Key takeaways

  • When deciding if you should buy a second home, consider the full financial impact of the transaction and whether you’d be okay with vacationing in one spot long term.
  • If you want to buy a second home to rent out, make sure you know the laws for doing so in the area you want to buy.
  • Buying a second home can be a good way to diversify your investments, make passive income and have a spot for family gatherings.

The market for second homes soared during the peak of the pandemic. Now, though, it’s a very different story. A lot of people are having second thoughts about buying a second home, according to a data analysis from Redfin. The demand for mortgages for second homes is the lowest it’s been in seven years — due largely to expensive housing costs coupled with employers requiring workers to come into the office regularly.

However, that lower demand may work in your favor if you’re thinking about buying another property. Less competition leads to more bargaining power. Before you join the coveted second-home club, read on to learn whether you’re up for the long-term responsibilities.

Important considerations before buying a second home

Full financial impact

As a second-home owner, all the financial responsibility falls on your shoulders — twice. For example, if you have a sewer pipe problem in your main residence and then, a short time later, your HVAC system needs repair in your second home, you’ll have two whopping, back-to-back bills.

Beyond mishaps, though, you’ll have to pay double the everyday expenses:

  • Second mortgage payment (including homeowners insurance and property taxes)
  • Utilities
  • Upkeep
  • HOA fees
  • Travel costs to get to the home
  • Rental management fees

Although you currently might be able to afford these costs, keep your big-picture goals in sight, says Daniel R. Hill, president and CEO of investment advisory firm D.R. Hill Wealth Strategies, LLC, in Richmond, Virginia.

Hill encourages his clients to consider these money issues before jumping into another home:

  • Are you saving at least 15 percent of your current income for retirement?
  • Do you have six months’ of expenses (preferably nine months’) in an emergency cash fund readily available?
  • Are you out of credit card debt?
  • Is your current home paid off?
  • If applicable, have you established a college fund for your children?

If you can check all of these boxes, you might be in a safer position to consider buying a vacation home, Hill says.

Financing options

As with any loan, banks will consider whether your income is sufficient to pay your costs, says Judith Corprew, executive vice president and chief compliance and risk officer at Patriot Bank in Stamford, Connecticut. Be prepared to have your credit report reviewed, as well as income, employment history,  assets — and debts.

In fact, it’s not that different from applying for your primary mortgage, though it can be quicker, depending on the financing method you choose. Options include:

Consolidating outstanding credit card or other high-interest debt into a lower payment, using a HELOC or other low-interest products can help your financial picture look better to lenders, says John Sweeney, founder and managing partner at Momentum Capital Partners in Boston.
Learn more: Compare current mortgage rates for today

Ability to travel to other destinations

After 10 summers in Clearwater Beach, the appeal of warm Gulf waters might give way to the annoyance (and cost) of hurricane season. Likewise, a 10-hour scenic drive to a mountain cabin can quickly transform into a burdensome schlep after a while.

The point is: Do you want to get stuck vacationing in one place for the long term? If your family absolutely loves the location, it can make sense. However, think about whether you would prefer to plan multiple trips to a variety of destinations or stick with the same spot every summer (or every other weekend).

Renting out your second home

Collecting rent money can be a smart way to subsidize your vacation property. However, there are laws that you should know before you buy. Keep in mind, laws vary by state, city and even neighborhood, so what works in one community, might not be allowed in another.

For example, in New York City, Airbnb is illegal unless the permanent resident is living in the apartment or the apartment is being rented out for more than 30 days.

For condominiums, buyers should find out if the condo bylaws allow for renters or Airbnb-like rentals. The same goes for HOA rules. In some cases around the country, homeowners associations are working to limit short-term renters.

Cleaning services, insurance and general maintenance are costs landlords should include in their budget, as well. Since you can’t guarantee rental income, make sure you can afford these costs (including a monthly mortgage payment) on your own.

You might also have to forgo your desired time in the residence to attract customers, which could diminish the appeal and the point of a second home. For example, if you want to be there during spring break, but you can command a rental fee that can cover a large portion of your property taxes, what will you do?

“Sadly, the most demand from renters is likely during the time you want to be there,” says Timothy Parker, managing partner at Regency Wealth Management in New Jersey. “When we look at numbers with clients we often end up suggesting they rent a home for a week or a month instead of entering the world of landlording. It’s often cheaper and comes with fewer hassles.”

Vacation home taxes

A vacation home is classified as either a personal residence or a rental property by the IRS. It’s a personal residence if you limit renting it out to 14 days or fewer per year; more than 14 days, and it’s considered rental property. In most cases, you’ll have to report rental income regardless of the classification.

The big difference: If your vacation home is classified as a rental property, you won’t be able to claim the mortgage interest tax deduction. However, you can claim losses on your rental if the amount you spend exceeds your rental income. You can report these losses on Schedule E of your Form 1040.

Be sure to talk to an experienced tax professional about your potential liabilities and deductions. Keep in mind you can only deduct interest paid on mortgages of $750,000 or less total of all your homes.

Long-term investment potential

Anyone who remembers the housing crisis of 2007-09 knows that home values are not guaranteed. After the housing market peaked in 2006, home values plummeted by 33 percent nationally, wiping out equity and forcing homeowners into foreclosure.

While it can appreciate, many experts agree that residential real estate is not the ideal asset class for building wealth. So for folks who want to invest for retirement or other long-term goals, a secondary house might not be the best basket for nest eggs. Do your research on the local housing market to get a sense of whether it has a proven track record as an appealing destination for vacationers and other secondary-home buyers.

Reasons for owning a second home

Despite all the work you’ll need to do and the money you’ll need to spend, there are many great reasons to buy a second home including:

  • Diversify your investments: Owning a second home allows for getting beyond the usual stocks, bonds and 401(k) plan. A second home can also act as a buy-and-hold investment — real estate does tend to appreciate in value over time — and be a valuable asset to pass on to heirs.
  • Potential to move there full time: A second home can eventually become your primary residence — so you can avoid any of the real work involved in finding a new location when you’re ready to retire.
  • Generate passive income: As long as your property is located in an area with relaxed laws regarding short-term rentals, you can collect easy money by listing it on Airbnb, VRBO or any other rental platform.
  • Have a place to host every family reunion and gathering: A second home can act as the meeting point for friends and family to come together and disconnect from daily life stressors.

Should you buy a second home?

Consider the pros and cons to determine if you should buy a second home. Owning a second home means you have a vacation spot you can return to year after year without worrying about making reservations. A secondary home can also be a valuable financial asset, one that has the potential to increase your wealth over time if the home value appreciates significantly.

But you should also think about your finances. Can you afford the expenses associated with owning a second home, including ongoing maintenance and upkeep and property taxes? These types of expenses can put a strain on your budget or limit your financial ability to travel elsewhere.

In addition, if you’re considering buying a second home to rent, make sure your desired area isn’t in a location that has local laws limiting Airbnb-style rental homes. You should also consider the time and effort that goes into being a landlord and if that’s truly a job you want to take on.

How to buy a second home

If you’re buying a second home and will need financing to make the purchase, be sure to review your budget and ensure you can reasonably accommodate a second mortgage payment. You’ll also need to budget for such expenses as homeowners insurance, utilities and property taxes. When you’re ready to start shopping for a second home, you’ll need to find a real estate agent and get preapproved for a mortgage.