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Where to Invest? Holiday Let or Buy to Let

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If you happen to be in the fortunate position of being able to invest in a second home, should you capitalise on the staycation boom and buy a holiday home that you can let out short-term when you’re not enjoying it yourself – or a buy-to-let property that you can rent out on a long-term basis?

Over the last few years, things have changed quite a bit. Increasing numbers of landlords are fleeing the buy-to-let market after their profits were hit by stringent new tax rules.

That said, both routes can prove to be worthwhile investments, but there is lots to consider. From potential rental yields, tax benefits, potential hassle and what you want to achieve.

Below we look at the pros and cons that you should be thinking about before you make that final decision – because each property investment strategy presents their own unique challenges and rewards.

What is the difference between a holiday let and a long-term let?

Generally, a short-term holiday let is a property that is let out to holidaymakers for short periods, usually from 3 nights, a few weeks or up to 31 days.

To qualify as a furnished holiday let (FHL) for tax purposes, your property must be available to let for at least 210 days a year and be let commercially to the public for at least 105 days in the year. This doesn’t include days you’re staying there or days that your property is let out to family and friends for free or at reduced rates.

A long-term let (also known as buy-to-lets) is typically a property that is let out for 6 to 12 months at a time.

Return on investment (ROI)

Coins

The level of financial return on any property will depend on several factors, such as the initial amount invested in the property, its features, the location, market demand and pricing strategy. We recommend you conduct a great deal of research into the realistic rental income that you can expect. It’s a good idea to speak with a letting agent familiar with the local area to get an idea of the potential rental income.

Below, we look at a few pros and cons relating to the potential yield.

Holiday let ROI

Pro: The pandemic and the forever evolving quarantine/testing rules have led to a sharp rise in demand for UK holiday properties. 2021 bookings surged post lockdown, and many holiday lets in tourist hotspots are already booked up for 2022.

Research suggests that the appetite for domestic holidays is stronger than ever and will continue post-pandemic.

The average occupancy level for holiday lets is between 20 and 24 weeks per year. However, high performing properties in popular locations can achieve over 40 weeks booked.

Many investors are eyeing holiday lets as a potentially lucrative safe haven for their money.

Pro: Holiday lets located in beautiful, rural areas or near popular tourist destinations in the UK tend to deliver high rental yields over a year.

At peak season, a holiday let can earn you as much in a week as you would in a month from buy-to-let. Holiday let landlords can earn up to 30% more yield than their buy-to-let counterparts. Delivering an 8% return annually (approximately £13000) while buy-to-let investors aim for a yield of around 6%.

However, due to the surge in demand and increased prices during 2021, holiday let owners made a third more they did in 2019 according to Sykes Cottages.

A good guide for profit/revenue with no agency fees and no mortgage is around 50%. With mortgage payments and letting fees deducted, it’s roughly 30%.

If your short-term holiday let is successful in terms of bookings, this will result in potentially a much higher return than if you let your property long term.

Pro: The pandemic has led to an increase in remote working and an emerging trend for  ‘workcations’ where guests stay for longer periods. This growing market can mean less changeover and admin expenses for owners.

Pro: Potential for capital appreciation in the long term if you buy a run-down property to develop or in an area that becomes popular.


Con: Holiday lets in popular tourist destinations are typically more expensive to buy than long term let properties in urban towns and cities.

Con: In certain tourist hotspots the market is already saturated with competition from surrounding properties. Discounting and price wars can impact earnings.

Con: Something which can affect a great many self-catering businesses is the ‘seasonality’ factor. While the high season is fully booked, off-peak bookings can be scarce. It’s during these periods that little to no income is received week-to-week or low rental rates that just about cover the cost of running the cottage.

Con: You’ll need to update your holiday let amenities frequently and invest in new products and technological innovations to help your property remain attractive compared to competitors and enjoyable for paying guests.

This could be anything from upgrading kitchen appliances or the hot tub to more technologically advanced features such as mood lighting, a cinema room or digital concierge.

