WHAT’S THE IDEAL TIME of year to search for a country or beach house? When the property looks its worst: between dreary November and mud-season March. First, you can really see the lay of the land when trees are bare. Second, if it looks halfway decent in a sleet storm, think how gorgeous it will be in May. Third, there’s less competition. Fewer people are thinking about summer houses in winter. It’s only when the weather turns nice in spring that they suddenly snap to.
Next weekend, when everyone else is pre-occupied with holiday festivities, I’m going to check out Copake Lake in Columbia County, N.Y., about 2 hours north of NYC. I know the general area but don’t think I’ve ever seen the lake, and there are several pre-WWII waterview properties there under 200K. It’ll be quiet, with the jetskis and motorboats in dry dock. I’m prepared to be disappointed and possibly depressed, expecting lots of cheap wall paneling and American flags. But all it takes is one neglected older cottage with a sun porch and some birch trees to get my imagination going.