The Cost of Owning a Vacation Rental Home

So you read yesterday‘s post and still think you want to own a vacation rental home.

I Want To Buy a Vacation Rental Property

Now you just need to figure out whether or not you can afford it. How much money does it take to own a second home and how much money will you earn from it? I’ll walk you through the details of our second property to uncover the real cost of home ownership. Then you can decide if vacation rental ownership is right for you.

Owning a Vacation Rental Home

As I mentioned yesterday we purchased our rental home near the height of the housing market. We secured a 30 year fixed rate mortgage at 6% through a credit union that required 20% down. These days I highly doubt you could attain a mortgage on a second home without putting down at least 20%. The down payment came from a bunch of stocks and mutual funds that my husband and I had been holding onto for years. A large chunk came from company stock that would now be worthless.

Owning a Vacation Property in the Outer Banks

Most people think that you can earn enough money in rental income to cover the cost of the mortgage. While this might be the case in warmer vacation spots where you can rent year round, it is certainly not the norm in a place like the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Owning a rental property in the Outer Banks may be a worthy investment, but keep in mind the rental season is limited by seasonal temperatures.

In North Carolina the typical rental season is between ten and sixteen weeks, depending on how close to the ocean your home is located. The majority of rentals occur in June, July, August and September. Real estate agents may quote you all sorts of year round rental numbers, but most homes rent primarily during that time frame. Due to the short rental season most people cannot make enough money off of their home, (at least in the first few years), to cover the mortgage.

Search for Rental History

If you are interested in purchasing a vacation rental home definitely ask for the latest rental rates and history. This is the best indication of the how much rental income you might be able to earn. Rates on vacation homes vary widely. The homes in our area, of comparable size and age, rent between $2,000 and $3,500 per week during the peak season. The peak season in North Carolina is roughly eight weeks long, so we charge less before and after that time period.

Review Peak and Non-Peak Rates

A home that rents for $2,500 during the peak of the season may rent for as little as $800 during the off-season. While $800 a week sounds like a decent number, you must keep in mind that you will rarely rent your home during these non-summer months. If we incurred no other expenses and rented our property twelve peak and shoulder weeks our rental income would cover roughly six months of our mortgage. Of course, there are many other expenses that further reduce our income; a lot of savvy renters now negotiate for lower rents and discounted rentals, which further reduces our yearly income.

Outer Banks Property Management Fees

outer banks management fee

For example, if you do not live in the vacation area you will probably need the services of a rental agency, which will help you find renters, clean the home weekly and be available to listen to all customer calls and complaints. The commission rate is typically in the range of 16-30% in North Carolina.

At other vacation spots it can vary widely. At 30% the rental company is taking almost a third of your income. Outer Banks property management fees vary greatly between companies so make sure to check their fees before signing any contracts. 

Vacation Rental by Owner Outer Banks

You can also list your rental on Home Away or Owner Direct Vacation Rentals. Outer banks vacation rentals by owner charge much fewer fees. Remember, vacation rental property management fees will cut into your profits more than anything else. Make certain to compare prices before choosing your management company.

In my opinion the commission of large rental companies is a huge rip-off. The rental agency is relatively good at getting renters into your home, but they aren’t much good for anything other than that. The agencies almost never hold tenants responsible for broken items, so if something is destroyed or stolen the owner almost always ends up paying for it. As an owner you may expect to pay between $50 – $150 a year to replace small appliances like toasters, coffee makers and blenders.

Consider the Cost of Services

If you own a pool and/or hot tub you will need to pay for a weekly pool cleaning service. We typically pay between $100 and $150 per week just for those services. It costs an additional $300 to $500 per year to open and close the pools in the off season. Of course, you can charge renters more for the use of your pool and hot tub, which does boost overall revenue.

If you live near your rental property you can save money by performing the pool cleaning yourself. A comprehensive list of pool cleaning tools can be found at Globo Surf.  My husband and I don’t live anywhere near our rental home, so this isn’t an option for us. However, we do save money by opening and closing the pool. We set aside room in our schedule every April and October to visit our home and take care of these tasks.

As an owner you will also be responsible for paying any laundry related fees. For example, if a renter spills chocolate sauce all over the rugs in your home, the rental agency will send the carpets out for cleaning and then mail you bill. The same occurs for bedspreads, curtains and any other item that might need laundering.

You’ll also be on the hook for lawn care services.

Don’t Forget About Replacement Costs

If you want to keep renters happy you will also need to replace bedding, curtains and even art work every few years. No one wants to sleep on an ancient bedspread or look at stained and tattered drapes. We typically spend between $100 – $200 on items like this each year. I search Burlington Coat Factory and Marshall’s for inexpensive designer items and replace at least one bedspread and a handful of blankets each year.

