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What to Consider Before Buying a Vacation Property

Buy a Vacation Home

Victoria was originally quoted in The Wall Street Journal about What to Consider Before Buying a Vacation Home.

You've decided to make the plunge and purchase a vacation home. Buying a second home is a great way to accumulate additional wealth, and as an investment, generate cashflow in the interim. There is a laundry list of things to consider before buying your vacation. Speak to your real estate broker and qualified tax adviser before making your investment decision. 

We've created a list of some of the most important things to consider and ask before you buy your vacation home. Purchasing a vacation home as an investment vs. for strictly personal use is certainly a different process. We focus on a purchase as the former. 

Is it better if you live close to the property to do chores, show it, etc.?

Proximity to a property is always helpful, as it allows the you to easily access it, check up on it, and be able to respond more quickly to any issues that arise If you are not close the property, consider hiring a broker to handle the rental, property manager to oversee the property and fix any problems, liaise with local plumbers, gardeners, etc. If you are renting the property for income, you always want to ensure a seamless process for the prospective renters. 

If you want to own a home located a significant from your primary residence, be aware of potential challenges. The main challenge of remote ownership is dealing with the property over the phone, email, etc. and not face to face very often. Any interaction with those overseeing the property will be "digitally."

What investors is this ideal for, and who should not get involved?

Vacation homes can hold sentimental value for a lot of owners/families, thus those that get attached to the property are not ideal to have a vacation rental as the objective is to have it rented out during the peak-season times of the area to generate maximum income. Vacation home investments are most Ideal for someone that can meet the full tax deductibility rules of a vacation home so they can take full advantage of the home from both a price appreciation standpoint as well as from the rental income received while holding the property.

It is also important to have the mindset that owning a vacation home for an investment does not mean its a "vacation" for you- expect all the unexpected that arises when multiple people are rotating throughout the property and treat the property from the "Im on vacation" mindset.

What would be your advice to someone thinking of property hunting this spring and summer?

In the current market in vacation destinations such as The Hamptons, there is more leverage towards the buyer as the seller is dependent on the market one is looking in. We work in The Hamptons because of its proximity to the city and the preferred location for a second home for many NYC residents. If you are considering buying a vacation property in The Hamptons now, it is a buyer's market in the area, especially at high price-points. While there market has picked up a bit on the East End, there remains a large amount of high-end inventory that has been spending a longer time on the market....this works to the buyer's favor.

If you are considering looking for a rental for the summer season, it is always important to be thorough with your search and always start your search earlier than you would expect! When you decide on a property, be sure to double-check items such as who is paying utilities? is it your responsibility as the tenant to pay for expenses such as pool heating, gardner, housekeeping, etc?, Are pets allowed? 

If you are considering a longer-season rental, see if there is negotiability in the price. Owners are often willing to provide a better rate to someone that commits to renting the full season (Memorial Day through Labor Day) vs. someone who wants to rent a single week in July. 

New Construction in Southampton, a popular location for vacation investment homes

New Construction in Southampton, a popular location for vacation investment homes

Are lenders welcoming to people buying second properties?

Every lender has different "rules", but generally if you are purchasing a second home and are in solid financial condition, the lender should not have a problem providing a loan. Given the increased risk to the bank of having a second mortgage, they may make you provide an increased downpayment so you have some "skin in the game."

What are the tax rules? To get the most tax benefit, do you have to limit your own use of the property?

Rental Property taxation can get complex, and we always refer clients that are looking to make a vacation home purchase decision of tax related questions to their qualified tax advisor. However, we see vacation homes generally fall into 3 types for taxation purposes:

Type 1: Rented more than 2 weeks with substantial personal use. The home was rented more than 14 days in the year and personal use exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of rental days

  • Type 1 homes are considered personal residences for federal income tax purposes, and thus owners can use the up to $1M worth of mortgage debt deduction (can be used on up to 2 personal residences)
  • Rental income for this type is taxable, however, allowable deductions are often able to offset the rental income

Type 2: Rented more than 14 days and personal use does not exceed the greater of 14 days or 10% of rental days

  • Type 2 is considered a rental property for federal tax purposes, and generally any rental income will be subject to taxation
  • Taxes for a rental property are complex as deductions are limited by the passive loss rule
  • If you are on the threshold of a Type 1 vs Type 2 property, it may benefit you to get in more personal days to move into Type 1

Type 3: Rented less than 15 days with more than 14 days of personal use

  • Considered a personal residence plain and simple
  • Rental income for this type does not have to be reported!
  • As a result, you cannot deduct direct expenses in this case
  • As one can see, taxes vary on the usage of the home, but it is hard to say which scenario may be advantageous for one vs another. It is important to expect that if you are looking to purchase the vacation home strictly has a rental property, you should expect to pay taxes on the rental income