Low-Maintenance Getaways: What to look for in a vacation home or rental property

Purchasing a second home in a vacation wonderland is an increasingly popular option, whether for family getaways or as a rental property. In fact, the last few years have been particularly hot for this market, and according to the National Association of Realtors, second homes accounted for four out of 10 home sales in 2005.

If you're about to join the fray, think ahead to ensure that your purchase ends up yielding more enjoyment than work. Start by determining whether the home will be used exclusively by your family or spend most of its days accommodating other vacationers. After all, what your family wants in a vacation home isn't always the same as what seasonal renters will be looking for. Once your goal is defined, proceed to one of the following checklists.

For your personal vacation getaway

  • Be realistic about the distance you?re willing to travel, both for enjoyment of the home and occasional maintenance visits. Most people select a second home within 200 miles of their primary residence, and like to be a reasonable driving or flying distance from a large population center.
  • Spend time in your target area before buying, and do a few "commute tests" by making the drive under the worst-case-scenario conditions of Friday afternoon and Sunday evening.
  • Once you've zeroed in on a property you like, know what you?re buying, keeping future needs and expansions in mind. Get help from a qualified home inspector, and make sure you?re clear on the lot lines, confirm that nearby water features are free of obstructions and pollution, and are sure the current beautiful views will stay that way thanks to parkland adjacency or other zoning issues.
  • Unless you want to sign yourself up for a new round of home-improvement projects, look for simple floor plans, reasonable-to-maintain home sizes, and easy-care amenities. The less complex the package, the less you?ll have to worry about later.
  • Remember the need for winterizing and other seasonal adjustments, and be aware of what will be required to accomplish these.
  • If you expect to be away from the home for long stretches, make sure that local maintenance help is a part of your vacation home budget.
  • For an investment (a.k.a. rental) property

  • Along with the location and travel considerations noted above, be sure to carefully assess the demand in and sustainable popularity of the area you're targeting. This will affect the long-term viability of your rental plans.
  • View the home through a renter's eyes rather than your own, tailoring the list of must-haves, conveniences and additions to your target audience (e.g., safety considerations for children and the elderly, internet access, proximity to recreation opportunities, number and flexibility of sleeping quarters, etc.).
  • Be clear on the tax implications and requirements of a home's designation as a rental property.
  • Make sure you understand the home's maintenance requirements, and ask your real estate agent to recommend a reliable home management company to care for the property and assist with any renter issues you don't have time to manage yourself.
  • Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show?s podcast or sign-up for Tom's free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's website.

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