You will also want to set aside a budget and/or time to clean your windows, repaint your home and perform other home maintenance projects. While you might allow paint chips or outdated bathrooms in your home, you should be aware that renters will not be fond of it. The costs for home maintenance can range from a couple of dollars for a can of paint to a few hundred dollars for bathroom remodeling.

Higher Utility Bills

Utility bills are always higher in vacation properties. Do you remember your dad telling you to shut the door when you were a kid? That doesn’t happen in a rental home. Because renters aren’t paying for the utility bill, they don’t care if the doors and windows are left open while the air conditioner runs on full blast.

A lot of guests purposefully turn the air conditioner to incredibly low settings. How do we know? We have a wireless thermostat and can peak at the temperatures while renters stay there. We never raise or lower the temperature for our guests, but we know when the air conditioner is kicking out sixty-degree air at the height of the summer.

Higher Insurance Costs

Your second home may require flood or wind insurance. If you think homeowner’s insurance is pricey, wait until you tack on the cost of this insurance. We pay over $3,000 for this extra insurance each year.

If you rent your home, you’ll also need an umbrella policy covering injuries and accidents that your guests may incur while staying on your property. If you rent through a rental management company, this insurance is required, but honestly, it’s wise to buy even if you rent directly.

Is Property in the Outer Banks a Good Investment

Lastly, if the money you get from renting your home does not cover the cost of renting it, you may be able to post a taxable loss on Schedule E. The tax laws for rental properties are extremely complex and since I’m not an accountant I’d highly suggest you speak with a CPA. There are also lots of good articles on the Internet that can explain the differences between passive and active income and between rental properties and personal residences. In each of these situations different tax laws will apply.

Outer Banks Rental Profit

At the end of the day our rental income doesn’t come close to covering our mortgage and expenses. If we purchased our property at a different point in time we might be closer to hitting the mark, but as it stands now we have a long way to go before our property becomes profitable.

Cost of Owning A Second Home

To learn more about the costs associated with owning a rental home click on any of the links below:

24 thoughts on “The Cost of Owning a Vacation Rental Home”

  1. I guess what could be done is create a definitive set of house rules for you home and ensure to let the renters to know their limitations even though their renting. Another would be, just have the basics in your vacation rental home and nothing just so renters won’t be tempted to involuntarily keep thing that shouldn’t be kept.

  2. Frugal Girl, when I opened this article written by your screen name, I thought I was opening an article written by my wife as I sometimes call her Ms. Frugality. Having said that, thank you for your article about vacation rental ownership.

    I’m interested to know a few things, especially since it has been seven and a half years.

    1. In the beginning there is always the newness novelty, now that you have a good data base of seven seasons, what has beach property ownership really been like? Overall, has it been an enjoyable experience (I’m not interested in the family/personal memory part, those will always be a given)?

    2. What are the challenges you’ve faced as an owner? I.E. problems with the property, issues with people that have rented your property, items that are associated with the rental part of owning beach property?

    3. Have you had any issues with the management company that you chose and what did you do to resolve them? What types of things did you look for in the management company that you ultimately contacted with and is your current company the same one that you signed with when you first bought your property?

    Thanks again for writing the blog on vacation property ownership and I look forward to reading your thoughts on your experience with your beach house since you’ve purchased it.

    • My apologies for a ridiculously slow response. Here are my thoughts:

      1 – It’s been a great experience for us. We had a bad experience a few years ago when someone broke into our owner’s closet and stole some personal items from us, but otherwise the majority of renters have been kind to our home and treated it like their own. We’ve actually gotten to know some of the families as they rent from us year after year. We don’t turn a profit from our house, since our mortgage is quite large and we purchased our house at the near peak of the market, but we are able to afford it and the minor maintenance issues that come up each year. We have had a few big expenses like a new roof, a new hot tub, etc, but this is all to be expected over the amount of time we’ve owned it. We bought in 2005 so it’s been a solid 12 year run and I wouldn’t change anything about this purchase!

      2 – We’ve had a few minor things broken over the years but that is to be expected. As I mentioned above we were essentially robbed a few years ago, but the key is not to leave anything personal in your home even if it’s locked up. We learned that lesson the hard way. My husband had some family momentos in the home that were stolen. They weren’t worth anything, but they meant a lot to him. We put them out when we were there and locked them up the rest of the time. In 12 years we’ve only had an incident like this once. In fact, many times if owners break something they head to Walmart and replace it for us. I’ve also had checks written to me to cover the cost of broken radios, etc. Overall people are good and kind.

      3 – We actually use the same rental management company as the previous owners. We looked into different companies but they had rules on how many weeks you had to rent it and we like to loan it out to friends and family sometimes. So we stuck with the company that allows us to reserve a lot of weeks and doesn’t give us much grief about it. The rental property owners take a bigger and bigger portion of our rent each year and that bothers me. They charge more fees and provide less services, but since we don’t live close by we just deal with this.


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