The ultimate guide to investing in vacation rental properties

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If you’re looking to break into real estate investing, the growing vacation rental industry can be a great place to start—in fact, 19% of travelers who booked a vacation rental between March 2020 and April 2021 were doing so for the first time.1 Whether you plan to create a DIY listing on Airbnb and Vrbo, or call in the help of a full-service management company, we’ve got your full guide to investing in vacation rentals, including:


Are vacation rentals a good investment?

Yes. But you don’t need to take our word for it.

  • More travelers than ever are seeking out vacation rentals. Vacasa.com traffic and searches are up more than double year over year—by spring 2021, searches were up 235% and our number of users were up 116%.2
  • Vacation rental revenue can be a valuable income source. Vacation rental income comprises 24% of the average owner’s annual income.3
vacation home in Phoenix, AZ

6 benefits of investing in vacation rental properties

1. Income generation

A good vacation rental investment can pay for itself. A great vacation rental investment has the potential to turn you a profit. Here’s what separates the good from the great:

  • Location and seasonality: How many people travel to your home’s area, and when? How can your vacation home meet that demand?
  • Personal use: Is this a home you plan to visit? Or, will you forgo personal use and maximize profits by only opening the home to paying guests?
  • Home features and upgrades: What amenities can maximize ROI and earn five-star reviews?

See how much your specific home could earn with our free vacation rental income calculator. Type in your address, and you’ll have a custom estimate in seconds.

Learn More: How to make money on a vacation rental property

2. Home appreciation

Over time, the right investment property in the right location can significantly increase in value. In addition to passive appreciation, you can improve your home’s appreciation further by investing in upgrades. (Even better? The same updates that can grow your home’s value can make for happier vacation rental guests—and better guest reviews—too.)

3. Tax benefits

When it comes to tax benefits, a vacation rental investment is a lot like a primary residence. You may enjoy tax deductions related to mortgage payments, property taxes, rental income, insurance premiums, and so on. But, how you use your property, and how often you use it, can impact what expenses you can write off.

For instance, if you rent out your second home for more than 14 days a year, you may be eligible to write off some, or all, of your rental expenses. A certified public accountant (CPA) can help you understand the vacation rental investment tax codes and tax deduction eligibility for your state and your situation. (We recommend you consult with your CPA for all of your potential tax obligations and advantages. We’re not CPAs.)

Learn More: Tax guide for short-term rentals

4. Dual-use property

One of the greatest benefits of owning a vacation rental property is that you can use it for business and for pleasure. Visit your vacation home for a little “me time.” Get away for a romantic weekend. Host lively events for family and friends. With a vacation home, you can make money and make memories. You don’t have to choose.

That said, if you do think of your vacation home primarily as an investment, you’ll want to minimize personal use (or save it for the shoulder season) and prioritize guest access.

5. Hands-off home ownership

Today’s full-service vacation rental managers make it possible to own a home that practically takes care of itself. Whether you’re buying a vacation rental property that’s miles away from where you live, or you simply prefer to have someone else oversee the day-to-day details, the right partner will be your eyes, ears, and boots on the ground. Guests locked out in the middle of the night? Handled. Need to bring your patio furniture indoors before a big storm? No problem.

With a local, full-service team watching over your home and your guests, you can enjoy all the benefits of a vacation rental investment property—with none of the hassles.

6. Recession-friendly

A vacation rental investment in the right location can generate valuable income, even during a recession. We know, based on the lessons from the 2009 recession, that people don’t stop taking vacations when the economy slows down. Travelers simply plan shorter trips, share expenses with larger groups of family or friends, and book vacation rentals closer to home.4

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, vacation rentals showed their staying power. According to a Vacasa consumer survey, 92% of travelers were satisfied with their experience at a vacation rental during the pandemic (citing benefits like cleanliness and privacy), and 52% would choose a vacation home over a hotel moving forward.5

Vacation rental deck in California

6 factors that impact vacation rental ROI

1. Income triggers

  • What was the home sale price and down payment amount?
  • What is your break-even point?
  • What will you write off in tax deductions?
  • What cash flow can you expect?

2. Operating expenses

  • How much do you pay in property taxes, utilities, HOA fees, and insurance?
  • What fees do you need to pay to meet local regulations?
  • What, if any, property management fees will you incur?
  • What will you spend on discretionary repairs, upgrades, and general wear and tear?