The extra upkeep and maintenance involved also make holiday lets much more costly to run than the average buy-to-let. You’ll have to visit your holiday let regularly to identify things which are broken or missing.

Con: Holiday let landlords will also need to cover costs that would otherwise be paid by a long-term tenant. Such as utility bills, internet and digital TV packages.

Con: You may need to pay more for a property manager compared to if you were paying for the management of a buy-to-let property. Letting agents will typically charge 20-30% commission to manage holiday lets, compared to 13% for buy-to-lets.

Con: Potential returns could be limited by the councils’ occupancy rules. Some areas require planning permission if renting out for more than 90 days of the year, while certain areas have banned the sale of new houses as non-primary residences.

The building’s freeholder may also restrict short term lets. Something to check as the rules are constantly changing.

Con: Certain lenders who previously offered short-term let mortgages have withdrawn from the market. Therefore, getting a holiday let mortgage is more complicated than a traditional buy-to-let. Lenders often require a larger deposit and repayments can be more expensive.

Buy-to-let property ROI

Pro: Properties in popular towns and cities tend to have the potential to produce consistent, high returns all year round, perhaps with only one or two tenants over 12-months. Or if you are lucky, several years.

Pro: This type of property investment is considered to be quite stable and predictable when it comes to making a return, because you have a consistent monthly rental income that you can rely on for a determined period with predictable expenses.

Holiday letting may potentially generate more revenue, however, bookings aren’t guaranteed as many factors can influence this – as we have seen with the covid-19 lockdowns.

Pro: Rents have risen over the last year due to a lack of property stock and tenants’ willingness to pay for more space.

ProAnother benefit of long-term letting is that the added expenses that come with property letting can be passed onto your tenants. Long-term renters are generally responsible for paying utility bills for electricity, gas and water.

Pro: There are better mortgage deals and a wider choice of lenders to choose from.

Pro: Some long-term tenants bring their own furniture so you won’t have the expense of furnishing your property.


Con: Buy-to-lets rely on single tenancy contracts. These agreements are not ‘forever’ and tenants can give notice to leave, fail to pay rent, or worse still, cause a lot of damage and trouble for the landlord whilst they’re living there. Thus, leaving you to incur large costs when they do eventually vacate the property.

Con: Compared to holidaymakers, tenants spend more time in and around the property which causes more wear and tear, requiring more replacements and maintenance when they leave.

Con: Whilst a new tenant is being found to occupy your property, there may be a gap in income, and you’ll likely need to spend additional money on paying your agent to sort out a new tenant too. In some cases, several months void can wipe out the profit for the year.

Con: Restrictions on short-term letting in some urban areas has seen landlords shift properties to traditional long term lets as the tourist market contracts – meaning more competition.

ConLandlords will have to invest in upgrades to their properties to meet the Government’s energy efficiency targets (new rental properties need to have an EPC rating of C by 2025 and existing tenancies the same by 2028).

Tax

Using a calculator

Holiday lets and tax

One of the major advantages of furnished holiday lets (FHLs) compared to a standard buy-to-let property is that they have managed to escape many of the punitive taxes imposed by the Government. Because holiday lets are classed as a business rather than investment, owners are still entitled to many of the tax advantages buy-to-let landlords no longer get.

Pro: Subject to meeting the furnished holiday let criteria, holiday lets are eligible for full mortgage interest tax relief. HMRC classes holiday lets as businesses, and currently, there’s no limit on the mortgage interest amount incurred that you’re able to offset against your profits. For taxpayers on a higher rate, you might find that your income tax bill is reduced by a notable amount.

Pro: You’ll be able to offset some of the equipment and furnishing costs against rental income. You can also deduct expenses such as council tax, utilities, maintenance, cleaning, property management costs and advertising.

Pro: Holiday lets are subject to business rates rather than council tax. There’s also the possibility that you’ll be able to claim 100% relief on business rates if your property has a rateable value of less than £12,000.

Pro: If you ever sell your holiday let, you may be able to benefit from Capital Gains Tax reliefs. There’s also the opportunity to roll over capital gains if you buy another holiday let, any gain from the first can be deferred until you sell the second.

