You've probably already been drilled on the three most important aspects of a vacation home investment -- "location, location, location" -- but once you've chosen a hopefully lucrative location, the "what" becomes just as important as the "where."
In her latest vacation home investment, "Profit From Your Dream Vacation Home" (Dearborn, $19.95) real estate investor and author, Christine Karpinski, offers the pros and cons of the different types of properties typically encountered.
Karpinski, also director of Owner Advocacy for the WVR Group a network of vacation rental listing Web sites, says your options include new and existing homes, but also everything from high-maintenance homes to pristine ready-to-go condos, townhomes and single-family homes.
Here's a look at the pros and cons of each. Before you buy any vacation home rental be sure local ordinances, homeowner associations and other governing entities allow you to rent out your home as a vacation property.
Old, Historic, High-maintenance homes -- Old homes of 60 to 75 years or more can be grand and outfitted with architectural elements that just aren't included in new homes today, but the bill required to keep them in shape and habitable can be just as grand. Truly historic homes may come with landmark status restrictions and certain mandated improvements or upgrades you can or can't perform. Keeping these homes running can often mean more than a few trips to the Home Depot, but a search in time for parts that really fit.
Often available at bargain prices, the homes are best for true do-it-yourselfers who live nearby and have the time for the perpetual care older homes often require. If you plan to purchase an old home as an investment, invest in a home inspector skilled in giving older properties the once over.
You need to know exactly what you are getting for them bargain price.
Fixer-uppers -- Likewise, newer homes in disrepair can be available for a song, but if you don't want to sing the blues be sure your time, building skills and proximity are in perfect harmony.
Rehabilitation can dig deep into your profits because major work will prevent you from renting out the property except to the rare breed of traveler who wants a vacation in a construction zone.
"As-is," cosmetic upgrades -- On the other hand, a home that needs only cosmetic upgrades which you can perform, could be a better idea if you are trying to squeeze the most bang out of your bucks. The starting relatively lower price and sweat equity can be a viable approach to quick appreciation.
Even if you can't do the work yourself, because you aren't handy or because you don't live near the property, qualified contractors performing the upgrades will only temporarily set you back.
Pre-construction homes -- It's new, its contemporary, it's loaded with all the latest amenities and features. It's also empty. The cost of a pre-construction home is also the cost to furnish it. Unlike other investment properties typically purchased fully furnished, you'll have to be prepared to spend perhaps tens of thousands of dollars beyond the purchase price to equip the home for vacationers. Extra up front costs can also come in the form of large down payments, deposits and reservation or holding fees.
However, a new home in the right location, right off the block, has a fast running start at appreciation.
"Builders sell pre-construction homes at a reduced price, so they can bring in money and get the rest of the project off the ground. That' works to the buyers' benefit in the form of accelerated appreciation in the years immediately following the purchase," Karpinski says.
And buying "sight unseen" is a gamble, much like gambling that an initial stock offering will net you a return.
Condominiums -- Condos, townhomes and other homeowner association governed properties come with extra fees or dues levied monthly, quarterly or otherwise periodically. Additional "assessments" may also be necessary for major upkeep work when the dues don't cover the expense.
However, the fees pay for the upkeep of the "common areas" shared by all owners. That means you don't have landscaping chores or maintenance duties which single-family detached home owners have.
The lack of the extra work can come in handy when you are a distant owner.
Condos can also be more affordable (though not necessarily in high-end resorts or resort towns) than single-family homes and are sought by vacationers the world over looking for compact accommodations with all the comforts of a single-family home, save back and front yard space.
Of course those pesky homeowner association rules and regulations could limit your use of the property as a rental. You could be required to occupy the unit for a period each year. You could be restricted from renting at all if too many of the units are rentals. And your vacationers will have to adhere to the governing rules and regulations that could prevent things like late night partying and dips in the pool.