Pebble Beach Golf Links. Photo by Bart Keagy

7th Hole, Pebble Beach Golf Links. (Photo Credit: Bart Keagy)

Trade representatives from Monterey County, Calif., hosted a media dinner I attended recently, making an excellent case for the coastal area two hours or so south of San Francisco, plying us with agricultural products from the region.  It was a knockout meal, not surprisingly, as the area is home to the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Salinas Valley (nicknamed the “Salad Bowl of the World”),  and numerous California-caliber restaurants and wineries.

Eating local here is as good as it gets.  (Full disclosure: the dinner included fabulous abalone, lamb, artisanal cheese, glorious produce, fine wine — and, yes, it was comped.)

Today’s post features one of the premier residential communities in Monterey County: Pebble Beach.  It’s a bucket list golf destination for many, with more than half-a-dozen golf courses, including  Pebble Beach Resort’s famed Spy Glass Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay, and Pebble Beach Golf Links,  rated the No.1 public course in the U.S. by Golf Digest Magazine,  and a frequent setting for the U.S. Open.

Much of Pebble Beach is gated, open to the public willing to pay the $10 toll to drive the renowned 17 mile scenic route that winds along its shoreline. Homeowners and resort visitors on this road enjoy some of the most spectacular oceanfront views in the country. Housing prices in the area reflect the stunning beauty.

Soak it up, viewing housing options in a range of prices:

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Photo: Sotheby's International Realty

Photo: Sotheby’s International Realty

Napa County may get the lion’s share of the California wine country press while Sonoma County sometimes seems lumped in as an afterthought. But Sonoma has its own quiet magic. Falstaff Grove looks like it could be a resort or bed and breakfast, but it is a private home located approximately 4 miles west of downtown Sebastopol, a popular spot for Sonoma wine country tourists, known for its arts as well as its fine dining.  The area itself is known for apple farms and pinot noir grapes.

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rancho mirage real estate

Photo: Leaskou Partners

In the winter months, the resort city of Rancho Mirage, California, becomes a popular destination in large part because it boasts one of the warmest winters in the United States. The combination of bright sunshine and snow-capped mountains in the distance create a perfect backdrop for golf, and snowbird recreation. It began to flower in the 1940s and 1950s when Hollywood stars and monied Angelenos sought a warm retreat for the winter months.  Golf, martinis, and afternoons by the pool were the order of the day (and not out of fashion yet). There are nine country clubs in the area including Thunderbird and Tamarisk, the country club designed in 1952, that today’s home is located in.

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Photo: Elite Realty Group

Photo: Elite Realty Group

Yucaipa? The close-knit community in California’s San Bernardino County isn’t exactly the vacation destination on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but the town has a lot to recommend it, including great recreation opportunities and a quaint downtown. In fact given the town’s commitment to lifelong learning, health, and wellness, it might just be a dream spot for retirees.

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Surely you’ve dreamed of second home ownership but like me, you are a perpetual tire kicker OR you worry that you won’t use the home enough, the maintenance will drive you batty. Second home owners sometimes corner me at parties and say, hey you with your damn fetish for multiple home ownership, it’s helluva lot of work. We just spent our entire weekend painting our second home — thanks a lot.

I get it. We do own a second home — well, lot —that’s part of what I call a condo ranch in Johnson City. It’s a shared ownership ranch because these fingernails don’t chop cedars and split fence. I want a second home with all the luxury, without all the work. I want horses to ride and groom when I fancy, but not every day. Let the ranch manager worry about the Longhorn.

Still: man does not live by the ranch alone.

The Fairmont Private Residences at Ghirardelli Square, which I have raved to you about before, is coming to town. We are having a sip n see party for select readers of CandysDirt.com and SecondShelters.com at a private home in Highland Park to learn the nitty gritty of Fairmont fractional ownership. Fred Karpik will be here from San Francisco answering the tough questions. For example, a friend asked me today something crucial: what are the maintenance charges and how much can they go up? We will be asking all this and more, and of course I’ll blog it all. Current owners will be on hand to tell us how much they like or dislike their property.

