Decisions to Consider Before Buying a Vacation Rental Home

If you’re a regular reader you know my husband and I purchased a vacation, rental property in North Carolina a few years ago. While I’ve written a lot about various decisions we’ve made over the years I’ve never written in depth about how we bought our home or the financial aspects of owning it. In this two part series I’ll give you the scoop on both.

At the time we bought our second home my husband and I were 28 and 27 respectively. We had no debt other than a mortgage on our primary residence. That mortgage was a 15 year, fixed rate with only 13 years remaining until payoff. We owned our cars outright, paid off our credit card every month and saved regularly to our brokerage account and 401k(s).

We knew the area of North Carolina where we wanted to purchase a property and spent a number of years eyeing sale signs and searching local listings. In 2004 we placed our first bid. We really low-balled the price and the owner came back and said, “no way” to our offer. My husband really wanted the house and immediately decided we should pay the full asking price. I was in complete disagreement, because there was absolutely no way we could afford it. We fought for days about that house and at one point were barely speaking to one another.

You see, I need a fair amount of financial cushioning in my life in order to feel safe. I want to know that we have enough money to pay our bills and continue to save each month. I want an emergency fund and I never want to fear foreclosure. My aversion to monetary risk helps us avoid debt, which is a key factor in helping me feel secure.

My husband is by nature much less risk averse. He’s also very compassionate and has a hard time giving on something that he really wants. But at the end of the day I just couldn’t figure out how we would pay such a large amount for a second property. A week after making the offer we retracted.

We continued to look casually for property throughout the end of that year and into the following one. It seemed we just weren’t meant to buy, because the homes in our initial price range required a lot of work and the homes that didn’t require work were well out of our reach.

The following year, while I was out taking a walk on an absolutely beautiful May day I found the perfect beach house. The house looked small from the outside, but the exterior was in amazing shape. The paint, siding, decks and pool were recently renovated. I called a buyer’s real estate agent and asked for a tour. When I walked inside I knew I wanted to place a bid.

My husband and I knew the real estate market was unbelievably high and although we didn’t predict the bubble bursting we had a feeling that prices wouldn’t continue to rise. Having said that, we also knew that this was the house we wanted. The price was $130,000 less than the first house we bid on.

We talked at length about the impacts of this decision before making an offer. For example, we both agreed that neither one of us could quit our jobs or even find lesser paying ones, because both of our incomes were necessary to pay the mortgages. We talked about our long term plans to have a family and decided neither one of us would be able to stay home with a child. We also talked a lot about general ways that we could cut back on daily expenses. We agreed to postpone renovating our primary house and decided not purchase any new vehicles.

We also reviewed all of our monthly expenses. We looked over every bill and stepped line by line through our credit card purchases. We agreed to cut back on buying new clothes and new computers. We decided to focus on cooking at home and cutting entertainment expenses. In essence, we decided to cut back on all discretionary purchases until at least six months after purchasing the property. If we found room in the budget after that point in time we’d consider expanding the budget every so slightly.

In the end we decided to forgo other aspects of our life in order to buy our beach home. My husband and I didn’t take a major vacation to anywhere other than North Carolina for over five years. We rarely ate out, we rarely bought new items like clothes, electronics or furniture and we decided not to renovate our primary home, which is in need of upgrades.

A lot of people wouldn’t trade travel, expensive dinners and other aspects of entertainment for a beach house. If you want to own a beach house you might want to ask yourself what else in life you might need to give up.

Having said all that I wouldn’t trade that decision for anything in the world. In fact, it is the best decision, (other than marrying my husband), that I’ve ever made in my life.

Tomorrow I’ll detail how much it actually cost to purchase our home and how much it costs each year to maintain it.

Related Posts

7 thoughts on “Decisions to Consider Before Buying a Vacation Rental Home”

  1. So glad you made the right decision! Vacation rental properties, chosen correctly, can cover themselves for costs as well as provide owners the ability to vacation there or trade with other owners. We own 2 VR's on Sanibel Island and have not regretted owning them for one day! And marketing properties has gotten easier, too, with social media tools as a great and free way to advertise. We use secondporch, a new Facebook app, to promote our vr condo and vr house, and it's been very effective!

  2. Have you actually had a child yet? It's really easy to give up staying home with a child until you have one, then it's very, very difficult.

  3. I know the hotel for cheap vacation rentals and cheap vacation packages. Resort for wedding and social group accommodations for customers around the world. Their Key West vacation rentals are available with attractive vacation packages.

  4. Thinking about making the plunge myself…I am 54 and wife is 45…what advice could you give us now with your experience under your belt.

  5. @mark from ct – buying that house is the best decision we've ever made! If you have a specific question let me know, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

  6. Hi there! I realize this is old but hoping you will still respond. You stated — “Having said all that I wouldn’t trade that decision for anything in the world. In fact, it is the best decision, (other than marrying my husband), that I’ve ever made in my life.”

    My spouse and I are also considering a similar purchase in our favorite spot. We own an investment condo–a former primary residence of ours–that we we rented out as a vacation rental for a couple of years because we thought we could do better than a regular rental w/12 mos. lease. This was in the city we live in, which is a highly desirable tourist locale with 2 high seasons and several shoulder seasons. While this ultimately didn’t work out financially due to vacancy, I say all that just to note that I’m familiar with the ins and outs of this process, property managers, tenants, etc.

    But as we now consider a vacation rental in a small town 2 hours away from our city that we will actually get to USE ourselves, I am torn because the cost is extremely expensive, even when rental income is factored in. There is no way around these numbers.

    I’m sure you did this analysis and came to the same conclusion. And of course all the articles out there on this topic tell you “Don’t do it, it’s a waste of money! Just book a rental or stay in a hotel!”

    So why, for you, was this the best decision you ever made? It would be nice to hear from a real vacation home homeowner rather than expert finance reporters from magazines. Thanks!

    • In my opinion every decision should not come down to finances. Our house is a reprieve from every day life, it is a sanctuary, it is a place where my children grow and develop. It is a place we love more than any other. If you can afford two mortgages and find a place you love then I see no reason not to buy a vacation home. If you expect to make money or break even I’d say don’t do it.

      We visit our house often to make repairs, paint and just get away from every day life. My children now 1 & 4 know our house as well as the one we live in full time. We sing songs about it and when they are sick they use our house a vision to make them feel better. Like rainbows and beach scenes.

      I do not regret the choice but I am able to afford it. I bought it when I was 27 and earned a high income in the computer field.

      Let your heart guide you. If your wallet is big enough choose your heart over your head.


Leave a Comment