3. Vacation rental demand

  • How popular is your location? How many people visit, for how long, and how often?
  • What are the views like? Do you have beachfront or ski-in/ski-out access?
  • How close is the property to amenities like the airport, beach, or ski slopes?
  • What are the attractions in the region? How close are you to hiking, dining, or other entertainment?
  • What are the off-season draws?

4. Revenue levers

  • How well, and where, is the property marketed?
  • How easy is it to book? How supportive and engaged is customer service?
  • Are guest experiences captured in positive online reviews? How responsive can you be to any negative reviews?
  • How many people can you comfortably host?
  • Is your home pet-friendly?
  • Does your home have a hot tub, pool table, or other recreational amenities?
  • Is the home ADA accessible?
  • How well have you stocked your kitchen?
  • How thoughtful or inspired is the interior design?
  • Are you limiting your own personal use (especially during the high season)?

5. Home appreciation

  • What is happening to home values in your local vacation destination?
  • What is happening to home values in nearby metropolitan areas?

Over time, homes increase in value. In many markets, vacation rental real estate can also increase in value higher and faster than residential real estate. (This is, in part, due to supply scarcity and buyer demand.) So, if you decide to sell, home appreciation trends can work in your favor.6

6. Historic business value

  • How well can you demonstrate historic short-term rental income and cash flow?
  • Can you offer a turnkey home, with everything from furniture to property management?
  • Can you sell your home with the value of pre-booked guests?

Again, if you ever decide to sell your vacation rental, your big-picture ROI is impacted by how well you can demonstrate the historic and potential business value of your property.

Vacation rental patio in California

Steps to buying a vacation rental investment

1. Find your location, then search properties

Location is the number one factor that influences your potential profitability, and every location has unique short-term rental regulations. So, before you start evaluating individual properties, it's a good idea to identify the location that meets your goals. Start your search in a location that interests you, or explore the top vacation rental investment locations in the U.S. But, keep in mind that your search may not end where it started.

Top 25 vacation rental investment markets: 2021
wood dock over a lake
Best places to buy a lake house: 2021
aerial view of galveston, tx coastline
Best places to buy a beach house: 2021

2. Get pre-approved for a vacation rental investment

If you’re not planning to make a vacation rental investment with cash, you’ll want to get pre-approved by a lender familiar with vacation rental lending. Once you’re clear on your budget, you can also double down on a location (or pivot to a higher- or lower-value market). In popular vacation destinations, a pre-approval puts you in a position of strength because you can move on a property quickly. It also lets sellers know your offer is one they can trust.

Note: It’s a best practice to work on steps 1 and 2 simultaneously. Start your search and your conversation with a lender at the same time.

3. Run your numbers and calculate vacation rental ROI

As you find vacation homes you like, it's a good idea to calculate their potential return on investment (ROI). At Vacasa, we can give you customized reports based on your home's unique location and features. Plus, we can customize your reports based on upgrades and revenue levers like if your home is pet-friendly or if you are adding a hot tub. Look for in-depth reports with monthly cash flow estimates, operating expense estimates, and net income potential.

4. Make your offer

As with most real estate, cash makes for a compelling offer. If you are offering cash, some sellers may request as much as 10% in earnest money. But, if you plan to finance, expect to put 1–2% of the offered price down as earnest money. Depending on your loan and local regulations, you may be able to put down as little as 10%. The more common down payment scenarios run from 20% to 60% down.

If you already own a second home, you may leverage a 1031 exchange, too.

5. Negotiate the sale

Once your offer is in play, your negotiations can hinge on your agent’s expertise. Without helpful insights into the local vacation rental landscape, you may be offering too much or too little. Accurate estimates on the home's vacation rental investment potential are also key to making a strong offer.

Learn More: How to buy a vacation home

6. Choose the right property manager for your vacation rental investment

When the sale is complete and you’re ready to start renting, find a vacation rental manager who will give your home top treatment.

Here are some questions to consider, whether you’re switching management companies or hiring one for the first time:

  • Where will they list your home online, and what marketing services do they provide?
  • Will they price your home competitively?
  • Does the management fee cover everything you need to rent, like marketing, booking, customer support, guest screening, and housekeeping?
  • What sorts of limits are in place around using your home yourself?
  • Can you cancel your service at any time, or are you locked into a contract?

