Cabin-Buying Tips for City Dwellers

A rural cabin can be a great escape from city life. But consider these tips before you invest in a weekend getaway spot.

If you live in a built-up area, especially a large city, the desire to escape to the great outdoors may really pull at you. City noise, pollution, crowds and chaos make a simple little cabin in the woods sound tempting indeed. You may even long to buy your own getaway spot to escape to on weekends, where you can breathe fresh air, see the stars at night and appreciate solace with nature.

But how do you make sure your weekend retreat doesn’t start to feel like an obligation, or a financial hardship? Before you take the leap, consider these cabin-buying tips, written with city-dwellers in mind.

Go With Something Simple

If this is your first foray into vacation home ownership, or if you’re a renter who’s never owned a home anywhere, choose a simple cabin in like-new or at least very good condition. The fewer extras, the fewer things can go wrong. You need bedrooms, a bathroom and a basic kitchen in a solidly built structure — and, of course, a beautiful natural setting.

Don’t Create a Financial Hardship

Can you afford this vacation cabin without altering your day-to-day lifestyle? Yes? Then go for it.

But if buying a cabin means really cutting back at home, giving up vacations or taking on too much debt, then the stress isn’t worth it. Find something more affordable, or wait until you’re in a stronger financial position.

Be Realistic About Drive Time

You arrive home from work on Friday evening, pack up the car and hit the road to your rural retreat. How long do you realistically want to be in the car? Factor in traffic and, on Sunday, the time spent repacking the car and driving home.

Only you know what feels like too much for you. Our take? A drive of more than two hours will quickly start to feel like a slog.

Know Just How Remote You Can Handle

Rural Store Aaron Hawkins/Getty Images

“Away from it all” sounds magical until you’re away from something you really need, whether it’s a grocery store, a gas station or a hospital.

Before you purchase a remote cabin, figure out where the closest essential services are and decide whether you’re comfortable with those distances. Also, if there’s an emergency, can first responders reach your location? Less dire but important if you need to stay connected: Can you get reliable WiFi at your rural outpost?

Don’t Make it an Obligation

“We have to go to the cabin again this weekend.” That’s a sentence you never want to utter as a cabin owner. Yet you’ve made the investment, and you may well feel obligated to drive up and enjoy the cabin every weekend, even when there’s a great block party, food festival or concert happening in your city.

We don’t recommend buying a cabin unless you’re sure you’ll use it often. But we also don’t think it has to be an every-weekend obligation, especially if that means missing out on other activities you enjoy.

Don’t Overestimate Your DIY Skills

Your DIY skills may be limited to winterizing your toilet when you close up the cabin for a few months — and there’s nothing wrong with that! Just be sure that you don’t look at that fixer-upper cabin for sale and say to yourself, “I can fix it!” when you don’t have the skills or the tools for the job.

Yes, both can be acquired with an investment of money and time. But don’t rip off that old roof unless you know how to put on a new one!

Invest in Some Tools

As you outfit your new cabin, make sure your shopping trip includes a spin down the tool aisle of your local home center. You’ll need a basic hand tool kit, some outdoor hand and garden tools and, depending on your cabin, a few power tools.

Case in point: When my partner and I owned a cabin in West Virginia, we didn’t know we needed a chainsaw until a tree fell across our driveway after a big winter storm.

Know That Maintenance Is Time-Consuming

A garden or driveway full of weeds. A pile of wood that needs to be chopped and stacked. A log cabin that needs a new coat of stain. A deck that needs waterproofing. These are all cabin maintenance tasks that can take up a lot of your precious weekend time.

If you find these activities relaxing and enjoyable, you’re in luck. Just like at home, there always seems to be something that that needs to be done at a cabin.

Consider Cabin Security

The tree that fell across our driveway actually did us a favor. That was the only thing that kept vandals from breaking into our cabin the same weekend they broke into all the cabins around us.

Even if you don’t keep anything of value in your cabin, a broken window or front door is costly to replace. Consider what you need for cabin security and vacation home insurance. If you install an alarm system, will it link to the closest police station? And how much will the system cost to install and maintain?

Ask Yourself Whether the Home Will Grow With You

If you’re a young couple just starting out, a small rural cabin can be an exciting first step in building a life together. But what if kids come along? Is your cabin safe for babies and toddlers? And what if those babies and toddlers grow into teens who aren’t interested in spending most weekends at the cabin? Consider how (and if) the cabin will grow as your family grows and changes.