What Does a Second Home Really Cost?

Many adults, especially retirees, choose to acquire a second home. People have second homes for various reasons, whether to have a vacation home, a home closer to out-of-state family, or for work. Whatever your reason for wanting a second home, there’s a lot of factors involved, which is why it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Considering getting a second home isn't just about numbers; it's a decision that profoundly impacts your lifestyle and financial health. Therefore, a thorough understanding of your potential expenses is a must to know if you can afford to rent or buy a second home. Before opening the door to this new chapter in your life let's talk about what it really means in terms of cost.

Costs for All Second Homes

Buying and renting have different costs, but the following costs of second homes are incurred by both owners and renters.

Maintaining Two Homes

With a second home purchase, there are double costs for mortgages, taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and many other items.

For both second homeowners and renters, there are also the costs and efforts of maintaining the main home while you're away. For example, a water heater could start leaking at the main house in your absence. That needs to be fixed immediately to avoid even higher water damage costs. Also, you'll need to ensure your primary home's lawn is mowed and snow removed while you're away.


Think about how you plan to get to and from your second home. Will you drive, fly, or use some other method? If you plan to go to and from the second home frequently, how much transportation cost and time are you willing to spend? For example, 10 hours each way to a weekend retreat may not be worth the travel time.


What will it cost to get around at your second home? If you're not driving back and forth, will you ship your car to the second home or acquire one there? Shipping costs depend on distance and level of service. For example, shipping a mid-sized SUV from Detroit, MI, to Tampa, FL, could cost anywhere from $1,300 to $1,900, depending on the level of service. Prices are less if you have flexibility regarding pickup/drop-off dates and the vehicle is not shipped in an enclosed carrier.  

If you purchase a vehicle at the second home location, factor in all the costs of owning a second vehicle. However, when you are away from the second home for an extended period, you can often suspend the insurance until you resume using the vehicle.

Finally, if you plan to rent a vehicle during your second home stay, do your homework to find the best rates well in advance.

Furnishing and Other Living Items

Unless you buy or rent a furnished home, acquiring furniture and decorating items is necessary. Also, expect to obtain everything from vacuum cleaners to kitchenware to electronics if these items are not already in the home.

Watching the Main Home

While you're away at the second home, having a house sitter can bring peace of mind knowing your main residence is safe, plants are watered, and fish are fed. The cost for a live-in house sitter could be $0 if the sitter is living rent-free in exchange for watching your house. On the other hand, some live-in house sitters may require compensation. Do some internet research to find out how much is reasonable.

Hiring a commercial service to visit the house can range from $25-$30 per visit, with overnight stays costing twice as much.

Costs for a Rented Second Home

A recent blog post mentioned several of the costs for a rented second home. Of course, the renter's main expense is the monthly rent from which landlords cover their underlying costs like utilities. Aside from rent, here are two other costs worth noting.

Rental Start-Up Costs

You may periodically find yourself in the rental acquisition process. For example, maybe you occasionally switch up your rental site to experience different locations. In other situations, you may be forced to look for a new rental due to rent increases or the landlord selling the property, making it unavailable.

In either case, you'll face the prospect of researching properties and qualifying as a renter. Costs can include application fees, credit reports, security deposits, first/last month's rent, and pet deposits. In addition, there's your time and effort to start all over in new living quarters.

Storage Unit

When you're not staying at the rented second home, what do you do with your stuff? As a renter, it's unlikely you can keep your belongings in the unit. Of course, you could haul everything back to the main home, but if you expect to return to the same location, it might be more convenient to store some items. Landlords sometimes provide storage options for long-term renters. If not, you'll need to contract for storage space somewhere nearby.

Costs for an Owned Second Home

Owning a second home comes with costs on two levels. First, there are the costs of acquiring and maintaining the home simply as a place to live. Second, there are the costs associated with treating the home as an investment and income-generating asset. This blog post focuses on the former. Subscribe to our blog, so you don't miss our upcoming post on the latter! 

Overall, many of the same expenses you pay as the owner of your main home will also apply to your second home. Here are some of the major costs of ownership.


These expenses include real estate agent fees, closing costs, appraisal fees, etc. It's essential to know that interest rates for second homes usually are higher than for primary home mortgages, and required down payment amounts are often higher. To keep costs down, research the market in your target location and work with an experienced local real estate agent. Also, getting pre-approved for a mortgage will remove uncertainty and allow you time to compare different lender offerings.


Any discussion of taxes must address what you need to pay and what you can deduct. The taxes you'll pay will be property taxes and any state or local taxes that arise from owning the second home. Of course, you'll also be paying these taxes on your primary home.

As for tax deductions, mortgage interest on a second home can be deducted, assuming it meets the same rules for deductible interest as on your main residence. For tax purposes, you combine the total mortgage interest on both homes. There are limits on how much interest you can deduct, so refer to IRS and state publications to determine how you can deduct.

Also, state and local property taxes can be deducted on your federal return assuming certain conditions are met. State taxes may vary in this regard. Again, refer to IRS and state tax publications for specifics.


Monthly utilities typically include electricity, gas, water, trash, and internet, forming a crucial part of the operational budget. Ensuring efficient management of these services is vital to avoid unforeseen expenses.


Homeowner insurance is essential, particularly in this era of intense storms and other natural disasters like wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Insuring your second home safeguards your investment against such natural disasters or other unforeseen events, such as theft, accidents, and liability issues.


Regular maintenance of the second home's interior and exterior preserves the property's value. When first moving in, there will most likely be interior decorating projects to adapt the property to your style. Also, if the prior owners procrastinated on maintenance, you could face costly fix-up projects. 

HOA Fees

Owners may need to pay Homeowner Association (HOA) fees at the community where the second home is sited. The HOA handles the community's finances and governance. Monthly HOA fees vary based on the size of the overall property and the amenities offered.

No matter the property's attraction and location, it's essential to consider the overall costs of a second home. A complete picture of expenses will help you decide if you can realistically afford and balance the responsibilities of having two homes to look after. After reviewing all costs mentioned in this blog, you’ll have a more realistic understanding of what buying or renting a second home truly costs.

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