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Matt Blashaw: Vacation Property for Free!

Vacation home sales are on the rise these days as more and more people are skipping high-priced hotel vacations in favour of investing in a second home. Why should hotels make all the money? The best part is that some people are able to own their own vacation houses free of charge. But how is that possible?

By renting out their vacation house when they aren’t staying there, the mortgage and other carrying costs are taken care of by the renters. Voila: free vacation property.

But there’s more to it than just buying a house, listing it as a rental and hoping renters start to pour in. Here are the three things you need to know before taking the plunge into owning a vacation home of your own.

A little elbow grease

The best way to maximize your investment is to buy a property that needs some work and fix it up yourself. This means you can’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and tackle some renovation projects. There are benefits to this process that go beyond saving money. By doing things yourself, you can completely tailor the rental for the market. Remember, with a vacation home you intend to rent out, any renovations should make sense for your family AND for the many families that will rent from you. Scout out the local rental market, see what works well and tailor your vacation property to match those amenities. You should also carefully pick the materials and finishes you’ll use to make sure they’ll withstand lots of traffic. Tile floors, stone counters and durable cabinets are just a few good choices that will ensure your rental lasts through the peak rental season year after year.

Close to home

Many of the people I work with purchase their property within driving distance from their homes because it makes family travel so much easier. If you live near a lake or a quick drive to the ocean and you have a large family, a nearby vacation home would be perfect. Potential renters will love the easy drive too. You will save on airfare as well as your sanity. Having a vacation home close to where you live also makes it easier to hire contractors when renovation or maintenance needs to be done. You can interview contractors face to face and drive up to manage any unexpected problems.

Out in the middle of somewhere

While it’s true that people want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and feel surrounded by nature, this doesn’t mean they wouldn’t also prefer a quick drive to a nice restaurant, grocery store or other services. When looking for a vacation home, try to find a location that is no more than a 20-minute drive to the nearest town. Access to pharmacies and hospitals is always a plus, too. Families will be very interested in properties that are part of a homeowners association with amenities like tennis courts, pools, spas and kids playgrounds. Even if your vacation house is near a lake, beach or popular ski mountain - having more activity options will make for happy renters willing to pay more for a rental.

Real estate is one of the best investments you can make. But over the years, I’ve found that a vacation home is an investment in something much more valuable: your family. The memories and connections made in a vacation home will last a lifetime. And if you choose carefully, they won’t cost you a penny.