Summer, winter, or anytime in between, buying a cabin can be a good investment if you approach it strategically. More than a cozy spot for your own vacations, a cabin could also give you the opportunity to earn some extra income, if you choose to use it as a vacation rental. As Jimmy Eaton, Vacasa Real Estate’s principal broker for Utah, says, “I think the cabin investor should want to buy a cabin genuinely for themselves first, but have it available and properly equipped to rent out when they are not using it.”
Whether you’re considering the mountains of Washington or the slopes of Vermont, our expert team is ready to share their knowledge about purchasing a cabin. Here are some tips to help you choose the right one for you.
If you first thought about purchasing a cabin for your own nature-filled vacations, you’re not alone. Travelers across North America are increasingly interested in places to stay off the beaten path, so a cabin is one way you could capitalize on that demand. According to Eaton, “Today, more and more people are wanting to escape the rat-race of city/urban living. Cabins can provide the refuge and solitude many are craving.”
Our data shows an increase in the number of guests searching for cabin rentals in mountain destinations like Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and Big Bear, California. And, of course, ski destinations are another option—where cabin owners can cater to travelers who need a home base after a day of action on the slopes.
Some cabins are situated on larger lots, giving you a couple of bonuses. Privacy is one major advantage—if you choose a cabin with some land around it, you (and your guests) can enjoy peaceful vacations without neighbors right nearby.
In addition, since land is inherently in limited supply, it has historically tended to increase in value over time.* So, for instance, if you buy a log cabin that’s on a large lot, you may have the chance to see your investment appreciate in the long run.
There’s something about a cabin that just feels timeless. Cabin destinations lend themselves especially well to nostalgic activities, like fishing and sledding, that you or your guests might have enjoyed as kids. Buying a cabin can give you and your guests a place to revisit old hobbies, spend time connecting with friends and family, and make new memories.
Sometimes, timing is everything—and purchasing a cabin is no exception. Cabin owners who are looking to sell can command top dollar in peak season and the month or two leading up to it, when there are more visitors and the market is in highest demand. So, if you’re looking for a deal or the lowest prices, your best bet is most likely to shop around in the off-season.
For ski locations, you’ll probably see more competition in late fall (when anticipation for ski season is high) or winter. To give yourself more opportunity to negotiate, you could consider browsing in the spring or summer. On the other hand, if you’re thinking of buying a lake cabin, you might want to avoid the most popular summer months.
It probably comes as no surprise that if you’re buying a cabin, you’ll want to prioritize location. Think about the location of your cabin investment both generally (Are you near a national park? A ski resort? A river?) and specifically (Is your cabin directly on the water, or a couple miles away?).
If you’re looking to invest in a ski cabin, Eaton says, “The best ski cabins have ski-in/ski-out access,” meaning you have direct access to the slopes from the home. For locations near water, a lakefront or riverfront cabin is likely to command higher nightly rates (and earn you more rental income) than one that’s slightly further away. And if you’re buying a cabin that’s not near skiing or water, fear not—there are all sorts of other attractions you can still keep in mind, like hiking trails, state or national parks, and scenic highways.
Lastly, it’s a good idea in general to look closely at vacation properties that are within a few hours’ driving distance of larger cities. That gives you a pool of potential guests who are already nearby—which is useful since many people currently prefer road trips to plane travel.
When you think of investing in a cabin rental, think beyond a stereotypical rustic, one-room log building. With the right vacation rental amenities, a cabin can become a spacious family gathering place, a luxurious retreat, or a perfect remote-work getaway. Eaton says, “I believe every cabin should have some basic functional and structural features: a traditional kitchen, big windows to take in the surroundings, a large deck, cozy rooms with big comfortable beds, and enough storage for recreational toys (bikes, gear, tack, ATV, snowmobiles, etc.).”
Here are some more cabin rental amenities to consider that may help you maximize your property’s potential:
It’s also wise to make sure your cabin has amenities that suit the type of guests you expect to host. Got a snug one-bedroom cabin that’s totally off the grid? You’re probably going to host a few romantic getaways, so a fireplace or fire pit could be nice to have. Buying a cabin with five bedrooms that’s perfect for families? See if there’s a room that could fit a ping-pong table, or high ceilings that can suit bunk beds for the kids.
The best place for your cabin investment property depends on what sort of market you’re looking for—whether it’s a ski area, woods, lake, or river—and where in the country you’re hoping to buy. According to Eaton, “There are so many cool western ski towns like Jackson Hole, Breckenridge, Vail, Whitefish, and Tahoe. While similar, all of these have their own vibe and ethos. They all offer incredible mountain scenery, snow, and recreation. All are competing for the year-round outdoor enthusiasts.”
A good place to start is our roundup of the top 25 places to buy a vacation home, which recommends markets that generally offer a good return on investment. You’ll see a variety of cabin destinations on the list (like Vail, the Poconos, and Blue Ridge, Georgia) that can help guide your search.
Investing in a vacation home means you get to own a little piece of a destination that you (and other travelers) love. Your vacation home can help you earn extra income if you rent it to guests—and it’s a spot where you can take your own vacations or even retire someday. Those are just a couple of the top benefits of making a smart vacation rental investment. Check out our full list to learn more.
Once you’ve purchased your vacation home, a reliable full-service property manager like Vacasa can make renting it out feel like a vacation, too.
Call 866-847-9186 to speak with a Homeowner Consultant, who can answer preliminary questions and see if we’d be a good fit for you.
If you'd like to move forward, we’ll put you in touch with our market expert in your neighborhood to explore the financial potential of your home, outline our management fee, and introduce your local team.
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This document is for information and illustrative purposes only. It is not intended to provide “investment advice” or a “recommendation” regarding a course of action. The discussion is general in nature and has not taken into account your personal financial position or objectives. You should consult a licensed financial advisor or other professional to discuss your specific situation.
The ability to rent out a vacation rental property is subject to local market regulations and restrictions.