Pro: At present, holiday lets are considered to be ‘business properties’, and therefore, for the purpose of Inheritance Tax, they are exempt. It should be noted however that HMRC is currently challenging this point, so there may be an alteration to this in future.


Con: Your property will only be eligible for the tax benefits mentioned above if it is classified by HM Revenue & Customs as a furnished holiday let. To qualify for the tax relief, your property must be available to let by paying holidaymakers for at least 210 days a year and you have to let it out for a minimum of 105 days each year. Also, you can’t include any lets over 31 days.

Con: If you already own another property, any second home purchase (whether a holiday let or buy-to-let) will be subject to an additional 3% stamp duty charge.

Buy-to-let property and taxes

Increasing numbers of landlords are fleeing the buy-to-let market after their profits were hit by stringent new tax rules phased in from 2017.

Pro: Some property investors are transferring properties into a limited company to benefit from tax breaks, stamp duty, capital gains tax or inheritance tax liability.


Con: Would-be landlords wanting to borrow money for a buy-to-let mortgage once brought major tax advantages along with it, but over the last few years, this has been changing. Punitive tax changes have ultimately meant that most buy-to-let landlords will be seeing their tax bills go up considerably.

Landlords will no longer be able to deduct all the interest they pay on their mortgage from the rental income they declare to the taxman. This is being scaled back to a maximum of 20% tax credit against mortgage interest. For those with bigger mortgages, this can result in large changes in their net profits; and often, not for the better.

Con: Capital gains tax relief is due to be scaled back further, potentially costing landlords thousands when they sell up. If you want to sell your buy-to-let property, you’ll find that capital gains currently stands at 28% for higher rate taxpayers; a far higher rate than if you were selling a holiday let.

Con: Landlords can also no longer automatically write off 10% of the rental income bill for ‘wear and tear’ to their property.

Con: In the case of inheritance tax, this would be payable on a buy-to-let property (but the amount depends on your circumstances).

The overall ‘hassle level’

woman with curly hair screaming

Holiday lets

Pro: While some guests may be more hassle than they are worth, short-term rental owners can breathe easy knowing their stay will be brief.

Pro: It can be rewarding when guests choose your property to celebrate an engagement, honeymoon or big birthday and tell you that your property made it memorable.


Con: Due to the continuous footfall of different guests, holiday lets cost more in upkeep and maintenance than buy-to-let properties. This includes everything from frequent housekeeping, handling guest issues (e.g. fixing broken appliances), replacing inventory and generally keeping things clean and tidy.

Con: You may find the management of your holiday letting business soon turning from what was imagined to be an enjoyable part-time vocation to an intense full-time job 24-7 if you’re operating without any help from others (or an agent).

There are plenty of tasks to keep you occupied between guest stays. Such as changeovers, responding to enquiries, marketing, adjusting prices, arranging check-in and check-out.

You’ll also have possible cancellation requests, complaints and replying to negative guest feedback – meaning more of your time spent liaising with your management agent and/or your guests compared to if you were a buy-to-let landlord.

Holiday lets are more time-consuming than being a landlord, which prompts many investors to wait until retirement before setting up a holiday let or they choose the much more hands-off option of long-term renting.

Con: Covid-19 has resulted in owners going to extraordinary lengths to clean/disinfect and prepare their properties for guests. The extra costs and changeover time to be compliant has been stressful for many.

Con: Many towns and residents are turning against second homes, which means legislation and tax changes are likely.

Buy-to-let property

ProWith buy-to-let properties, there is generally a lower level of upkeep from week to week. A live-in tenant will usually not bother a landlord or letting agent to change a lightbulb or battery, for example. The hassles of communicating with new guests and regular changeovers disappear when you rent long-term.

Pro: You’ll find you’ll have less to worry about when it comes to administrative tasks such as accounting and marketing.

Pro: Once your tenant signs the lease, you know how long (to a certain extent) you can expect them to stay. You only need to worry about filling the house again once they vacate.

