How to Buy a Second Home

buying a second home

Lots of things are better in twos: heads when making decisions, aces at the blackjack table and houses. That is, if you can afford two of them.

Whether for use as a vacation retreat or to make some extra income, a second home makes a great investment, if you can afford it.

Can You Afford to Buy a Second Home?

If you’re less than wealthy, you’ll need to crunch some numbers to ensure you can truly afford a second home. Remember: It’s not just the purchase price that needs to be affordable. Plan on the same ongoing expenses with this house as you have with your primary residence: taxes and insurance, for instance.

Remember: It’s not just the purchase price that needs to be affordable. Plan on the same ongoing expenses with this house as you have with your primary residence: taxes and insurance, for instance.

Then, factor in the additional expenses that come along with owning a home that you don’t live in full-time, such as hiring a property manager.

If you can’t charge enough in rent to cover the monthly expenses, you’ll need a cash reserve to help out. Financial managers recommend that you stash away enough money to cover a year’s worth of rental income and maintenance.

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Qualifying to Buy a Second Home

Once you’ve determined that you can truly afford a second home, you’ll need a mortgage loan.

The qualifications for a mortgage on a second home are a bit more stringent than those required for a first home, according to the experts at Dow Jones’ Plus, the standards for purchasing a vacation property versus an investment property are different.

The benefits of choosing to buy a vacation home, rather than an investment property, include:

  • Guidelines for purchasing vacation homes are more lenient than those for investment properties.
  • Down payment requirements are generally more relaxed.
  • Interest rates are typically better.

Here are some of the ways getting a second mortgage loan is more difficult than securing the first:

Larger Down Payment

You will still need to come up with a larger down payment than you would were you purchasing a home you intend to live in – from 20 to 35 percent of the purchase price, depending on the lender.

Improved Credit Score

Lenders require a higher credit score for loans on second homes. Again, this varies by lender, but the general rule is that you’ll need your credit score to be in the 725 to 750 range.

Afraid that your credit score isn’t in this range? Shop around for the second loan because guidelines vary between lenders.

Better Debt-to-Income Ratio

Our friends at Bank of America point out that lenders will put the debt-to-income ratios of those looking for second mortgages under closer scrutiny than they would for borrowers on their first mortgage. You may not be accepted for a second mortgage if your debt-to-income ratio is above 36 percent of your monthly pre-tax income!

Is your debt-to-income ratio above 36 percent? Here’s how you can lower it:

  • Pay down credit card, other debts.
  • Make major purchases with cash until you secure the second loan.
  • Increase income (if you can’t lower your debts, this is your only option!)

Other ways you can circumvent the higher debt-to-income ratio requirement:

  • Buy a less expensive home.
  • Increase down payment size to lower mortgage payments.

The Second Home and Taxes

It’s a good idea to meet with an accountant before finalizing the paperwork on the second home. The deductibility of mortgage interest on your taxes relies heavily on whether the home is viewed as a vacation retreat or a business investment.

If it’s truly a second home, and not a rental, you can deduct all of the interest you pay – up to debt of $1.1 million – if the debt is secured by both of your homes.

The same holds true for property taxes. As long as the second home is treated as a home and not an investment, taxes are deductible, according to the experts at Kiplinger’s.

Renting out the home presents a different set of problems and benefits. If you rent out the second home for more than 14 days out of the year, the rental income must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service and you’ll be taxed on it. Rental expenses, however, such as management fees, are deductible.

Situations vary, so if you plan to buy a second home, be sure to seek tax advice from a professional.