Investment Property vs. Second Home

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Contributor, Benzinga
June 12, 2023

When you own more than one property, it could be for different reasons — as an Investment property, a second home, for family or another situation. However, the most common reasons for owning multiple properties are investment or vacation homes. The purposes and implications of an investment property vs. a second home are significant. 

An investment property is an income-generating investment, whereas a second home is a property you use in addition to your primary residence. Many people rent out their second homes when not using them, but that’s not the same as a true investment property. Read on to understand tax treatments, occupancy and maintenance to decide what works for you in the investment property vs. second home debate.  

What is an Investment Property?

An investment property is purchased for the explicit purpose of short-term and long-term income generation. By definition, it cannot be your primary residence. Instead, you purchase a property to generate income, take advantage of tax benefits or build wealth through appreciation over time. 

Ideally, an investment property will create positive cash flow from the first month by bringing in rental income. In addition, market appreciation can mean increased investment value in the medium to long term. 

What is a Second Home?

A second home is a property you purchase for the purpose of occupying for part of the year. It’s common to purchase second homes in warm climates like Florida or Arizona for use during winter. Second homes in vacation destinations near oceans, lakes or mountains are popular. However, a second home could also be a condo in a city where you conduct business or any other property you purchase for personal use or to share with family and friends.

Comparing an Investment Property vs. Second Home

When considering an investment property vs. second home, consider its investment potential, tax implications, use and financing. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of the most important considerations. 

Investment Potential

Just because you purchase a property for investment doesn’t mean you’ll earn income. The first step is research. Explore the investment potential of investment properties, including long-term appreciation, rental income and tax benefits. 

Talk with local realtors who understand the current market. Request a current appraisal as well as market projections to understand potential income and appreciation. Compare total monthly expenses to realistic rental income to choose an investment property with positive cash flow from month one. 

When considering investment property vs. second home, second homes may also appreciate over time. However, they are primarily seen as lifestyle assets rather than income-generating investments.

Tax Implications

How the IRS treats second home vs. investment property varies.  First, for investment properties, you may be able to deduct expenses related to the property, such as maintenance and management expenses. You'll have to pay federal income tax on your net rental income. There is also a difference between investment property taxes vs. primary residence tax treatment.

When you sell an investment property, you may be subject to capital gains taxes on the profit. The tax rate depends on your income and how long you held the property. If you meet specific requirements for a second home, you may be eligible for capital gains exclusion up to a certain amount (usually $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples) if it was your primary residence for at least two out of the last five years.

Sometimes the lines are blurry. For example, if you use an investment property for personal purposes, like vacationing, the tax treatment of expenses may be affected. Generally, you can only deduct expenses proportional to when the property is used for rental purposes. 

On the other hand, what are the tax benefits of a second home vs. investment property? You can use a second home for personal enjoyment without affecting the tax treatment as long as you meet the requirements for capital gains exclusion when selling. 

Usage and Occupancy

The differences in usage and occupancy between investment property vs. second home come down to whether you can use it. Investment properties are typically rented out to tenants, while second homes are used by the owner or their family and friends. Both have pros and cons, depending on your goals and financial situation. If you opt for short-term rentals like Airbnb, you may be able to use an investment property for a few weeks a year, but you’ll risk lower occupancy and reduced income. 

Financing and Loan Options

Financing options available for investment properties include investment property loans or mortgages that may require a higher down payment and necessitate that you demonstrate potential rental income as part of the financial considerations. Second homes can be financed similarly to primary residences, with options such as second-home mortgages. However, some mortgages will require you not to rent the property, limiting future rental income on your second home.  

Tax implications on investment property vs. second home financing also differ. For investment properties, you can deduct mortgage interest as an expense against the rental income, reducing your taxable rental income. In addition, you may be able to take home equity loan interest deductions, closing cost deductions or passive activity losses. 

For a second home, you can generally only deduct mortgage interest on up to $750,000 of mortgage debt if you itemize deductions. Speak with a tax professional to understand your situation.

Management and Maintenance

Management and maintenance responsibilities associated with investment properties can be significant. Be sure to consider the time and costs involved in tenant management, property upkeep and potential vacancies.

Maintenance and management considerations for second homes include property security, seasonal maintenance and additional upkeep costs. While basic maintenance will be similar on comparable properties, investment properties can require more hands-on communication with tenants unless you hire a property manager. 

Personal Use and Restrictions

Local regulations may limit the personal use of investment properties. If you occupy the property, there can be significant tax implications. In addition, some investment properties (in vacation developments) may have HOA restrictions that limit use. 

On the other hand, with second homes, you have the flexibility of personal use, as they are primarily intended for the owner's enjoyment. 

Risk and Return

When choosing between an investment property vs. second home, analyze the risk and return factors associated with investment properties, including market fluctuations, property management challenges and potential cash flow variations. While second homes have lower risk, they also usually have lower returns because you’re not depending on rental income. Instead, the return is in the form of personal enjoyment rather than income generation.

Do You Need a Second Home or Investment Property?

Whether a second home or an investment property is best will depend on your personal goals and financial situation. A second home may be a dream for long summers on the beach or a city apartment if you have the funds to support it. On the other hand, investment properties offer significant advantages to building long-term wealth through positive cash flow and appreciation. Whether you choose a second home or investment property, you gain an asset that can appreciate over time and offer greater financial and personal freedom. 

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between an investment property and a second home?


While an investment property is primarily used for income generation in the short term and through appreciation, a second home is mostly used for the owner’s enjoyment. 


How do I decide if I should invest in a rental property or buy a second home?


Whether you invest in a rental property or buy a second home will depend on your financial situation and goals. Sometimes, a property could be both a short-term rental and a second home. In other situations, the stability of long-term tenants may make more sense. And if finances are less of a concern, a second home offers the flexibility to enjoy it whenever you need it. 


What are the tax implications for investment properties vs. second homes?


Tax implications for investment properties vs. second homes vary in what and how much you can deduct and how capital gains are treated. See above for a general explanation, and then speak with a tax professional to understand your personal tax implications.