Pro: Your initial outlay to bring the property to a rentable condition may be far less, as you could advertise it as unfurnished, therefore saving a considerable amount of money on furniture (e.g. beds, sofas) and appliances.

Pro: You can charge a high-security deposit which can give owners a lot of peace of mind when it comes to renting out their properties. You will know exactly who is responsible for any damage and deduct accordingly – which is often difficult to do with short term lets.


Con: Tenants will likely have higher expectations and needs that you will need to fulfil through your duty as a landlord, whether you are using a letting agent or not. They are less likely to overlook long term issues that a holidaymaker might. A dripping tap for example.

Con: It is also important to note that it can be riskier taking on tenants and relinquishing control. You may find yourself stuck in a binding contract when things aren’t ideal. There is the potential for greater hassle, especially if you find out at the end of the tenancy that damage has been done to the property.

You lose the ability to access your property regularly in case there are any maintenance issues or problems. For this reason, the process of finding the right tenants for your property is often long and draining.

ConA ‘tenant’ is a legally recognised status, and this means that, as a landlord, you’ll have a responsibility to them, and they will have certain legal rights.  For example, they’ll have the right not to be disturbed and live in the property in relative peace and quiet. They also can’t be unfairly evicted.

Con: It can be a lengthy process to vet and check tenant references before drawing up the contract.

Enjoying the property yourself

Family on vacation eating outdoors

Holiday lets

Pro: Typically, holiday lets are in picturesque tourist locations such as the Lake District or Cornwall. If you own a holiday let you have the benefit of a lovely ‘home from home’ that you can stay in throughout the year – without having to pay for holiday accommodation somewhere else.

Buy-to-lets

Con: Although buy-to-let properties can, in theory, exist anywhere, it’s the properties close to urban towns, universities and places of work that tend to do best. As such, you might find that there’s little to no opportunity for you to stay in your buy-to-let property as it will likely be let for long periods.

Many buy to lets are let unfurnished, so even if you did want to stay there, it probably won’t have very much in to enjoy (unlike a holiday home, which is fully furnished, and always ready to be stayed in).

Where should you buy?

Whether buying a holiday let or buy-to-let, finding the right area based on your budget and the potential returns is essential.

Most landlords tend to invest in buy-to-lets close to where they live as they are likely to know the market and can check up on the property if needed.

For holiday lets, consider desirable locations (by the seaside, popular walking destinations) where you would want to holiday yourself. Choose somewhere no more than two-and-a-half hour’s drive so you can also use the property.

Although the traditional honeypot locations will always book up fast, there has been a huge growth in demand for lesser-known destinations where properties are cheaper to buy. According to Sykes cottages, (37%) of Brits are now more likely to visit new locations versus before the pandemic.

Which is the best option for you?

As you can see, there are pros and cons to both holiday lets and buy-to-lets. It all depends on what you want to get out of your investment.

Holiday lets inherently require more involvement (and hassle), so if you don’t have much time on your hands and are unable to deal with regular changeovers and cleaning duties, a buy-to-let may be the right option for you. However, if you’re looking for a more fulfilling investment where you can holiday or retire in the future, you may be swaying more towards the holiday let option.

Run and managed well, a holiday let could well provide you with a great deal of pleasure, greater financial gains and tax advantages compared to taking the buy-to-let route. But keep in mind that the holiday let tax breaks might not be in place forever.

Don’t forget that you don’t have to do it all alone if you find the prospect of running this kind of business a bit daunting. You can outsource some of the tasks to a property manager or a few different companies (cleaner/gardener etc.).

2 Comments

  • Teignmouth Girl |

    We got out of buy to letting earlier this year precisely because of upcoming change in the law – no more section 21 ‘no fault’ repossessions. We are going to try holiday letting rather than sell the second property – although if interest rates were higher we probably wouldn’t go to all the trouble. Although, I hate the idea of retiring with nothing to do! Good article, by the way – looking forward to your breakdown of actual numbers for selected locations!

    • Philip |

      Thanks for your feedback. Hope the lettings go well.

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