Mary McCarthy wasn’t sure she wanted to buy a condo in Old Town.

While considering a change from renting to owning, she loved her apartment but remembers thinking, “What I want at 29 is probably not what I want at 35.”

But what was she sure wouldn’t change? Her lifelong goal to be able to visit a lakeside town harboring nostalgic memories of family summer vacations.

So, while sharing her Chicago rent with a roommate, she bought a three-bedroom place in 2012 in Duneland Beach, Ind.

McCarthy is one of a small but growing number of people whose first real estate purchase is a vacation getaway.

According to data provided by vacation rental site HomeAway, 8 percent of users said the vacation home was their first home purchase. That’s gone up since 2014, when that number was 2 percent.

“A lot of it is a dream fulfillment,” said John Gajkowski, co-founder of the Oak Brook-based Money Managers Financial Group. “They’ve always wanted to have a lake home. They might have grown up with their parents or grandparents having a lake home.”

Reasons vary — people might be unsure where they’ll live in a few years, because of job changes or deciding between city and suburbs. But they might know they’ll want a place on the shore. Others eye it as potential investment or retirement property. And in some cities, real estate an hour outside of town might be far more affordable than a condo downtown.

Meanwhile, sites like HomeAway and Airbnb have made it much easier to rent out, and reasonably expect at least some rental income from, a vacation home.

“I think as it gets more popular, people feel more comfortable,” HomeAway representative Adam Annen said of vacation home purchases.

Millennials especially might be attracted to a getaway purchase. Samuel Ciochon, a real estate consultant for Coldwell Banker, has heard both clients and friends mull a first purchase near small lakes in Wisconsin, Michigan or Illinois.

Many, he said, are encouraged by increasing flexibility at work, dreaming of driving out Thursday for a full weekend after working remotely Friday. According to the National Association of Realtors, vacation homes’ median distance from a primary home was 200 miles — so within an after-work drive.

Plus, young professionals anticipate moving for a job. Even if they relocate to Milwaukee or Minneapolis, they feel they would use the vacation home.

“They’re so transient,” Ciochon said. “They’re like, ‘All right, a vacation home is a perfect place for friends to go and for everybody to enjoy.'”

Mike Larson bought a lakeside property in his 30s. When he started thinking about buying a house, he was renting and working in Midland, Mich.

“I was looking at something from an investment perspective,” he said, “not knowing what my future was going to hold.”

With his wife, a Peoria native, he had recently visited the shores of Michigan. They bought a four-bedroom on a dune in Pentwater, Mich.

Lakefront property, he felt, would hold its value and be a place he could visit from anywhere. Now they live in Minneapolis and recently brought their 8-month-old son for the first time.

“He loves crawling around there,” he said. “I don’t think he appreciates the view from the backyard or the beach yet.”

The home also hosted their 2014 wedding — saving money on a venue, Larson notes — with a tent in the backyard and flowers picked from surrounding meadows.

Besides building memories, Larson considers it a solid investment. They collect rental income June to September through VRBO and, recently, Airbnb. They’ll next visit in August, when they host an annual family reunion.

Festive weekends were the biggest perks of McCarthy’s vacation spot, she said. Every fall she’d host a wine and brewery tour in Michigan.

But she also acknowledges logistical obstacles — from paying someone to mow the lawn or clear snow to a $200 fee to clear a dead tree. She sold the property in 2015 but considers it a positive experience with fond memories.

For others considering the same, she advises a realistic attitude about costs.

“Don’t be swept away with the emotions, because it can seem like a very romantic idea to buy a lake house,” she said.

That echoes what Gajkowski tells clients, including several young professionals who bought property near lakes while renting in Chicago.

“You have to soul-search and see exactly why you’re doing this,” Gajkowski said. “What you think is going to be a good thing can turn around and complicate your life.”

Things to consider? Mortgage. Utilities. Hiring someone for cleaning and laundry after rentals. How much you like to tinker — repairs will be on you, whether that’s driving out or finding a trusted professional.

“You have to have the proper personality for it,” Gajkowski said.

And, he added, “You have to be someone who likes to entertain.”

People, after all, will visit. That’s one of the reason you got the house in the first place, right?

“You always have the refrigerator and the bar stocked,” Gajkowski said. “And sometimes it gets replenished, sometimes it doesn’t. It can turn into an expensive thing.”

As an investment, rentals might pay some bills, but Gajkowski advises clients not to count on a property appreciating. And even if it does, consider mushrooming costs.

“If you have a lake home you have to have lake toys,” Gajkowski said. “Boat. Jet skis. You have to insure them, you have to maintain them, you have to store them.”

Another way people buy a home while still renting is in a group. HomeAway data show 29 percent of rentals are co-owned by friends or family. If you go that route, make sure to specify what happens if someone later wants to sell, Gajkowski advised.

Finally, be honest about how much you’ll visit. Will that dream of driving away, city skyline in the rearview mirror, happen every week?

“What I have found,” Gajkowski said, “is that most of the people (who consider this) are pretty hard-driving people. What they don’t have is a lot of time.”

After all, he added, “You have to have the time to enjoy it. Summer in Chicago only lasts for two weeks. If you miss that window, it’s a problem.”

abowen@chicagotribune.com ___

This article was written by ALISON BOWEN from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.