Every year, millions of Americans take time off to explore and enjoy the company of loved ones away from home. Whether a weekend exploring a new area or a revisiting your favorite foreign beach, vacations provide a much-needed break from the bustle of everyday life.
You might rent a property from a family friend or have a favorite hotel in the area. But what if you had the keys to a second home in your beloved destination?
Owning a vacation home is a dream for many, but a reality for few. Yet it could be more attainable than you think.
Why you might want to buy a vacation home
If you find yourself returning to the same spot year after year, you may want to save the time of searching and settling into a new rental. A second home can help cut down on planning and expenses, providing an accessible, comfortable vacation at the ready.
When done right, vacation homes can be a successful long-term investment, especially if interest rates are 4% or lower. At those rates, many real estate agents will tell you it’s a good time to buy.
If your second home is near a sought-after tourist destination, it could open up a stream of passive income during the times when you’re not using it. With the help of Airbnb and similar sites, you simply list your property and pay a fee when a member reserves your home.
How to find a vacation home to buy
Finding a vacation home to buy is almost as exciting as the trip itself, and it’s not too different from buying your first home.
Before browsing for properties, first determine what you’re looking for. The rise of the Internet means that you’re likely to find a place that suits your needs.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself — or your realtor — when narrow down your options.
Which location should I choose?
Like any major real estate decision, location is important. Even if you’ve set your sites on that castillo in España, do your research locally as well.
Generally, the farther away from your primary home, the more difficult sealing the deal can be.
International or domestic
The idea of buying a vacation home is one that many people dream of, but there’s a reason it doesn’t happen often: Buying a vacation home can get expensive quickly.
Because it’s easier to search for and visit local properties, buying a vacation house in your home country can be more straightforward than shopping abroad. Still, in some countries, it might just be more affordable than your own: Whereas $500,000 can get you a beautiful waterfront condo in downtown Miami, less than half that could land you a private Balinese villa.
In your own country or outside it, you may want to start by searching for the city or area you’re interested in along with “real estate listings” or “homes for sale.” That way, you’ll have an idea of the prices you face.
When it comes to financing, a mortgage can help offset the expense. But most American lenders don’t issue mortgages for foreign homes. That means you could be on the hook for the full price unless you take out a high-interest personal loan.
If you decide to stay stateside, plenty of banks, credit unions and other lenders offer mortgages designed for the purchase of second homes.
In your own or another state
Even if you stay within the US, you might be interested in investing out of your home state. When the property is far from where you live, you may need to rely on a real estate agent to guide you toward properties and provide photos until you can see them on your own.
Here again, the Internet is a solid tool to learn more about how the locals live, the taxes and laws that might differ from your own state and other considerations that may not be on your radar.
Urban or rural
It’s no secret that property prices vary wildly depending on where you want to live. For instance, $750,000 might get you a small studio in Brooklyn, but less than half that could land you a 2,000-square-foot home and acreage closer to New York State’s capital.
A condo in the heart of downtown, a cozy cottage on a quiet lake or a beachfront home — knowing the type of property you’re interested in will help refine your search and adjust your budget accordingly.
Purpose of the home
After you’ve narrowed down a location and property type, consider how you’ll use it. You might be looking to get away a few times a month. Or maybe you don’t plan to use it at all, instead preferring a passive income stream.
Housing prices are on the incline, with many areas in the US and abroad abundant with properties that are still affordable enough for long-term investment. Another plus: You can enjoy your vacation home as your property appreciates in value.
Yet, it’s not unheard of for vacation homeowners to rent out their second homes year-round. Doing so can help cover the cost of the mortgage or even provide a steady income stream with little effort, especially if you hire a management company to handle your tenants.
Vacation homes are a private space for you to make your own, making for more enjoyable time away with your loved ones without the hassle of planning or adjusting to an unfamiliar living space.
If you travel often to a resort location, it might more affordable to buy your own place and rent it out in the offseason.
Pros and cons of investing in a vacation home
- Full control of home decor and furnishings
- No need to lug clothes, toys or other belongings back and forth
- Use the property whenever you want
- Rent it out for a healthy stream of passive revenue
- Mortgages costs, property taxes, insurance and potential HOA fees and maintenance and upkeep
- Hiring managers to prepare for the season and close up your home after can get expensive
- You might need to keep up with appliances and furnishings to entice renters
- Managing properties from a distance can be difficult, especially if emergency issues arise
Should I consider a timeshare?
Timeshares can be an affordable alternative to buying a vacation home, providing a guaranteed destination to unwind in with family and friends. If you don’t plan to use the property year-round, you’ll typically pay only for the time you plan to enjoy it, helping you to avoid the bigger costs that come with a second home.
To weigh whether a timeshare is right for you, you’ll want to ask if your arrangement is fixed to specific weeks or first come when available throughout the year. Also look into whether you can give away or sell your share if you’re not available to use it.
Also make sure that you understand the many regular costs that can come with a timeshare, including annual and maintenance fees. You may also be on the hook for periodic upgrades and fixes to wear and tear that come with rental properties.
Unlike outright purchasing a second home, your timeshare may not be the best investment. Even if your share increases in value over time, it could be washed out by fees, tax implications and other costs over time.
