We had been looking for a vacation home for a few years. We’ve looked at and even made offers on several types of vacation homes. Initially, we sought out lakefront properties. Then we looked into a ski resort property at Whistler. When the smoke cleared, we ended up with a boat access waterfront cabin on a fjord just outside of Vancouver, BC. It’s like being on a lake but it’s saltwater. Most importantly, it takes only 40 minutes or so to get to from our main house… 30 minutes of which is by boat (which we dock at a close-by marina). We’re thrilled with how our vacation house hunt ended up. It’s the perfect Spring, Summer and early Fall vacation property for us.
That said, I still have my eye on a ski property. Our family skies a lot. We live only 1.5 hours from Whistler. We rent a place for a week at Whistler every year so it’s not a stretch to consider buying a Whistler property so that we can go more often.
After all our time spent researching vacation properties, we have a good idea as to our options. Of course, there are many types of vacation properties. I set them all out below.
Types of Vacation Properties
When it comes to buying a vacation house, you have many options. Here are the general vacation property concepts.
1. Lakefront cottage / Lake community
One of the most popular vacation home types is the lakefront cottage or cabin. Lakes are great summer and sometimes winter destinations (think ice fishing). If out of the way, they can be affordable. However, if close to an urban center or a resort area (such as the house above in Whistler, BC), they can cost millions. There’s nothing like swimming in freshwater but that’s not all you can do. There’s boating, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and any other options.
2. Oceanfront house / Oceanside community
There are many types of houses, climates and topography you can get with an oceanfront house. Not all have a beach. Ours above, does not have a beach. Instead it’s a dock. The one below it is a classic East Coast USA beach house with mounds of sand everywhere. Most beach houses are costly just because there’s a limited amount of oceanfront property.
3. Riverfront cabin
If you’re into fishing, a riverfront cabin might be the ideal vacation property for you. It offers solitude and the “get away from it all” benefit on top of being able to fish (see our types of fishing boats article), hike and if deep enough, boat.
4. Ski chalet, townhouse or condo
Not all areas offer a ski chalet or ski condo. You need to head out to where there are ski resorts – Colorado, Utah, British Columbia and Europe. Because there aren’t that many ski resorts (relative to other vacation options), such properties can be very, very expensive. Whistler, BC properties are costly. I suspect many are in Colorado as well. However, you can buy at smaller resort areas such as Sun Peaks just outside Kamloops, BC for a fraction of what a condo, townhouse or chalet costs at Whistler.
One nice aspect of ski vacation property is they offer plenty of summer activities as well. Whistler is nearly as popular in the summer as it is in winter. There’s mountain biking, hiking, swimming (hotels have pretty good pools… not tropical resort-quality but they’re okay), enjoying the village in warm weather and enjoying the overall vibe.
5. Cabin in the woods
There are several reasons you might buy a cabin in the woods. They include:
- Hunting cabin;
- A place to get away from it all;
- Hiking trails;
- Recreational motorsports – snowmobiling, ATVing, motocross, etc.
Check out the types of cabins you can buy.
6. Boat with living quarters
If you score a boating slip with live-aboard permission, there’s no reason you can’t treat your boat as a vacation property. You can keep it in the marina or take it out on the water. It’s a nice way to get away from the routine.
7. Countryside property
If you live in the city or the suburbs, you might enjoy getting away to a countryside house where you can relax, hike, and use a launching pad to visit around the area.
8. European villa
If you have plenty of money, you can splurge on a European villa. Actually, you don’t have to buy a full-blown chateau or palace. There are smaller villas that don’t cost nearly as much as the beauty above. If you live in Europe, it’s easy to get to. If you live elsewhere, it’s a bit of a haul but could provide for a great home base from which to see much of Europe.
9. Jungle hideaway
If it’s heat and jungle you like, consider a jungle house. You have options in places like Costa Rica where you can enjoy hiking, adventure activities and unwinding.
