How to manage a second home and other vacation properties

Published Date: October 27, 2023

A luxury mountaintop second home in Cave Creek
Owning a second home or a vacation rental property is a dream come true for many people. Yet keeping up with a home in your favorite getaway destination can be more work and expense than many owners are prepared for. From maintenance and repairs to dealing with renters and taxes, it can quickly go from dream to nightmare, especially if you live far away. If you’re thinking of purchasing a vacation home, it’s best to go in with your eyes open. Here’s what you need to know about managing a property, especially if you’re considering renting it out. 

Overall property management

Just like your primary residence, your second home or vacation property will require both regular maintenance and unexpected repairs. Part of what makes second home upkeep so tricky is that you’re most likely many miles away most of the time. In your primary residence, you may spot early signs of maintenance needs — like when the refrigerator is making a weird noise or the hot water is suddenly not so hot. You may not be at your second home enough to notice these early red flags, which means that small, preventative tasks and fixes can turn into major, costly repairs. The best approach is to create a calendar of preventative maintenance tasks to be completed on a regular basis. Depending on the location and characteristics of your second home, this could include a wide variety of to-do’s.

Major systems

An ounce of prevention really can be worth a pound of cure, to paraphrase the old adage. Preventative maintenance on your home’s major systems can prevent, or at least delay, big-ticket repairs down the road. 
  • Furnace and air conditioner/HVAC service
  • Septic system service (if applicable)
  • Water heater maintenance
  • Pool and spa service 
  • Chimney cleaning
  • Water utility check valve
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Seasonal care

You’ll need to pay close attention to seasonal maintenance tasks, especially if your second home is in a location where the weather varies significantly throughout the year. 
  • Spring: Prepare the lawn and garden, clean gutters, repair or refinish deck and patio spaces, turn on water features and sprinklers
  • Summer: Get your pool swim-ready, tackle any pest control problems 
  • Fall: Rake leaves, clean gutters, shut off sprinklers and valves
  • Winter: Insulate pipes, stock up with items like road salt for icy sidewalks 

Regular upkeep

Another way to keep your vacation property in tip-top shape is committing to regular cleaning and upkeep. This includes things like house cleaning, landscaping, carpet cleaning, filter changes and repainting. 

Turning your second home into a vacation rental property

Many second home owners decide to rent out their property when they’re not using it. This can be a smart way to cover some of your ownership costs, while ensuring your house isn’t sitting empty most of the year. However, vacation rental ownership can be a lot of work, especially if you decide to do it yourself. Before you go down this path, ask yourself these questions: 
  • Am I legally allowed to rent my vacation home out (per city regulations or HOA bylaws)?
  • Do I have time to manage this property on an ongoing basis? 
  • How often do I want to rent the property vs. use it myself?
  • Am I comfortable with strangers staying in my home?
  • Are there licenses or insurance considerations I should be reviewing?
  • Am I available to answer renter questions around the clock?
  • Is the amount of money I’ll be able to make worth the effort? 

Key responsibilities of managing a vacation renal property

As the owner and manager of a vacation rental, you’ll be responsible for six key areas. 

1. Booking and scheduling 

A vacation rental needs renters, and the vast majority of them find homes on sites like Airbnb, Vrbo, Vacasa, HomeAway, and Expedia. Of course, you can try and attract bookings on your own website, but these sites have the reach you need to fill up your calendar. Most vacation rental property owners choose a listing site based on the cost and services available. Some owners choose to advertise on multiple sites, but that requires keeping a closer eye on the calendar to ensure you don’t double-book your property. There are a handful of software tools that help homeowners synchronize their calendars across multiple sites. Regardless of which site you use, you can expect a fair amount of back-and-forth communication between you and your potential guests. Renters often have questions about amenities, availability and restrictions, and most sites facilitate email communication between owners and guests. 

2. Decorating and design

When you’re first getting your property ready for the rental market, you'll want to make design and decor choices that appeal to renters. Strive for tasteful pieces that are stylish, yet broadly appealing and durable. Make the space feel warm and welcoming, without using breakable or irreplaceable items. You should also make sure that you’ve equipped the property with everything your renters will need. This includes a fully equipped kitchen, bedding and linens (with extra sets!), a starter kit of items like toilet paper and dishwasher detergent, and reliable Wi-Fi. Other touches renters love include things like beach chairs, board games and baby equipment. 

3. Finances 

A knack for numbers can come in very handy when managing a vacation rental. First, you’ll need to determine a rental rate that’s competitive with others in the area. Consider setting different prices based on length of stay, seasonality and holiday demand. Most online listing tools help you determine the right price. Once you’re up and running, you’ll need to keep a good handle on both revenue and expenditures, as well as paying bills for things like utilities, maintenance and cleaning services. 

4. Maintenance and upkeep 

In addition to standard maintenance and upkeep, a vacation rental can need even more attention since renters don’t always treat the property with as much care as you would. You’ll need to ensure that your property is in tip-top shape because renters expect a clean, well-kept home with everything in good working order. Ideally, you would do a quick inspection between every renter, while also blocking out time to take care of larger maintenance and repair issues. 

5. Marketing 

Vacation rentals are a competitive business, so it’s important to help your listing stand out. Use professional listing photos, write detailed and engaging descriptions, and make sure you’re showcasing all of your home’s amenities. Marketing your property isn’t just about attracting guests. It’s also about impressing the guests you already have. After all, your renters are the ones who will be writing reviews about their experience! Little touches like welcome baskets, special offers for local businesses and thoughtful amenities can make a difference. 

6. Customer service 

Great customer service is important when things are going smoothly, but it’s doubly important when they don’t. Be sure you are able to respond to your renters quickly, whether it’s a simple question about how to use something or there’s a major problem. It’s all about how you respond — and how quickly. 

Consider hiring a property manager 

Managing a vacation rental property can feel like a full time job — and depending on the needs of your property and renters, it can quickly become one! Many second home owners decide it’s worth the money to hire a property management company instead of trying to handle it all on their own. This can be a smart strategy if you live far from your rental property and don’t want to drive or fly back and forth whenever a maintenance or management issue arises.While the included services vary by each property management company, most of them take responsibility for a wide range of tasks, including: 
  • Advertising your listing on multiple listing sites
  • Fielding guest questions and requests before and during their rental period
  • Arranging check-in and check-out
  • Inspecting and cleaning the property between guests 
  • Responding 24/7 to guest emergencies 
  • Alerting you to any maintenance and repair needs, then scheduling and overseeing the work
  • Coordinating regular and seasonal upkeep
  • Keeping track of rental income and expenses 
Of course, this work doesn’t come for free. You can expect to pay between 25% to 30% of the nightly rental rate in property management fees. Initial setup fees and extra charges for after-hours or rush requests may apply.

An even better option: Pacaso

If you want to own a second home but don't want to maintain the home or deal with renting it out, consider co-ownership. With Pacaso's fully managed co-ownership model, you can buy from 1/8 to 1/2 of a professionally designed and fully furnished second home in your favorite vacation destination. Pacaso takes care of all the maintenance and property management of your home, and because you're a co-owner, your home is occupied year-round by other owners. Scheduling time in your home is easy and equitable — all you have to do is to show up and enjoy. Find your dream second home in a crave-worth destination and start enjoying hassle-free second home ownership.

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Jen Lyons

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