Fractional ownership makes so much sense to me. Though we love it, we have been to our Hill Country lot once this year. Our children live out of state and we go visit them, or we visit family on the other coast at the beach house in Maine. What’s happened to our home ownership needs is they have changed. We want less, but more. Like most folks our age, we can travel now that our kids are grown, and our family home is filled with family only a few times a year. Then you get that tax bill as we did today and you say, well, I cannot say what I said. (Maybe — ha — thank you, Angela Hunt.) It may make more sense to have a smaller home in Dallas and a part-time place out where our kids live. A fractional ownership at Fairmont Ghirardelli gets me 35 days a year to visit my son and daughter-in-law; last year, I visited them for a total of about 15 days in Cali. That would give me a place to stay in San Francisco, private storage for a warm coat and wine, a  car with driver in town, and flexibility to use another Fairmont Private Residence Club the other 20 days.

And to be honest, who gets more than 35 days of vacation a year, unless you are retired?

Plus the location of this property in unbeatable — and TOTALLY unaffordable for me if it were not fractional.

I think this makes total sense. We have friends contemplating the same thing as they eye fractional ownership of homes near their flock. Are they an appreciating asset? Probably not. At least you get a deed, and can will your deed to your estate, so your heirs can continue to enjoy it. There is no better legacy than leaving a second home for your children and grandchildren to enjoy. And at this one, Fairmont does all the work, from cleaning and electrical to maintenance and repair. Email me at Candace@SecondShelters.com if you’d like to attend or have any questions about fractional vacation home ownership — or pop us a question right here in the comments!

Late last summer, 2011, we were in Sonoma County, California where I toured a most amazing property called Mayacama. I credit finding this property to my trusted veterinarian, Dr. Barret Jiranek here at Lover’s Lane Animal Medical Center (Dallas). Or maybe I should give my precious Doodle Bree the credit. She had an ear ache, and I took her to see Dr. J before leaving town, like any good mother. He told me his sister lives in Sonoma — “in God’s country,” he said, and told me I needed to cover the development on this blog: 675 secluded acres amid rolling hills and northern California vineyards; wine and golf. Home ownership opportunities. I was intrigued.

Then I saw it with my own eyes. I have been to a lot of beautiful properties, from La Jolla to Rancho Mirage to Clint Eastwood’s Tehama. I adore Calistoga Ranch and Costa Rica. Mayacama is definitely one of the most elite and exclusive private clubs in the world, and yes, fractional second home ownership is available!

Whole ownership of any of these properties would be several million dollars.

Mayacama golf is to-die for!

The club is named after the Mayacama Mountains that separate Napa from Sonoma, tucked away, all surrounded by vineyards. If you were to draw heaven, this would be it. Yet it is surprisingly close to San Francisco, even allowing for the usually annoying California traffic. You head north on Highway 101 about an hour north of San Francisco and go about five minutes north of Santa Rosa. You steer up to a gate with guards, take a two mile drive to the clubhouse though a thicket of trees and hillsides that suddenly give way to an open meadow. And there it is.

Mayacama was founded and developed by the Wilhelm family in 1997, along with Forsythe Investments. It was built on land once belonging to Peanuts creator Charles Schultz, an avid golfer who, with a group of friends, envisioned developing a world-class semi-private golf course within the 3500 acre site. Environmental concerns put those plans on hold. The 40,000 square foot clubhouse evokes images of a Tuscan country estate. The villas and casitas are uber first-rate, beautifully designed and decorated.

But here, golf,  is supreme.

The property takes full advantage of the site’s natural elevation, which make the golf course rather challenging. That and the majestic oaks which dictate shot placement, I’m told. The course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, opened in August of 2001 and of course Nicklaud played the first round. It’s the variety of the landscape that heightens the golf experience. In fact, this was where my husband felt the closest he ever has in the U.S. to the U.K., when he golfed at Skibo Castle in Scotland. Mayacama has a strong caddie program so members and guests can uphold the tradition of walking the course.

Say You Own a  Home in the Wine Country

Golf is great, but you are here in the Northern California wine country — partake. In addition to counting more than 30 of America’s leading vintners among members, the club at Mayacama regularly hosts tasting events showcasing some of the area’s and the continent’s finest wines. There is a full time Concierge, beautiful fitness center and spa, tennis courts, Olympic sized pool, play room for children, and one of the highest rated spas in the country: European style, professional masseuse always on duty. Each member also has their own private wine locker, temperature controlled, to store wine they may buy in the area. In addition to being an amazing escape where you can indulge in golf, fitness, spa, Mayacama serves the glorious food of Northern California as well with top-rated chefs in the kitchen.

