10 tips for buying a vacation home out of state

How to house hunt out of state and find the right vacation home for you


Most Americans live at least 90 minutes from the closest vacation destination, and for many vacation home buyers, the top markets may be all the way across the country. Here are 10 tips if you’re thinking of buying a vacation home out of state.

How to house hunt out of state using virtual tours and photos

Whether you’re looking at homes across town or all the way across the country, a virtual tour can be just as helpful as walking through during an open house. In fact, it may even be more helpful, because you can return to the tour as often as you like. Plus, virtual tours and photos allow you to explore the home privately, without having to engage with the listing agent until you and your agent are ready.

1. See how the floor plan can impact vacation home value

Use virtual tours to explore the floor plan and look for issues that might impact accessibility, comfort, and guest-friendliness.

For instance, if a home meets your vacation home buying search criteria (e.g., three bedrooms, three baths, 1600 sq. ft.), you can use a virtual tour to answer related questions.

  • Could the living and sleeping areas be too close for comfort?
  • Can the kitchen and dining areas accommodate the largest number of guests you hope to host?
  • Are the bathrooms wheelchair-accessible or functional for families with small children?
  • Are the alcove ceilings too low to accommodate bunk beds?

When you consider how the floor plan can impact use, you can quickly pivot away from properties that don’t meet your criteria and focus in on those that do.

2. Use the photos to look for potential vacation home issues

When you’re house hunting online, look beyond the obvious. Take the time to scour photos for hints about what’s just outside the frame. It’s amazing what you can detect when you look a little closer.

  • Does the roof show signs of age or neglect?
  • Does deck appear to be peeling?
  • Is the driveway or access to the home on very steep ground?
  • What do the views through the windows reveal?

The extra attention to photos or elements captured in the virtual walkthrough can help you eliminate properties quickly or develop a follow-up checklist for properties that pique your interest.

3. Use Google Maps to get a sense of place

When you’re buying a vacation home out of state, it can be especially helpful to take note of the home’s street view and the surrounding neighborhood using Google Maps.

  • Is it on a busy street or near a highway or freeway?
  • What do the neighboring structures (and vehicles) look like?
  • What amenities, if any, are within walking distance?
  • Is the neighborhood congested? Walkable? Bike-friendly?
  • What hints do you have about off-street parking availability?
  • How long a drive is it to the nearest major airport?

Getting a feel for the neighborhood and the larger vacation community is in your long-term interest. These factors will not only impact your personal and guest experiences—they’ll also impact your comps and sale price down the road.

4. Visit open houses while traveling

Should you find yourself on a business trip or planning a family ski trip in a cute mountain town, set aside a little time to visit a handful of open houses. Or, stop by a real estate office just to “window shop.”

It’s a great activity to fold into all the fun stuff you’ve already planned for your trip. You’ll learn to identify the features and amenities you want to prioritize in your vacation home search. Plus, if you have friends or family with you, looking at houses “just for fun” might help them get more comfortable with the idea of buying a vacation home or owning a vacation rental investment property.

As a bonus, looking at homes while you travel might even open up new market possibilities to you, since you’re seeing what vacation rental investments look like in areas outside your initial search area.

Focus on the big stuff when you’re buying a house out of state

Whether you’re buying a vacation home in a community near you or out of state, you can get caught up in the photos and virtual tours. But, it’s also a good idea to step back and look at the bigger picture.

5. Consider basic factors like a vacation home’s location and age

When you’re considering the big picture potential for vacation rental real estate investments (like cap rate estimates, custom income projections, and potential net operating income), remember these factors are influenced by basic facts—a home’s location and that location’s seasonal flow of visitors.

It’s also important to consider factors like the age of the home, its infrastructure, and the neighborhood vacation rental climate. Even if you don’t choose to earn income from your out-of-state vacation home, a future buyer may factor in its short-term vacation rental potential.

6. Know the seasonal highs and lows

Your vacation home, and its potential as a vacation rental investment, are impacted by the length and intensity of the area’s high tourist season and shoulder seasons.

For instance, if you’re thinking of buying a vacation home out of state in a mountain town, work with an agent who can help you understand tourism when it’s not ski season. Think about how your cash flow might be affected by a dry winter or an exceptionally cold one, and what that might mean for your financial goals or commitments.

7. Look for hidden home maintenance issues

If a vacation home was not previously a vacation rental investment, it may have only been in use one or two seasons per year. There may be issues with older infrastructure, irregular maintenance, or intermittent care. Superficial repairs may mask fixes that were shortcuts or that were performed too late after damage from weather (or people in the home).

Be sure you’re working with an agent who understands the local climate and building practices when you’re house hunting out of town. The right agent will also have a network of home inspectors and repair specialists who they can consult for formal and informal questions during your home search.

8. Avoid assumptions about infrastructure or housing code

Naturally, building material quality, building techniques, and code regulations have changed over the years. They can also vary from region to region or neighborhood to neighborhood. So, whether the home is on the historic register or still being built, you don’t want to make any assumptions about infrastructure or codes.

It also doesn’t hurt to look out for repairs that sniff of an amateur or DIY approach. Even when executed well, these improvements are often un-permitted and may not be up to code. As a result, you might have to pay to bring your home or vacation rental investment up to code before it’s vacation-ready.

Work with a local real estate agent when you house hunt out of state

When you’re buying a house out of state, it’s 100% okay to ask a local agent with vacation home real estate expertise to attend open houses on your behalf. In fact, if you’re already working with an agent in a particular vacation home market, they should be offering you that service.

9. Drill into the area’s vacation rental climate

When your expert agent does a walkthrough or attends an open house on your behalf, they should be looking for signals about the property’s income earning potential.

  • How many other vacation rental investments are in the neighborhood?
  • Are they well kept or terribly run-down?
  • How much work is needed to get the property vacation-rental-ready?
  • How much regular maintenance does it look like the property will need to keep it in shape for guests?
  • How much off-street parking is available?
  • Is the home easy to access for people with diverse backgrounds, including guests with limited mobility, small children, or heavy bags?
  • What municipal zone is the property in, and how does this home meet the criteria set for short-term rental regulations?

The answers to these questions can become levers to pull as you make or negotiate an offer and optimize the home for short-term rental income once it’s yours.

10. Let your local vacation rental real estate agent do the legwork

When you’re buying a vacation house out of state, the best agents will offer to live-stream their walkthrough to you or record their walkthrough, with commentary, and share it with you.

The right agent will lend you their insights and experience, so you can have the on-the-ground expertise you need to help make an informed decision. There’s no reason why you can’t see the homes that interest you, even if you live a considerable distance away from your potential vacation rental investment.

Give yourself the opportunity to gain vacation rental industry knowledge when you’re buying a house out of state. Connect with a local expert agent who can help you learn more about how to find a great vacation home with great vacation rental investment potential.

Learn more: What to expect when you buy a vacation home with Vacasa

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* This document is for information and illustrative purposes only. It is not intended to provide “investment advice” or a “recommendation” regarding a course of action. The discussion is general in nature and has not taken into account your personal financial position or objectives. You should consult a licensed financial advisor or other professional to discuss your specific situation.