10. Mobile vacation home (RV or park)
The mobile or RV recreation park vacation property is a lower-cost option. They’re all over Canada and the USA. Often they cost less than $100,000. Some parks are feature-rich with pools, tennis courts, golf course and more. They can be a ton of fun.
Related: Types of RV Trailers
11. City apartment (pied-à-terre)
If you happen to live in a rural area, maybe your idea of the ideal vacation property is an apartment in a city where you can go and soak up culture, restaurants, shows, shopping and more. I live in the suburbs so I enjoy the odd couple of days staying in the heart of a big city.
12. Hotel/resort suite ownership
More and more hotels/resorts sell ownership stakes in their properties that give you a stipulated number of days each year. What’s nice about this is you get all the amenities of a hotel plus revenue income for the days you don’t use. Moreover, because it’s often partial or limited-use ownership, it’s not that costly to buy in.
13. Floating Home
Where I live there are floating homes all over the place. If you have a boat, you can look for a floating with a boat slip. If not, it could make for an interesting vacation property.
14. Quaint town apartment or house
If you like quaint towns to get away, consider buying an apartment or house in your favorite haunt. Above is Bar Harbor, Maine but there are so many quaint towns all over the world… Europe, Canada, the USA, Central America, etc. You can use the property as a launching pad to explore the local region.
Practical considerations when buying a vacation property
On the face of it, any vacation property sounds great but there are practical considerations. Here are some we took seriously and learned to take seriously during our multi-year hunt for the perfect vacation property.
How long does it take to get there? How much does it cost to get there?
Do you need to fly? Is a boat or ferry involved? Is it a long drive?
Do you want to spend thousands on airplane tickets to get to your vacation property? Do you want to drive 6 hours? Maybe you do. Maybe you take 4 weeks off at a time so it’s worth it? You need to consider this carefully because if you tire of the journey getting to your vacation property, you might not end up going.
We nearly bought a lakefront house six hours’ drive from our house. We’re glad the deal fell through. Now we have a vacation property only 40 minutes away. Granted it’s by boat, but with a boat slip at a marina year-around and a decent boat, it’s pretty easy to get there.
I love the idea of a house in Palm Springs but I don’t love the idea of shelling out $2,500 on airplane tickets just to get there a week or two every year. Not only is flying expensive, but it’s a hassle. If I really want to go, I can stay at any number of resorts or Airbnb offerings.
How often will you really go there?
Do you get enough time off to justify a vacation property? If not, perhaps something closer so you can go on weekends is better. Ours is close enough to go up on Friday and return Sunday. In fact, we can visit just for the day… a day trip. That’s not all though. Do you plan to take other trips with your time off? If so, that will eat into your time spent at a vacation property.
I guess the real question is how often justifies the expense for you? If you plan to rent it out the rest of the time, that can work very well but be sure to consider the rental income issues set out below.
Can you really afford it?
There’s more to the cost of a vacation property than the purchase price. There are the following additional expenses:
- Mortgage payment (if financing it)
- Getting there costs (if you fly or take a ferry, those costs add up)
- Outfitting the vacation property (furniture, etc.)
It all adds up.
Do you want to take care of it?
If you don’t want to take care of it, can you hire someone to do it for you. While our property has no landscaping (it’s wild), there are still things we need to do. It’s an older structure so it requires some improvements. We’ll need to constantly haul stuff there and back. It’s not hassle-free.
That said, some vacation properties are more hassle-free than others. Buying into a resort, a timeshare and/or an HOA property has maintenance built into it.
Will it prevent you from taking other trips (assuming you care)?
Will you forego traveling? Do you want to forego traveling? Some folks like seeing new places all the time. Other folks are happy to go to the same place all the time. This was one issue we faced because we plan to continue traveling quite a bit and we will even though we have a vacation property.
Can you get insurance for it?
In some regions, it’s getting harder and harder to get insurance for it. For example, areas with more frequent forest fires are getting more costly to insure. If you get a mortgage, insurance is required. Before buying, you might want to ensure that you can insure.
