How to buy a vacation home out of state

10 tips on 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.

1. Use virtual tours to see how the floor plan can impact vacation home value

Virtual tours can help you 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.

  • Are the living and sleeping areas too close for comfort?
  • Can the kitchen and dining areas accommodate the maximum number of guests you hope to host?
  • Are the bathrooms wheelchair-accessible or functional for families with small children?
  • Are the 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 on those that do.

2. Use photos to look for potential vacation home issues

When you’re house hunting online, take the time to scour the photos for hints about possible home issues.

  • Does the roof show signs of age or neglect?
  • Is the deck peeling?
  • Is the driveway or access to the home on very steep ground?
  • Look out the windows—what do the views 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 vacation homes that pique your interest.

3. Use Google Maps to get a sense of place

When you’re buying a 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?
  • Are amenities within walking distance?
  • Is the neighborhood walkable? Is it bike-friendly?
  • Is off-street parking available?
  • How far away is 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.”

You’ll learn to identify the features and amenities you want to prioritize in your vacation home search. Plus, looking at homes while you travel might even open up new market possibilities to you, if homes catch your eye in areas outside your initial search.

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

When you’re looking at a vacation home's investment potential, you're probably focused on the big picture: cap rate estimates, custom rental income projections, and potential net operating income. But remember these factors are influenced by basic aspects of the home that are outside your control—namely its 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 vacation home, a future buyer may factor in its short-term vacation rental potential.

6. Know the tourist season highs and lows

Your vacation home, and its potential as an investment property, 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 cabin 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 a real estate agent who understands the local climate and building practices when you’re long-distance house hunting. The right agent will also have a network of home inspectors and repair specialists they can consult for formal and informal questions during your vacation home search.

8. Avoid assumptions about infrastructure or housing code

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.

And always look out for repairs that signify 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 up to code before it’s vacation-ready.

9. Drill into the area’s vacation rental potential

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

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

The answers to these questions can become deciding factors as you make or negotiate an offer. They can also influence how you optimize the home for short-term rental property income once it’s yours.

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

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. The best agents will offer to live-stream their walkthrough, or record it 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.

Give yourself the opportunity to gain vacation rental industry knowledge when you’re buying a home in another 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: How to buy a vacation home

Buying a vacation home out of state FAQ

In some states, as the home buyer, you may not need to appear in person at an out-of-state closing. Title companies will either send a notary out for signing the documents at a location convenient to you, or the title company can arrange a “courtesy signing” at another title office that’s closer to where you are.

Some of the usual aspects of house hunting can be harder when you're far away. The key is to partner with a real estate agent you trust who's local to the market you're buying in. Take open houses, for instance—it’s 100% okay to ask a local agent to attend open houses on your behalf. In fact, if you’re already working with an agent in a particular market, they should be offering you that service.

Vacation rentals have catapulted in popularity over the past decade, making it a great time to buy a second home. To start off your research, read our list of some top pros and cons of owning a second home. Learn more about the benefits that make vacation homes different from primary residences—like extra income, equity appreciation, tax deductions, and of course a place for you to vacation yourself. You'll also want to research the potential drawbacks, like unexpected expenses, rules and regulations to navigate, additional property taxes, and the work it takes to maintain and market a vacation rental.

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California licenses
Vacasa Seasonals Inc.
California DRE #02160171

Vacation Palm Springs Real Estate, Inc.
California DRE #01523013

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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.