Tips for buying a vacation property

Special to the Packet and GazetteJuly 24, 2012 

With interest rates at historic lows and prices still in favor of the buyer, owning a vacation rental property is less expensive than at many times in the past. The short-term vacation rental market in our area is off to a strong start in 2012 and positive growth in number of renters and rental rates (compared to last year) is expected for the remainder of the year.

If you plan to buy a property that will be used as a second home for your family and as a vacation rental, it's important to choose a house or villa that will meet your family's needs and be attractive to renters. Here are some tips:

  • Make a list of your priorities, including desired neighborhood, square footage, budget and rental income expectations.

  • Decide if you're interested in a fixer-upper, as well as how often you intend to use the property; if you want a home or a villa; and whether you will retire there or eventually sell the property.

  • Work with a Realtor who has experience with vacation rental properties.

  • Meet with at least one vacation rental manager to learn more about the short-term rental market and to help you decide if you are prepared to manage the property yourself or will hire someone to do so.

  • Consult your accountant and lawyer to understand the tax and insurance requirements, tax implications, how to structure your mortgage loan, whether or not to set up an LLC and whether it makes sense for you to purchase a property out of your IRA. Get these details worked out at the beginning of the vacation rental purchase process.

  • To be attractive to renters, Lowcountry rental homes and villas should have easy access to the beach and other key activities that vacationing renters enjoy. The view from the property is important, so be sure to check this while visiting potential homes. Higher rental revenue is determined by location, view from the property, size and condition of the home and villa.

    If you are purchasing a single-family home, make sure that the community allows short-term rentals and that the home has a heated private pool. (Alternatively, you should have access to a community pool less than five minutes away from your property.) Avoid homes with too many stairs, as this can detract multi-generational travelers.

    If you are purchasing a villa, consult the complex's rules and regulations first before setting your heart on a particular property. The monthly fees for common area amenities such as a pool, hot tub, tennis courts, grill area or playground can have a big impact on rental revenue.

    If the property you are considering has been a vacation rental before, be sure to obtain the last two years of revenue intake from the current owner so that you have an accurate picture of income potential.

    Robert Stenhammer has been a resort executive for more than 15 years and holds an MBA in Hospitality and Tourism. He is the president of Hilton Head Accommodations, serves on the board of directors for the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and is vice chairman of the Accommodation Tax Committee for the Town of Hilton Head Island.

    Contact him at rstenhammer@hiltonheadusa.com or 843-247-2404.

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