Why a Second Home is Not an Investment

Do you dream of owning a vacation home? Under ideal circumstances, owning a second home in a desirable location is a dream come true. However, all too frequently, owning a vacation home turns into a nightmare. Unexpected circumstances and high expenses such as mortgage payments, utilities, repairs, taxes, homeowners’ association (HOA) dues, and more have the very real potential to put a vacation homeowner in a difficult financial position.

Before buying a vacation home, consider the following:

#1 – Why do you want a vacation home?

The most common reason to purchase a second home is for vacations. Given the high demands you face as a physician, a place of your own where you can get away may be especially appealing. While a dream home in your ideal setting that is used solely for family fun can be a very worthwhile purchase, be aware that a second home is a long-term financial commitment and make sure you know what you are getting into. From the moment you purchase your vacation property, you are giving it priority over other financial goals, such as paying down medical school loan debt, planning for retirement and achieving financial independence. You automatically commit yourself to the expense and upkeep of a property that, most likely, is located far away from your primary residence.

Determine whether you are considering this purchase because you need a home or because you need an escape. If your true objective is to escape and relax, consider less stressful ways of visiting your ideal location, such as a short-term rental (Airbnb) or a nice hotel. This allows you to visit an oasis without the long-term commitment of owning a home.

#2 – Your investment priorities

If you are not already financial independent, determine how this purchase will impact your ability to get there as quickly as possible. Financial independence is the point in life when you have enough income (from investments, passive businesses, real estate, etc.) to pay for your living expenses for the rest of your life without having to rely on formal employment. Physicians have special financial planning considerations that can make achieving financial independence a challenge, such as medical school debt, practice/partnership purchases, equipment purchases, insurance needs, uncertain cashflow, etc. Just as you wouldn’t propose a course of treatment without knowing its potential impact on a patient’s overall wellbeing, you shouldn’t make a big financial decision before fully understanding the impact of that decision on reaching your other financial goals. What if buying a second home means that you can’t provide for your family should an unexpected event derail your career earlier than expected? For many, the cost is not worth the sacrifice.

#3 – A vacation home is not an investment

A second home is rarely a good financial investment because it requires additional expenditures and does not pay income. In essence, you are committing your vacation budget to pay for property tax, insurance, maintenance, HOA fees and mortgage payments. In addition, during recessions, vacation homes tend to be the most sensitive segment of the real estate market. According to a New York Times article published in July of 2010, a study by researchers from the European University Institute, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago concluded that the strategic default ( a practice of walking away from price depressed vacation properties) trend was “large and rising” among homeowners with an equity shortfall of $100,000. In 2010 strategic defaults accounted for 35.6 percent of all foreclosures, compared with 23.6 percent a year earlier.1

If you choose to make your vacation home available for short-term rentals to cover some of the expenses, keep in mind that rental income may only be enough to pay for taxes and insurance. In many cases, a property’s maintenance costs actually increase when it is rented out, and if you hire a property manager to secure your rentals, you will likely pay 20 to 30 percent of your earnings. If you choose to avoid the middleman property manager, be ready to field calls from renters at all hours of the day.

Depending on how much you charge to rent your home and whether you are renting it more than you are using it, you may be able to write off a portion of the costs as well as taxes and insurance, but you must meet certain IRS qualification requirements.

Like most decisions related to real estate, location has a big impact. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a large-scale migration from big cities to more remote, less densely populated areas. For example, the Lake Tahoe real estate market has seen an unprecedented increase in demand. According to a recent CNBC article, Lake Tahoe brokers are reporting an inventory that’s 10 times lower than average. Many homes sell within a day, receiving several above-asking-price offers.2 Don’t be caught up in a classic case of irrational exuberance!

#4 – Consider how often you will visit the home

Will your visits to your vacation home be frequent enough to justify the financial responsibilities? Are you going to be able to get away from the demands of your practice often enough, and for long enough, to fully unwind and relax at your second home? If you will likely only visit a week or two each year, it might not be worth the investment. A vacant home sitting in the middle of paradise is not serving its purpose of allowing you to relax and get away.

While purchasing a vacation home is rarely the best decision from a purely financial standpoint, the time spent with family and friends in your own private paradise may be priceless. Ultimately, you can make more money, but you can’t make more time. If owning a vacation home will not greatly impact your ability to achieve financial independence and it will allow you to squeeze the most happiness out of your finances, then making that purchase may be just the right decision for you.

Physician Financial Freedom is a specialty practice of Creative Planning. Each of our dedicated teams specializes in working with doctors and includes an attorney, a CPA and a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner. These professionals are also supported by Creative Planning’s dedicated insurance professionals. Regardless of your specific situation, we are available to help evaluate your insurance options and identify policies that meet your specific needs. If you’d like help with your insurance planning, or for any other financial matter, please schedule a call.

Tamara serves as a Partner and Managing Director of Creative Planning, working directly with clients to develop and implement comprehensive financial plans to address their goals and most complex financial needs. Tamara practices in the areas of retirement planning, investment management, tax, estate planning, business succession planning, as well as corporate stock option planning, liability and risk management and charitable planning. Tamara’s approach focuses first on a thorough understanding of the client’s circumstances in order to provide a truly customized plan and investment approach to achieve their goals.

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only and should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.