HGTV host Matt Blashaw believes the main draw of a vacation home is its convenience.
âIt’s an easy vacation,â he explains. âThe point is just to go and set everything up the way you want it. You know the area and you know you are going to have fun.â
Vacation can be easy, but the second mortgage probably won’t.
For this reason, Blashaw helps families on her show, “Vacation House For Free,” renovate homes under the weather into retreats that are worth renting when the family is not in residence.
Of course, no home is really free, but by making money on the home when it would otherwise be vacant, homeowners can essentially get a vacation home that pays for itself.
âYou are contributing to your wealth and to your future,â says Blashaw, âdon’t waste your money on Hilton and Marriott. You are building up equity in what I think is the best investment you can have, namely l Plus, people want to have a place where they can retire, so it’s a win-win. “
It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially if you’ve never done a renovation before. Here, Blashaw provides his top tips for turning your vacation home into a free home.
Buy in a popular place.
Sure, houses are cheaper in places under the radar, but if no one wants to go, no one is going to want to rent your house. âThe idea of ââthe house is that you want to be able to find a vacation home in a place where people want to go,â says Blashaw. “You want it to be popular. We’ve been to Cape Cod, Long Beach Island, Maine, the Florida Keys, Lake Tahoe.”
Choose a city that is relatively easy to access.
Bora Bora might be a great place to take a vacation, but it’s a bit remote for a vacation home. âWhat I’ve noticed with the series is that people want to take a vacation close to their homes,â says Blashaw, âusually a few hours away. I think it’s just because trying to putting a family on a plane is a nightmare. “
Be aware that you may not be able to use it during peak season.
According to Blashaw, depending on your region, there may be a busy 10-16 week season – and you may need to rent during that time. “People have to agree not to be there during the season,” Blashaw warns.
âYou can get the most weekly rental rate and the most people wanting the property. Your vacation home isn’t free unless you have people inside! ” he says. There is a silver lining, however: “A lot of people who own vacation homes don’t even want to be there during peak season because it is so crowded.”
Find the most popular local rentals.
Find out what tenants in the area want so you can give it to them. âIf you are looking in an area where you want to buy a vacation home, go visit the home which is a very popular rental,â recommends Blashaw. âWhat makes him so popular? Proximity to the beach or water sports? How is it decorated? The kitchen ? See what they’ve done to find out what renters want in these areas, then take those ideas and put them into your rental. Make sure you know what is being rented out all the time so that your house is rented out all the time. “
Blashaw notes that you can check the listings online on sites like VRBO to see which homes tend to be reserved, then call property managers to schedule a viewing – or even just browse their photos.
Do the math.
Your vacation home isn’t free if you don’t earn enough to make up for the money you invest in it. Blashaw recommends calculating cost of ownership, mortgage, taxes, utilities, insurance, and any other costs on an annual basis.
âThen you have to renovate and figure out how many weeks you have to rent at x dollars to have your vacation home for free,â says Blashaw.
Don’t think you have to renovate the whole place.
While you may be tempted to clear the place out, Blashaw recommends paying attention to your renovation and starting with the highest priority areas.
âThe rule of standard suburban homes is that the kitchen is king, then the bathrooms, then the bedrooms,â he says.
âIn vacation rentals I think it’s a little different. Bathrooms can be neglected as long as they’re clean and fresh and functional. Money has to be put into decorating the living room, into the furniture to make it comfortable and possibly accommodate multiple families with a ton of space to sit and eat. “
And if you’re pressed for time (or money), Blashaw has a special recommendation: âWhen people walk into a place, they want it to be fresh and clean,â he says. “Nothing will make a space cleaner and fresher than a coat of paint.”
Plan to make tenants’ lives as easy as possible.
Once your home is ready to rent, your priority is to fill it up – and it can be as easy as listing on Airbnb, VRBO, or Homeaway.
Blashaw says that by making your home a pleasure to visit, you can ensure tenants keep coming back. âI tell people, ‘If you’re near the beach, make sure your tenants have nothing to do but buy groceries and sit in the house.’ Buy a beach wagon, paddle board, give them a list of restaurants and things they can do. You want your property to be a destination for them every year, just like for you. I now know of couples who don’t even have to sell their properties anymore because they have current rental agreements. You have to give them a reason to come back. “