Banks that lend from their own funds in this area include First National Bank of Jeffersonville and NBDC (formerly National ank of Delaware County), and both lend on seasonals.

One thing to note is that occasionally a house has been functionally upgraded for year round use, but hasn’t been officially converted with the town. So it will still be categorized as ‘seasonal’ in the property record. If that’s the case, a conventional lender may not lend on it until the classification has been changed.

What about a bungalow in a coop bungalow colony?

Bungalow colony coops are almost always an all-cash purchase. Most banks, even the portfolio lenders, don’t lend on them.