Second Home vs. Investment Property: What’s the Difference?

second home investment property

By Sara Kuta

You hear these terms thrown around all the time: Second home, investment property, vacation home, rental property. But is there any real difference among them? And does it even matter what you call it?

As it turns out, there are some very big differences between second homes and investment properties, especially if you are financing it.

“Both are fantastic ways to build wealth over time by capturing the appreciation of a real asset,” says Tony Julianelle, CEO of Atlas Real Estate in Denver. However, “both come with inherent risks and expenses that should be carefully considered when making a purchase.”

As with any real estate transaction, you’ll want to do your homework and make a smart choice for your wallet, no matter which path you go down. We chatted with experts to get the scoop.

What is a second home?

A second home is just that: a second property where you and your family spend time, away from your primary home. You might also hear a second home referred to as a vacation property. You may rent it out for a few days each year on Airbnb or VRBO, but you primarily use it yourself.

Buying a second home makes financial sense if there’s one particular vacation spot you visit regularly. Why spend a fortune on hotels or Airbnb when you can own your own piece of paradise that will hopefully appreciate in value over time?

“Let’s say you live in San Francisco, but you are an avid skier in the winter and like to hike in the summer,” says Rachel Olsen, a real estate agent in California. “If you spend many weekends and vacations in Lake Tahoe, it may make sense to purchase a second home there.”

What is an investment property?

An investment property, on the other hand, is one that you purchase with the explicit intention of generating income. The investment property could be right next door to your own home, or it could be in another state—it doesn’t really matter. You’ll be playing the role of landlord, with long-term or short-term renters paying cash to stay in the home.

“Never forget that an investment property is all about the Benjamins,” says Lamar Brabham, CEO and founder of financial services firm Noel Taylor Agency. “The entire point is to turn a profit. No emotions, no affection.”

Before making an offer on an investment property, you’ll want to crunch the numbers to make sure it’s a solid investment. Similarly, consider what factors will be important to prospective tenants (e.g., access to public transportation, good schools, parking, and low crime rates).

How to finance a second home or investment property

If you’re paying cash, you can skip this section. But if you need a mortgage for your new property, you should know that financing a second home or investment property is very different from financing a primary residence. And, while mortgages on second homes and investment properties have some similarities, there are also some key differences.

  • Interest rate: You can expect to see a higher interest rate for both second homes or investment properties than for primary homes. Why? Because lenders view those transactions as riskier. If you get into a tight spot with money, you’re far more likely to stop paying the mortgage for your second/investment property than for your primary home.
  • Qualifying: Whether you’re buying a second home or an investment property, you might need to do some extra legwork in order to qualify for that second loan. Your bank may require you to prove that you have healthy cash reserves (so it knows you can afford both mortgages). It’ll take a long, hard look at your overall financial situation, so be sure everything is on the up and up before you apply.
  • Down payment: Depending on your situation and the lender, you might also need to bring a larger down payment to the table for an investment property or second home, typically 15% to 25%. Again, this is because the bank wants a bigger cushion to fall back on in case you default.
  • Rental income: If you’re buying an investment property, your lender might allow you to show that anticipated rental income will help cover the mortgage payments. However, proving how much rental income the home will generate can be complicated. Prepare to pay for a specialized appraisal that takes into account comparable rents in your area.
  • Location: Your lender may require a second home to be 50 to 100 miles away from your primary home. An investment property, however, can be anywhere in comparison to your primary home, even next door.
  • Taxes: Federal income tax rules are different for vacation homes and investment properties. Generally, you’ll treat your second home just as you would your first home when it comes to taxes—if you itemize, you can deduct the mortgage interest you paid up to a certain limit. (The rules vary if you rent out your second home for part of the year.) If you own an investment property, you get to deduct the mortgage interest, plus many of the expenses that come with operating a rental business, but you also have to report your rental income, too.

Why it’s important to not confuse the two

It’s important that you’re totally clear about the difference and not use the terms “second home” and “investment property” interchangeably. Some people try to pass off their investment property as a second home to get more favorable financing, but you should never do this.

If you lie on your loan application, you could be committing mortgage fraud, which is a federal offense.

Your lender’s underwriting team is aware of this possibility, so don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes. They’ll take the big picture into account when deciding what loan terms to offer you, says real estate attorney David Reischer.

“A single-family residence by a lake that is located in a completely different state from the borrower’s primary residence is much more acceptable to be categorized as a second home by a bank underwriter,” he says. “A multifamily-unit property with rental income in an urban area is likely to be treated as an investment property.”

Bottom line: Keep everything aboveboard, and you won’t have to worry about a thing.


Real Estate Counteroffers: Is There a Limit to How Long This Can Go On

real estate offers

By: Julie Ryan Evans

Is there a limit on the number of real estate counteroffers home buyers and sellers can make? You might be wondering this if you’re in the throes of negotiating a real estate deal. You offer X, the seller counteroffers with Y, you volley back and hope it’s over; yet on and on it goes, like a never-ending tennis match. Exactly how long can this last? Is there a limit to real estate counteroffers?

Alas, there is not.