Best countries and states for vacation homes
Your dream vacation home is waiting for you — though you might have to be willing to scour the globe for it. Search for your new relaxation hotspot in a wide variety of locations, styles, sizes and prices. From cozy chalets on the snow-covered slopes of Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb to private villas on the sandy shores of Portugal, the choice is yours.
Finding the right spot to buy a vacation home depends on what you’re looking for. If it’s convenience you’re after, the diverse terrain of the US presents many desirable options, but your dollar goes much further if you’re willing to make the trip abroad.
Choosing a location for your new vacation home can be tough. Here are top locations for buying a second home, according to other homeowners.
- Melting pot of Italian culture
- Warm, but close to Switzerland and Austria for winter activities
- Limited funding options
- Potential culture shock
- English spoken limitedly
- City life with easy access to beaches and the ocean
- Popular for nightlife and dining options
- High crime rate
- Bad traffic at times
- High cost of living
|Puerto Vallarta, Mexico|
- Beautiful, scenic views
- Proximity to beaches and other outdoor activities
- Laid-back lifestyle
- High crime rate, with a lack of security and police
- Potential language barrier
- Bad traffic at times
|Sun City, Arizona|
- Low-cost living with affordable housing
- Hot weather year-round
- Close to Anaheim, San Diego and other cities
- Far from amenities, like grocery stores and doctor offices
- Lack of events and attractions
|Cape Cod, Massachusetts|
- Easy home loans and other funding for your property
- Popular destination for families
- Year-round community
- May not be “exotic” enough for a vacation home
- Can be expensive, with high taxes and pricey amenities
- Beautiful weather, with plenty to do
- Friendly,inviting atmosphere
- Some areas don’t speak a lot of English
- Lack of funding options
- Properties are expensive
|Palm Springs, California|
- Close to LA
- Friendly atmosphere, and easy to get around
- Beautiful scenery
- Properties can be expensive
- Lack of entertainment unless you visit LA
- Unique environment with like-minded neighbors
- Close to Toronto and other major cities
- Properties and land are expensive
- Lack of funding options
- Long drive or expensive flight
|Lake Tahoe, California|
- Beautiful year-round
- Easily exploring of what California and Nevada have to offer
- High cost of living and expensive properties
- Can get touristy at times
Building vs. buying a vacation home
Even after your research and discussions with real estate agents, it’s possible that you might not find a vacation home that’s right for you. Despite a neverending assortment of vacation home listings, sometimes the best way to get what you want is to build it yourself.
Building your own vacation home can offer more flexibility than purchasing an existing property. You’ll have the freedom to choose exactly where to put it and design the layout that makes it uniquely yours.
A major mistake people make when building a home, however, is underestimating the costs that come with land, architects or design firms, building materials, permits and more.
Collect realistic estimates before deciding whether to buy or build. To make sure that you pick up an adequate construction loan, add in money to cover the inevitable unexpected costs that arise along the way.
Many online lenders offer construction loans, including:
- LendingTree. Offers a handful of loan programs that can help you finance the cost of a new vacation home.
- LoanDepot Mortgage. A fairly new lender, but home to resources and experts that can help you finance the construction of your second home.
- Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. Backed by the well-established Quicken Loans, its experts can help you get the financing you need.
How to finance a new vacation home
Vacation homes are no small purchase, even if you plan to avoid the popular destinations. Paying for your purchase out of pocket may not be an option.
If your new vacation home is in another country, you’re barred from most US-based mortgage products. Which means you’ll need to look into alternative funding, like high-interest personal loans.
If your second home is in the US, most major lenders are eager to provide financing. But you’ll need to decide whether the property is a true second home or an investment. Lenders consider investment properties riskier than second homes, and they may impose specific parameters that decide for you whether your property is one or the other — for instance, considering your second home an investment if it’s 200 miles or more away from your primary residence.
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How to protect your vacation home
No matter how big or where it’s located, a vacation home is an investment that you’ll want to protect.
Here are a few ways you to ensure that you can enjoy your new property for years to come:
- Plan for emergencies. Is the area prone to hurricanes, earthquakes or other natural disasters? Knowing potential risks can help you put together a plan for emergency situations and stock on necessary supplies.
- Keep your home secure. You may not need a state-of-the-art security system, depending on the location and circumstances. But look into monitored systems that can let you know about break-ins or emergencies from afar.
- Get adequate insurance. Start with your primary home’s policy, which might allow you to extend coverage to a second home. Look into whether flood insurance is required. If you’ll rent out your home seasonally, consider rent loss insurance to bridge any gaps.
- Encourage renters insurance. Whether a suggestion or requirement in your rental agreement, asking your tenants to pick up their own insurance can increase protection and peace of mind beyond your standard property insurance.
- Get to know your neighbors. It never hurts to become friendly with others in your neighborhood. They can help be your eyes and ears for suspicious behavior when you’re away.
- Install smoke and CO alarms. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are an essential purchase for any home, especially one that might be vacant for months at a time. Test them periodically to make sure they’re in working order.
There’s a big difference between thinking about purchasing a vacation home and setting on the road to finding and financing one. But buying a vacation home can be easier than you might think, especially if you’re able to take out a mortgage to cover the purchase.
Start by narrowing down areas you’re interested in — domestic or international, rural or urban. Then contact a real estate agent that specializes in that location to find properties that match your needs. With information in hand, you can look at financing to cover both upfront and continuing costs.
Frequently asked questions