Couple splits time between Lake Oconee, Panhandle

Pete Foster planned ahead for retirement by buying lots at the lake and the beach, where he and his wife, Wendi, now split their time.

The couple, who have had a second home at Lake Oconee since 2001 and completed construction of a home in Santa Rosa Beach -- on Florida 30A in the Panhandle -- in May, chatted about their homes.

Q: How did you prepare to retire to two vacation areas?

Pete: I started investing in real estate in Santa Rosa Beach in 1992. I bought property and built the first house in 1992. I did see the boom coming [along 30A]. I bought the Lake Oconee property in 1996, then built the house in Harbor Club in 2001.

Wendi: We were coming here before it was a real thing to come here. There was nothing here but just fields and fields. It's just a great place — white sands and the ocean is emerald. Now the famous 30A is just one of those hotbeds.

Q: Your three-story Florida home is across a small roadway from the beach but sits high up and has ocean views. What did you want in the location?

Pete: We wanted property that would not be affected by the storms. We are reasonably confident that we are high enough, that if there were a storm surge, it would not be affected. We have the best of the views — the sunrise and the sunset and the Gulf — without leaving the house.

Q: Why did you build at Lake Oconee?

Pete: There were three of us that were friends that invested in real estate at the same time, and we all eventually built our houses there.

Q: Is it important to still be close to Atlanta as well?

Pete: Yes, because we have children and grandchildren in Atlanta. Plus it's only been a year and a half since I stopped living in Atlanta because we had our house in Smyrna. Then when I retired (from Whitehead Electric Co.), we sold that house.

Q: How do you split your time between the homes?

Pete: Maybe 60 percent Florida, 40 percent the lake.

Wendi: We're fortunate to be able to have some time at the beach. Then we go back to the lake, where my sister lives, and a lot of our friends are there.

Q: How are the home styles different?

Pete: The house at the lake is in the style of a casual living Nantucket home.

Wendi: I wanted the beach home to feel like a farmhouse/tropical/plantation kind of feel. I love the old plantation homes in Charleston. I also love the way the English came over and settled in the islands. I love Bermuda and that Caribbean feel. So I wanted to get a touch of all of that here.

Q: Why did you make the bar in the middle of the beach house a major feature?

Wendi: We knew we would have a lot of parties. It kind of makes the flow easy [between the kitchen, living room seating and porch]. We had a party for probably 30 people. It wasn't crowded at all.

Q: What tips would you give others seeking to retire to a vacation area?

Pete: Right now is a good time to buy. There is a lot of inventory on the market. There are some bargains. Do your due diligence and don't purchase blindly.

At a glance

Pete and Wendi Foster's home at Lake Oconee, built in 2001 in Harbor Club, has six bedrooms, nine baths and about 6,000 square feet. They moved this spring into the home at Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., which has five bedrooms, five and a half baths and about 4,800 square feet.