If you’ve been following our crazy adventure, you already know that this past year just about killed us. I mean it. There have been so many times when we questioned if buying Camp Miller, our vacation rental cabin, was worth it.
But now I’m sitting in the kitchen of our renovated cabin, writing this post, looking out at the geese on the lake, and I think…. Oh yeah, this was soooo worth it.
Whenever you hear someone talk about an “investment strategy,” they’re usually talking about real estate, the stock market, or some other specific vehicle. What I’m beginning to understand is a broader meaning to the term.
We all choose to make investments- investments of our time, our money, our emotional energy (and often a scintillating combination of the three). Our values inform our priorities. Our priorities determine what and how we invest.
And if I reflect back on this year at Camp Miller, I believe I can call it a strong investment.
Why We Bought Our Vacation Rental
On March 6th, 2020, my husband Matt and I drove to Green Bay to sign the paperwork to close on our cabin. On the ride up, we reviewed the plan: 1) sign the papers, 2) have a baby, 3) spend a year renovating, 4) rent it out as a vacation home, and 5) use the financial gains as an investment strategy for our child.
We signed the papers, kissed and high-fived, hopped in the car to head home… and almost immediately my contractions started.
This is a 100% true story. Our son, Miller, whom this cabin was purchased for, waited patiently past his due date, graciously gave us time to sign the closing documents, and then made his arrival a few hours later.
Every part of this experience has been packed with meaning, love, and a crazy amount of coincidence. (To read more about these coincidences, check out this early post). While the next year of renovations and raising a baby and working full time would just about break us, we know it was the right move.
We bought the cabin for this reason: Short term rentals can make fantastic long-term investments. We are also able to use and enjoy our investment now while the financial gains accrue over time.
With my husband’s insistence that we start living our lives now, combined with my constant nest-egging for the future, buying a vacation rental was the right investment for us. The investment is ultimately for our son. In the meantime, we all get to enjoy it together as a family.
Renovations and ROI
I believe that when it comes to renovating and home design, there is not one correct style. There is, however, a correct budget. It’s so very easy to go overboard on a house, to improve it beyond its resale value or its ability to cash flow. And yes, budget applies to your personal residence, too. Even if you never plan on selling or renting, ARV (after repair value) should be a consideration. ROI (return on investment) should be a consideration.
To calculate an ROI, you’ll need a few key pieces of information:
- The cash put towards purchase and renovations
- Operating expenditures (the monthly costs to run the home)
- Projected monthly income
Here’s a screenshot of the template I created to analyze investment properties. If you want a copy, click here and I’ll send it to your inbox.
Here’s how we knew Camp Miller could make a good investment. First, we analyzed comps in the area. We were able to get a sense of appropriate and fair nightly pricing. Then, with that number in mind, we used the above spreadsheet to play with numbers. We plugged in many different offer prices and renovation budgets, until we figured out a combination that was profitable and realistic.
We ended up putting a lot of cash into the cabin. Just to give an idea, here’s a list of the projects we took on and whether or not we DIY’ed them. We also furnished the entire cabin. We will not make that money back anytime soon. My projection indicates 5-6 years before we make back our cash investment.
However, we are ok with that. We had the cash saved and planned to put it towards a long-term buy-and-hold. We have time on our side. And we aren’t over-leveraged (which means, the amount of borrowed money is very small for this project). But might we look at purchasing a more turnkey property next? Possibly.
Ultimately though, none of these strategies and projections matter if ROI sucks. So how did we do on our ROI?
Year 1: ummm…. Negative. Ha! We were not renting it, only renovating.
Year 2: 3.61%… rented 7.5 months
Year 3 (projection): 7.98% if rented the intended 9 months
7.98% is a strong return. For comparison’s sake, the stock market averages a 6-8% return, the housing market averages 5-6% (do NOT use current market conditions as an average), and a savings account currently brings about .06%.
*Note: we are managing the property ourselves, so we do not factor in that 11% contingency. We do factor in travel costs, as the cabin is an hour away.
For us, ROI is only half of the equation. Remember that we also plan to use and enjoy the cabin. Some years we may open it up to renters, and other years we may not. Some years may be about profit, others might focus on covering expenses.
But at least we know what it CAN do. And this little cabin is a small but competent investment.
The Hosting Experience
Long story short: we have LOVED being hosts. That has by far been my favorite part. It’s sort of magical to be a little hub for so many people coming from so many places.
Everyone has been gracious, communicative, and respectful of the home.
It’s always a risk, letting strangers into your home. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was nervous to publish our cabin on Airbnb. We employed a few risk mitigation strategies (like purchasing an umbrella insurance policy), did our best to remedy potential safety hazards, and put disclosures in our guest guide. Then, we crossed our fingers and swung open the doors!
Our guests have exceeded our expectations. Most of the time, when I get to Camp Miller to clean (this is typically at the end of a long work day, it’s dark, I’m missing dinner with my boys, and I’m not feeling super motivated), the cabin is spotless! And usually there is a sweet note in our guest book. This definitely remotivates me to continue making Camp Miller a special place to visit.
Our guests take such good care of our place, and it is so very, very appreciated. So, to our past guests who are reading this… thank you!
So here we are, near the end of our first real year as vacation rental hosts. I feel proud, relieved, and extremely grateful. While it has been a LOT of work, I’m glad we did it.
We will be taking a 3 month reprieve (January-March) in order to rest, recover, start dreaming again, and to enjoy Camp Miller ourselves. I cannot wait to put on my slippers and flannel, pour some coffee, and snuggle my boys around the fireplace while winter rages outside.
Before I sign off, I’d love to know…
Thanks for being here,