Power, internet and utilities
Some vacation properties offer all the utilities you enjoy at home. Some have nothing; not even running water. Some fall in between. We have running water and propane power. For internet, if we get it, we can use a satellite internet provider. For better power, we need to invest in off-grid power infrastructure, which we plan to do. It won’t be cheap but we anticipated this when we bought.
What is the potential rental revenue (be realistic)?
If you’re buying a vacation property to generate revenue, you need to review the seller’s rental income. If they never rented it out, you’ll be flying blind. All vacation property sellers suggest it can produce plenty of revenue, but you don’t know until you rent it out.
- Is there a lot of local competition?
- Is there demand in the area?
- Can you hire help to manage/clean it if you’re not doing it yourself? How much will it cost?
- Insurance costs as a rental?
- What are the peak seasons?
- What are the local property taxes?
- Do you need to register the property as a rental property?
- Are there any rental restrictions per the municipality, county or the HOA/Strata corporation?
- Other costs?
If you’re buying a property as a revenue source, you need to do your due diligence as if you were buying a business (because you are buying a business).
Types of vacation property ownership arrangements
You don’t necessarily need to come up with tons of money to get a vacation property because there are various ownership and financing arrangements for vacation properties. Below I set out options. I avoid legal terminology because the legal terms vary country-to-country. Instead, I describe the concept.
100% ownership is simple. You own the property and house. You don’t share it with anyone else. It’s not part of an HOA / Strata. It’s not part of any corporate entity. It’s yours.
This is common with apartments and townhouses. The fact it’s a vacation property makes no difference. You own the unit but are subject to regulations set out by the governing body. You might have age, pet and rental restrictions. Be sure to check all the rules before you buy.
A timeshare is buying into the use of a vacation property. Often the purchase includes usage at multiple properties. It’s managed by the timeshare management company. You must book your visits; as you can imagine you’re not guaranteed to get the times you want. There are usually a host of rules so be sure to understand them if you’re considering buying a particular
This too-often sounds like a great idea but can get challenging and that is buying a vacation property with family and/or friends. It’s not something I would do. Okay, if it’s a family property passed down, there’s not getting around that. But going in with friends or family can end up with fights over dates, maintenance costs, cleanliness, whether to sell or not and whatever else. However, it’s an option for not having to spend so much on a vacation property.
By usage-ownership, I’m talking about buying a resort or hotel suite with a stipulated number of days’ usage each year. This is becoming a more popular concept all the time. You can enjoy some of the revenue as well as the amenities as a guest at the hotel. After all, you are a guest of the hotel who happens to own a suite. A big downside with these arrangements is that you still need to book your suite which may not be available every time you want it. You also have to check out at 11 am or whenever checkout time is. I’m more of a leave at 1 or 2 pm type of guy.
Vacation property purposes
With the explosion of vacation house rental sites such as VRBO and Airbnb, vacation property ownership is more widely accessible because of the revenue they can easily generate to help pay a mortgage. That said, many people prefer not renting out their property. We have no plans to rent out our vacation property… at least for now.
Use it and have fun
This is our primary purpose for buying a vacation property. We want a fun place to go where we can swim, boat, fish, hike and relax. Our kids are young and we hope they enjoy summers there.
Mortgage helper – rent occasionally
This is a pretty good option but definitely increases the hassle factor. Many folks rent out their vacation property when they aren’t using it. At least as owner, you can pick the dates you want and earn money the rest of the time. With websites like Airbnb and VRBO, it’s pretty easy to do but you still need to answer questions and ensure the property is well maintained and clean. You also have to be okay with people staying in your place. They will break things. Some will leave it a mess. In some cases, worst things can happen. Them’s the breaks when trying to generate revenue from a property. However, if you play your cards right, you might end up having much of the cost paid for.
Purely an investment
Some folks buy vacation properties because it’s a good long term investment as in it will increase in value over time. This was part of our justification for buying the property we did. We figured we couldn’t go wrong buying an oceanfront property only 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver by boat. Yes, boat access reduces its value (it would be worth millions if there was a road to it) but despite being boat access, we suspect it will increase in value.