Column: Freeloading With Friends

It sounded like a great idea. my mother had a family apartment in Pune, India, that she had inherited. But since she rarely used it, she decided to divest and purchase a vacation home in the Eden-like locale of Goa. My father and I took a reconnaissance mission a year and a half ago, and after touring a number of options, we discovered a new development in North Goa, perched on a large hill, affording the most perfect ocean view we had ever encountered. A week later my father was back in the United States, having signed the paperwork and placed the deposit. Iwas preparing to relocate to Berlin, a city known for its brutal winters, so the promise of spending part of each season in a seafront flat had obvious appeal. Luckily, my parents had the same vision for me, their only son.

But then I made the mistake of mentioning the new holiday home to some of my friends. Soon I was the most popular guy in my social network, as friends stricken by economic woes figured out they could use me for a free vacation. A writer who's a casual friend sent me an e-mail asking when construction would be completed so she could plan her visit. Another, closer friend flat-out told me that she couldn't wait to stay there. Another said the same thing, then another. Suddenly, I began to see the downside of owning a second home: the freeloader factor—a phenomenon that is surely rising as the economy dips. There's something about an empty bed in a sunny clime that makes even casual acquaintances feel entitled to drop in. I had no idea how to handle all these intended guests. What's the ideal balance between being generous and preserving time for yourself? What if they break something? Can they be required to empty the dishwasher?

I decided to ask some people with more experience. Lisa Farjam, a close friend from college, travels a lot for work, so when she has free time she unwinds with her fiancé at their modernist spread in New York's Hudson Valley. Set on 339 square meters, with river frontage, a vegetable garden and a guest house, the property draws a constant stream of visitors. She says guests are welcome to use the smaller cottage—usually in exchange for some gardening favors. "Everyone is always pitching in with cooking and cleaning," she says. "It's a real joy to be in the kitchen and to see everyone working together to make a giant meal."

Other second-home owners are more circumspect. Arlene Shechet, a sculptor who owns a modernist redwood retreat in upstate New York, says her family uses it as a true second home, shuttling from Manhattan whenever they can. Since she views it as an extension of their primary residence, she sees no reason to open it up to a steady stream of houseguests. She does make exceptions, though: she invited a filmmaker friend because she wanted to give her the gift of an inspirational environment to finish an overdue screenplay. "I want it to be a creative place, and I'm not the only person who can benefit from that," says Shechet. "For people who could use a break from their usual circumstance, I'm excited to let them percolate there."

My situation was different. Goa is too far away for most people to plan a quick, impromptu visit. So I sought out someone with a second house in a more far-flung location. Elizabeth Kopko, a Columbia graduate student, and her family own a majestic five-bedroom, oceanfront spread in St. Thomas, with a full-time caretaker. While our flat in Goa is nowhere near that size, it shares an exotic tropical locale—the kind that exerts a siren call for decadent pleasure seekers. Kopko's family offers the house to friends, as well as to paying guests, and they try to limit themselves to about 15 groups of visitors per year. For friends, maid service is generally included free of charge; a private chef is available for a fee. The only problems that Kopko reports are occasional small broken items, or the rare comic mishap by visitors who've gotten the family's off-road vehicle stuck in the sand. Such glitches are no doubt ameliorated by the fact that the property rents for $2,000 per night in high season. A profit incentive would definitely make me more amenable to steady traffic in Goa.

But that's no way to treat friends. I should know; I've freeloaded a time or two myself, setting up camp in a friend's East Hampton, New York, pile, and settling into another friend's villa in Dubai. I left a fancy bottle of champagne for the Hamptonite; I was nervous about bringing alcohol into Dubai, however, so the Emirian had to make do with French marzipan and foie gras. Future visitors to Goa, please note: I prefer Bordeaux to Burgundy, and if you happen to be passing through duty-free at Charles de Gaulle, a box of pistachio macaroons is always welcome.

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