- Look where you’ve vacationed before, or if you’re looking in a new geographic region, rent a home for a season to make sure you love it.
- Get prequalified for a mortgage. This is a critical step, particularly if you already have a home loan and will add to your debt level. Depending on what you owe on your primary residence, you may be limited by what a lender is willing to give you for a vacation home mortgage. Alternatively, look into refinancing your primary residence at a lower rate for cash to buy a second home.
- Think about what sort of vacation home you want: a cabin, a house or a condo? Condos come with additional requirements, such as home owners associations (HOA).
- Is proximity to water important? As a rule, the closer you are to desirable attractions of a given area, the more you’re going to pay for that convenience.
- Interview several local real estate agents before selecting one. Ask how many vacation home listings they have, how many years they’ve worked in the business, and whether they have a particular specialty. Make sure you’re comfortable trusting the person you choose with your search.
- View various homes in different settings. Get a sense of how location, size of the homes and other factors affect price differences.
- Consider ongoing maintenance. How will you keep the house up if you’re not there all the time, particularly if it’s subject to a wide variety of weather conditions? Factor in the cost of hiring a local individual or service to look after the property in your absence.
- Review the types of loans available for the rest of the house-buying process.
Check with the HOA, if there is one, for any restrictions on renting out your property. You may be limited in the amount of time the property can be occupied by someone else.
Look out for Uncle Sam, who gets into the act too: If you make a vacation home available for rent for more than 14 days in a year, the IRS categorizes it as an income property rather than a residence. You’ll be paying taxes on the net rental income after expenses, which could bump you into the next tax bracket.
Make sure the loan you qualify for is for a second or vacation home and not an investment property see above for that distinction.
Shop for lower prices during the off season.
- In some parts of the country a dock is worth as much as 25 percent of the total property value. If a dock doesn’t already exist, find out if there are restrictions on adding a new one.
- Consider homes that may need some fixing up. “Sweat equity” can mean a lower price and, ultimately, a better investment, as long as you don’t mind spending your vacation time renovating the property.