Mountain Mama

A talk with Mom about living and purchasing vacation property in the mountains

In 2000, my mom bought a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house in McCall, Idaho, a resort-town built around Payette Lake – about two hours outside of Boise. She paid cash (this detail will be important later). “The cabin” became a place where my brothers and I would descend from all parts of the country to spend a few days together every summer.  The rest of the year, my mom alternated between driving up for weekends with other friends and family and renting the place out. At one point, she took a job transfer and lived in McCall during the week, and spent her weekends in Boise.

So, when I started fantasizing about living in the mountains, Mom was the first person I talked to.

She set me straight right away, reminding me that although I may have little daydreams about driving a 1966 Ford F100 to the general store in cowboy boots and short shorts, my distaste for wild animals, deep darkness, and winter might get in the way of my enjoyment.

Good point.

In case anyone out there is keen on the idea of bears in your yard, a lack of street lights, and driving with chains on your tires, Mom shared her top three pros and cons of mountain living:





Incredible beauty

Small, cozy community

Sense of independence and adventure

Small, (too) cozy community

Challenging weather

Difficulty getting services


Ok, so what if you’re more like me – not cut out for mountain living, but you do like to visit and ride your bike around the lake or occasionally thrill yourself with scary stories around a campfire?

Mom says girls like us might want to consider a vacation home in the mountains.

And, as usual, she also gave us a few more things to ponder before jumping the gun. It’s important to note here that her McCall cabin is in town, within walking distance of coffee, shopping, restaurants, and the marina. The town’s population is almost 3,000, and she has neighbors on either side and right across the street. So, keep in mind that the following factors don’t just apply to properties isolated in the deep woods.

Mom’s Message:

–       “I didn’t buy the cabin as an investment. I bought it for vacations. I just rent it out to offset some costs. But McCall is a local resort town, not a national one, so it only rents out about 15 weekends a year, maybe 2 or 3 full weeks.”

–       “You have to be pretty flush to have a vacation home in the mountains. The rent I get never covers all the maintenance, insurance, and taxes.”

(Remember that detail about Mom paying cash for the place? This means she doesn’t have a mortgage. If she did, it would significantly increase the amount of expenses rent isn’t covering.)

–       “Weather is rough on a house, so it has a lot more maintenance than my house downtown [in Boise]. I’ve had to paint every four or five years, refinish the decks every other year or so, and have the roof cleaned of pine needles every year. In the spring they’re about six inches thick. And you’ll also have to pay for plowing and shoveling when you can’t be there do it.”

–       “The electricity often goes out, so you need to have two sources of heat. The cabin has wall heaters and a propane stove.”

–       “I’ve used a property management company since the beginning. They deal with all the paperwork, minor repairs, and tenant complaints. It saves me the headache. I don’t mind that cost at all.”

–       “As long as I’m using it on a regular basis, I’m fine with paying the maintenance costs, but when I’m not using it often, I feel like I’m wasting my money.”

Got it.

Thanks, Mom.

Now all I need to do is get myself some cash, a pair of cowboy boots, and that 1966 Ford F100 I’ve been dreaming about.



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Elizabeth Salaam
Along with her work as Senior Contributing Writer for Girl's Guide, Elizabeth Salaam writes for the San Diego Reader. Her work has also been published in Elle Magazine. | Most inspired by: Contradictions. | Favorite room in my home: The Master suite. The windows have views for days! | Best design idea I may never do: Adorn my enclosed toilet room with library book wallpaper and a chandelier. | Will never: Bungee jump. | Have always been: Rebellious. | Dying to: Live in a Paris flat with herringbone wood floors.
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