“Unfortunately, there’s no legal limit to how many counteroffers buyers and sellers can make,” says Michele Lerner, author of “Homebuying: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time.” “Counteroffers can be made as part of the negotiating process until there’s a signed agreement between the buyer and seller, or the seller decides to take their home off the market.”

Real estate counteroffers, explained: Why won’t they stop?

In some cases, a stream of counteroffers might be a stalling tactic on the part of sellers who are really hoping a better offer rolls in. That makes sense for them, but it’s plenty frustrating if you’re trying to buy the property.

“One way to get past your frustration and perhaps move negotiations forward is to mentally put yourself in the seller’s position,” Lerner says. “If you owned this home, you might want to hold out for the highest possible offer, too.”

If you really want this home—and suspect sellers are holding out for more money—then one thing you can do to safeguard your deal is to include an escalation clause, which basically says, “I will pay a certain price for this home, but if the seller receives another offer that’s higher than mine, I’m willing to increase my offer.”

Kathryn Bishop, a Realtor® in Studio City, CA, says if you do include such a clause, you should make sure to get in writing that the escalation applies only to a verified offer. “Verification includes a copy of the highest offer to the buyer’s agent and a copy of the proof of funds or pre-approval so these can be verified.”

How to end a real estate counteroffer stalemate

In some cases, it’s really not about money. Your Realtor should be able to find out from the listing agent what the sellers really want and if there are other interested buyers.

“If the sellers are looking for flexibility on the closing date or want you to waive the home inspection contingency, you may be able to win their signature on a contract without offering more money,” Lerner says. “You should still have a home inspection for information purposes so you know what you are buying. You can also offer to have the sellers live in the home rent-free for a period of time if they need to find their next home.”

Sean Keene of the Keene Group in Oregon says he’s seen as many as six counteroffers in a deal—which is too many.

“After the first couple, people are getting petty over little things,” he says. “The agents should be on the phone talking it out way before that point and get it done.”

Sometimes, however, the deal is just not meant to be.

“Unfortunately, you may also find you simply cannot compete, and the sellers will accept another buyer’s offer,” Lerner says. “In that case, you’ll need to move on and look for a home in the same area or another neighborhood that meets your requirements.”


Don’t Budge: 7 Compromises You Should Never Make When Buying a Home

7 compromises on home buying

By: Wendy Helfenbaum

Every successful home search begins with a wish list. Armed with your inventory of must-haves, you’ll know how to focus your search and recognize a potential home that isn’t worth your time.

Still, there’s a strange thing that seems to happen when you’re deep in the trenches of house hunting: The more you look, the longer that wish list seems to grow. But sooner or later, you have to own up to the fact that you can’t have everything—it’s inevitable that you’ll make some compromises somewhere.

And, in these days of tight inventory and cutthroat competition from other buyers, you might feel forced to waver far afield from your hallowed wish list in order to land a home.

That’s OK—it’s important to be flexible. But there are a few times when you absolutely should draw the line. Here are seven areas where you’ll want to dig in your heels.

1. Buying a fixer-upper when you really want turnkey

You have never swung a hammer, have a phobia of power tools, and always pictured yourself in something new and shiny. But that doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with a charming, century-old farmhouse that needs a ton of work. Now’s when you have to decide: Are you up to the financial and emotional challenges of taking on major renovations?

It’s an option you should seriously consider (with the help of an experienced general contractor) if you’re in a highly competitive market. But if you don’t think your bank account or your marriage could survive many months of upheaval, stick to your guns and insist on a turnkey home, says Mike Kessler, a broker with TSG Residential, in Davidson, NC.

“There have been times when I’ve said to clients, ‘after being with you for a week, I really think we need to look at new construction,'” Kessler says. Many of those clients, he adds, were later grateful for the course correction, saying, “We would never have been able to enjoy ourselves in [an older] house.”

2. A good school district

Even if you don’t have children, you should make sure the house you’re eyeing has desirable schools nearby, says Tina Maraj, a Realtor® with Re/Max North Orange County in Fullerton, CA.

Does it matter if you’re not looking to have a few kids? Well, things can always change. But even if they don’t, good schools typically translate to a higher resale value—potential buyers with families will want to be in the right district.

Just make sure to do your research and determine where the home sits in relation to the school district boundaries.

“Often agents will advertise a property as being near such-and-such school area, but not necessarily specify the district, which can be very confusing,” Maraj explains. “It can be a real eye-opener if a buyer closes and they’re on one side of a main street that is the dividing line between the top-rated and the lowest-rated high schools.”

Go to the school district’s website to get a map of the district boundaries.

3. The floor plan

Does the home fit your minimum criteria in terms of number of rooms and the flow of the main living areas? If not, cross it off your list, says Sarah Garza, a Realtor and military relocation specialist with Trident Homes Realty in Arnold, MD.

Garza can share some personal cautionary tales: A military spouse, she’s moved 12 times in the past 20 years, buying and selling nine homes in the process.

“I regret that I compromised on layout in the past,” she says. “When I really needed four bedrooms, I’ve gone to three and then wished I hadn’t.”

