How to Invest in a Unique Vacation Rental

For many aspiring vacation rental homeowners, there’s an appeal to the tried and true: a 3-bedroom, 2-bath rental home on the main drag of a popular destination.

But for others, there’s a desire to get off the beaten path by buying and renting out a home that’s a bit more … unusual. Say, a renovated barn silo outside of town or a treehouse in the middle of the woods.

If you’re part of the latter camp, read on to learn more about buying and marketing a unique property that, in the long run, could potentially bring in more profits.

“People are willing to pay quite a bit of rent just for the fun of staying in a place that’s cool,” said Eric Thomas, owner of the Artemisia Cabin, the first zero-energy solar-powered nightly rental home.

Finding a unique vacation rental property

When you’re trying to find a unique property, it all comes down to who you know, said Tyann Marcink, owner of the Missouri Haus, an early 1900s bank building — complete with 2 original vaults — that she renovated into a 4-bedroom vacation rental.


After putting it out to her network that she was looking for a unique property to renovate, a friend told Marcink about the bank. It was likely something that never would have occurred to her Realtor, “who looked at me like I had two heads” when they first toured the property, Marcink said.

“You need to go beyond the MLS,” agreed Thomas.

There are so many online communities and interest groups out there, he said. If you’re looking to buy that treehouse we mentioned earlier, you could consider joining a Facebook group for glampers. In the posts and comments you might find a property for sale or learn about other resources for buying your dream rental.

If all else fails, you can buy a lot and build your unique vacation rental home yourself. That’s what Thomas did. He and his wife partnered with another couple, which saved everyone time and money. It also helped spread out the division of labor.

“Unique homes have a lot of moving parts,” he said.

Whether you’re buying an existing property or building your own, you’ll want to talk to the city and other local agencies about zoning, regulations, and permitting, advised Marcink.

Historic properties may also have restrictions. And there may be regulations around short-term rentals. It’s important to do your research.

“There’s so much fine print, you have to know exactly what you’re getting into,” she said. “Especially for unique properties.”

Know your goals — and your target market

Start the process by evaluating the short term rental market in your area and seeing if there’s a fit for a unique property. Then, Marcink recommends developing a business plan to determine your property management structure, marketing outreach plan, and financial projections.

But with unique homes, you may have to look beyond the numbers, said Thomas.

He and his partners chose to invest more than $25,000 in making their rental completely solar-powered. This was on top of buying the lot and building the home. From a strictly dollars-and-cents point of view, that might not have made good business sense, he said. But the people who rent the home tell him they chose it over other rentals because of its eco-conscious appeal.

“My top tip to others considering buying or building a unique vacation rental is this: Don’t be afraid to let your own values guide you,” he said. “You will be surprised at how many like-minded guests find your property.”

To help boost bookings, take the time to understand your target market and create a brand that appeals to their interests and passions.

Marcink recommends visiting the local Chamber of Commerce to learn more about what draws people to the area. In her research, she discovered that her bank is close to several wineries that are popular event spaces. It’s also located on the Katy Trail, the country’s longest rails-to-trails project.

This gave her the insight to market the home to large groups, people in town for weddings, and nature-lovers. Every detail about the home, from the photographs to the description to the decorations, is designed to appeal to her target market.

Learn more about marketing your vacation home rental.

Ready to go unique?

Like any business venture, buying and renting out a short-term vacation rental has its risks. Our experts advised that unique rentals can be especially tricky. That’s why developing a smart business plan and marketing strategy is crucial to attracting the guests who are willing to pay top dollar for your home’s one-of-a-kind features.

“You want to be prepared for higher risk,” said Marcink. “But there’s also a chance for a higher reward.”

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