Learn More: How to hire the right vacation rental property manager

Vacation rental with view of the water in Cape Cod

Vacation rental investment FAQ

The rise of the sharing economy and the development of online marketplaces have reset the travel industry. (We can thank Millennials for this growth.) Staying in someone else’s home has become desirable and normal. Travelers are extending business travel for pleasure. Plus, they have new standards for affordable, beautiful accommodations. As their economic power continues to grow, it’s expected the vacation rental industry will continue to grow, too.

That’s the billion-dollar question. There are a couple of ways to choose a location for your vacation rental investment. But, once you decide on a location, your search gets a lot easier. Your decision-making process can become easier, too.

The first—and perhaps best—way is to buy in a top vacation rental investment market.

Another way to think about your investment is to buy where you want to vacation or retire. If you love it there, there’s a pretty good chance other people love it there, too.

That said, it’s important to work with a local agent with expertise in vacation rental real estate. Their relationships, insights, and experience can help guide you toward the right homes for your goals and budget. They can also help you navigate the local regulatory climate. Most expert agents can also connect you with lenders who are friendly to vacation rental investments.

If you’ve yet to partner with a vacation rental property management company or you are planning on changing property managers, here are some key questions to ask during your screening process:

  • What upfront, monthly, and other “hidden” fees (booking channel fee, management fee, credit card fee, etc.) do you charge?
  • Can you guarantee I’ll make more money on my vacation home than I did last year?
  • Do you charge for house visits?
  • Do I have to sign a long-term contract?
  • What is your marketing strategy for my short-term rental?
  • Do you have any owner usage restrictions?

You’ll mainly want to look at capitalization rate (“cap rate” for short), which is the rate of return on a real estate investment. Cap rate is calculated as your net income minus expenses, divided by the purchase price.

Learn more about cap rate calculations >

Yes, from what we’ve seen. Not only is the industry growing, but according to data from Vrbo/Homeaway, vacation rental income makes up 24% of the average owner’s annual income.3

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Vacasa offers property management and other real estate services directly through Vacasa LLC and through Vacasa LLC's licensed subsidiaries. Click here for more information about Vacasa's licensed real estate brokerage/property manager in your state. Vacasa’s licensed real estate brokerages/property managers include: Vacasa Alabama LLC; Vacasa Arizona LLC; Vacasa Colorado LLC; Vacasa Delaware LLC, 302-541-8999; Vacasa Florida LLC; Vacasa Louisiana LLC, Dana MacCord, Principal Broker, ph 504.252.0155 (Licensed in LA); Vacasa Michigan LLC, 947-800-5979; Vacasa Missouri LLC, Susan Scanlon, Designated Broker; Vacasa Nevada LLC; Vacasa New Hampshire LLC, P.O. Box 283, Conway NH 03818, Dave Grant, Broker of Record; Vacasa New Mexico LLC, 503-345-9399; Vacasa New York LLC, 888-433-0068, Susan E. Scanlon, Real Estate Broker; Vacasa North Carolina LLC; Vacasa Pennsylvania LLC; Vacasa Real Estate Corporation, California DRE #02105811, Joseph Czapkowicz, California DRE #01380722; Vacation Palm Springs Real Estate, Inc., California DRE #01523013, Joseph Czapkowicz, California DRE #01380722; Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Colorado, Daned Kirkham); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Idaho, Oregon, and Utah); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Maine, Michael McNaboe, Designated Broker); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Texas, Debra Brock, Designated Broker); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Washington, Robert Brush, Designated Broker); Vacasa Seasonals Inc., California DRE #02160171, Daned Kirkham, California DRE #01424621; Vacasa South Carolina LLC; Vacasa Tennessee LLC; Vacasa Vacation Rentals of Hawaii LLC, 3350 Lower Honoapiilani Road, Suite 600, Lahaina, HI 96761; Vacasa Vacation Rentals of Montana LLC, Cameron Bree James, Licensed Property Manager; Vacasa Virginia LLC; Vacasa Wisconsin LLC; Vacasa Wyoming LLC. In Canada, this advertisement is provided by Vacasa Canada ULC, CPBC lic. number 75826, 172 Asher Rd. V1X 3H6 Kelowna, BC.

Note: The ability to rent out a vacation rental property is subject to local market regulations and restrictions.

Sources (09/23/19, 07/06/21, 9/29/21):

  1. Vacasa + Skift consumer travel survey, fielded March 2021, released April 2021
  2. 2021 Vacasa Vacation Rental Search Report
  3. VRMA.com
  4. nbcnews.com and cbsnews.com
  5. Vacasa + Skift consumer travel survey, fielded March 2021, released April 2021
  6. cnbc.com