Sure, you can add on. But don’t use that option as a fallback, Maraj warns.

“You can change a layout to make it an open floor plan, but it’s a lot more difficult to change the bedroom and bathroom count,” she says. “In the long run, you could end up having a lot of problems and taking on a really big financial undertaking.”

4. The neighbors

During your search, don’t just focus on the house you’re interested in—check out the neighboring homes as well, Maraj says. Are the properties well-kept, or candidates for an episode of “Hoarders”?

The condition of the properties around you can affect your future resale value. And they can just plain drive you crazy. Make sure you look—and listen—any time you visit your prospective home.

“You can’t change the house in front of you or to the side of you,” Maraj cautions. “And if there’s a barking dog every time you’re viewing the property, that’s another thing that you absolutely cannot change.”

5. Your budget

You’ve probably already determined how much you’re willing to pay for a home—and you shouldn’t budge on that number. But you should also dig in your heels on the additional costs beyond the sticker price. That means setting a budget for your monthly payments, HOA dues, utility costs, and real estate taxes—and sticking to it. (Hint: You want to do this before you start looking at homes, and definitely before you start making offers.)

Yes, a lender will give you a pre-approval and tell you how much house you can afford. But this is just one piece of the puzzle, and the costs of homeownership can still land you in a mountain of debt if you’re not careful, Kessler points out.

“I try to do a lot of pre-planning with clients about what can they really afford, as opposed to what the bank tells you,” Kessler says. “You never want to be house poor.”

6. Commute time

If you’ve already determined that you’re willing to take on a 30-minute commute, don’t allow yourself to be swayed into anything longer, Garza says.

“Sometimes buyers fall in love with all the shiny bells and whistles of a house that’s an hour away from work, and want to compromise on what they’ve told me from the beginning,” she notes. “I tell them, ‘I know it doesn’t matter right now because you really love this house, but that’s two hours every day that you’ll be sitting in the car and not enjoying your house. Is that worth it to you?’”

She adds: Until you’ve actually driven the route to and from your potential home and your office, at the times you’ll be commuting, you should never consider compromising.

In some large cities, being just a few miles from the highway can tack on an additional hour of commuting. Could you handle that after a long day in the office? Think carefully before making the sacrifice.

7. Parking

Speaking of your car, if you own one (or two), you absolutely want a guaranteed spot to park, whether that means an enclosed garage, a driveway, or assigned parking.

“There are many communities that now restrict outside parking, guest spaces, and overnight parking, which could be a real homeowner nightmare if you have to fend for yourself,” Maraj says.

To avoid frustration after you’ve closed a deal, stick to your guns about the things that are most important to you while making your choice, and ignore the rest of the noise.



Can You Buy an REO With a VA Loan?

bank owned

By: Craig Donofrio

Veterans Affairs loans, or VA loans, carry excellent terms and conditions and are available to most military personnel and veterans. With no down payment required and no private mortgage insurance, these loans are great for anyone who is eligible. But could they be used to buy real estate owned properties?

REO problems

A real estate owned property, or REO, is a home that has been reclaimed by the bank after it failed to sell at foreclosure auction. Often, REOs are sold at a good price. However, that’s often because REOs are sold in “as is” condition, and usually come with problems as the house has been neglected by a homeowner unable or unwilling to make repairs and updates.

That can present a problem when trying to buy one with a VA loan.

VA requirements

While VA loans are flexible on many accounts, one requirement is that the property must be in livable condition. Often, REOs are in poor condition. It is unlikely that a homeowner who was unable to make mortgage payments might have put a lot of money into home improvements and left the home in pristine condition. These homes went into foreclosure, and the foreclosure process can take several months to a few years, depending on the state. The more time the house has been vacant, or sat through the foreclosure process, the more time it has had to break down.

Also, owners who anticipated losing their homes might have taken out the oven, boiler, refrigerator, bathroom fixtures, and other basic amenities. Houses lacking basic amenities, or that have been gutted of wire or have busted plumbing, are not considered livable and would not be approved for a VA loan.

Shop for an REO

If you want to use a VA loan to buy an REO, you’ll want to shop for a livable home. Search® for foreclosure listings. A Realtor® can also help search in your area. If a house in town just went into foreclosure, he or she should know about it—that way, you can make an offer soon, instead of letting the house sit for even longer.

When you find a home that looks livable, it’s important to hire a professional building inspector and contractor to let you know what problems the house has. Figure out what repairs are needed and get an estimate for how much they will cost to fix, and compare that to your budget.

Don’t be surprised if a seemingly cheap REO needs thousands of dollars in repairs. Ask yourself if you’re ready to put the time, energy, and money into this home.

Finally, make sure the title is clear. Banks and lenders usually clear the title from liens or judgments, but it’s worth knowing for sure, so perform a title search on the property.


While banks don’t typically want to invest in a foreclosed property, they may be willing to make some repairs if it means selling the property to a capable buyer. It’s no guarantee, but it doesn’t hurt to speak with the lender and see if some contingency repairs can be made.

Updated from a previous version by Gilan Gertz