There are casitas and villas. Casitas are one bedroom, one bath 840ish square feet fully furnished with every amenity: fireplace, living area, kitchenettes, soaking tub and a staple of the region, the outdoor shower. Villas are three bedroom, three and a half bath, 3000 plus square feet of indoor/outdoor living with decks and panoramic views. All lodges are fully maintained with constant maid service, and like most fine residences the staff will prepare for your stay, shuttle you, and store personal belongings. There are 12 casitas and 19 villas and a fractional ownership here nets you 28 days in one of each.

It’s simply heaven.

As my site’s tagline reads, “you can never have too many homes.” Apparently, many buyers and homeowners agree. The latest Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey from the National Association of Realtors reported that vacation-home sales rose 7 percent in 2011.

In all, as I may have told you, vacation-home sales accounted for a healthy 11 percent of all real estate transactions in 2011. Not bad for a still-sluggish housing market.

And look at this gorgeous property I just found in Dana Point, California: $2500 per square foot at The Strand.

Of course, buying a vacation home is one thing. Maintaining it is another. What if you live in Dallas and your vacation home is in North Carolina or Miami or this $25 million number on the west coast? How do you make sure the kitchen sink isn’t leaking or the windows aren’t broken when you’re hundreds of miles away?

Simple. (Well, not that simple.) You hire a concierge service. These services – also known as property management services — will watch over your second home while you’re away, make sure that the grass is mowed and the snow (if your second home resides in a chillier clime) is plowed.

I recently spoke with my mortgage guru Marcus McCue, senior vice president with the Plano office of Guardian Mortgage Company, about the steps owners of vacation homes can take to find the right concierge service for their second residences. Mortgage companies tend to like it when you take care of your property. Not only do many of his customers have second homes, his family also maintains a vacation home in Colorado – one of the top two states for second homes for Texans.

Candy: First, why do you think the vacation-home market has remained so strong even during a slow time for primary real estate?

 Marcus: You have to consider the buyers in the second-home market. They are buying these homes because they want to, not because they need to. The economic slowdown obviously hasn’t hurt these people as much. They still have money to spend, and they want to spend it on vacation homes that they and their entire families can enjoy. Because of this, the second-home market isn’t as impacted by the ups and downs of the economy.

Candy: That’s exactly what we heard at NAREE. The second home market can be rather insulated. It’s easy to enjoy a vacation home while you’re there. But what about when you’re not? That’s the challenge, right, maintaining these homes when you live across the country from them?

Marcus: That can be a challenge. You need to hire a concierge or property management company to take over the day-to-day maintenance of these second homes. You can do little when you live hundreds of miles away. You can’t just leave and forget about that second home once your vacation is over. Who knows what can happen to that property when you’re not there?

Candy: A woman in Dallas has a second home in East Texas, very remote, and the thing BURNED — she didn’t even know it ’till she drove out there! What can the owners of vacation homes expect their concierge services to do for them?

Marcus: Basically, they do everything that you do for your primary residence. There’s the basic upkeep, of course, but they are also there to handle any emergencies. Maybe a front window gets broken. They’ll take care of it. If there’s a leak in your home, they’ll handle it. Need someone to open the gate for a furniture delivery? Your concierge has the keys.

Candy: What about handling rentals? Many owners of vacation homes rent out those homes when they’re not using them. Concierge services can help with that, too, right?

Marcus: Definitely. Good ones screen renters and set up their schedules. They collect the rent and arrange for cleaning afterwards. Plus, they check the home for damage after a stay.

Candy: What questions should vacation-home owners ask when they’re investigating concierge or property management companies?

Marcus: First, ask a company how long it’s been in business. You want to work with a service that has a lot of experience. The more experience a concierge service has, the more prepared it will be to react to any problem. Also, make sure to ask how long a concierge service has worked in your vacation-home market. You don’t want to work with a company that may have many years of experience but has never tried to rent out a condo or home in your vacation home’s neighborhood.

Owners should ask, too, for a complete rundown of concierge services’ fees and what services come with these costs. They should ask how a concierge company will market their vacation homes. That’s important when it comes to securing renters. Finally, ask services how often they’ll check on your vacation property. Ask if they’ll do a complete walk-through after each group of renters checks out.

Candy: Do you have anyone you recommend?

Marcus: There aren’t any nationwide concierge services so you need to find one near your vacation home. In Colorado, I can recommend The Grand Concierge in Winter Park and Frias Properties in Aspen.

Candy: Thanks, Marcus. This conversation makes me want to take another vacation. I think it’s time we checked out YOUR second home in Colorado!

If you have questions about buying, financing and maintaining a second home, feel free to contact Marcus McCue at 972-200-3380, marcusmccue@gmc-inc.com or on Facebook.