Buying Land in Maine for Cabin Vacation Rental

19 Replies

Hello everyone,

I am currently looking at buying land in Maine (near Bangor) to use not only as a personal vacation spot (to get out of NYC for once), but also as a vacation rental for when I build on the land. I was wondering if anyone has any experience with buying land, building an off-grid (or even on-grid) cabin and renting it out as a vacation spot on AirBnB and/or Vrbo, using a property manager to manage the space, etc. My wife and I have been wanting to rent a cabin for a while now and they always seem booked, even listings that are only a safari tent and a hammock are booked months in advanced, so it seems like a good idea. However, I naturally want as much information as possible when it comes to these things.

What are some things I need to consider? Ideally, this would be a place to disconnect from the world. A digital or tech detox spot if you will. Enjoy the outdoors, live rustically for a while, hunt/fish/hike/bike, etc. What do I need to know to give this a good chance of succeeding? What would be some things to include as a vacation rental? A couple of canoe's for the lake? Some mountain/dirt bicycles? Transportation from the airport? Or am I overthinking? At the very least, this would be for our personal use, but we would like to turn it into a cash flowing property when we are not using it (which would be most of the time I would imagine).


Forget about extra amenities to include, you're getting waaay ahead of yourself.

Questions: 1) Are you going to pull permits? 2) Have you priced out well/septic/solar? 3) Priced out building costs? 4) Done a ROI to see if this is even worth doing financially? 5) Who is going to clean this after guests leave? 6) Or check on it for damage?

Yeah, 5 & 6 were always something I thought about. How do remote landlords and vacation owners deal with this? I was thinking a property manager/concierge would coordinate a cleaning service and keep track of these things. Certainly something to negotiate and talk about.

I am new to all of this and I am not familiar with regulations in Maine, but I do not think I will need to pull permits. Ideally, building would be done with the trees in the area if they are big enough. This would start out as a personal project for my wife and I, which we can turn into something cash flowing later. The idea of chopping down my own trees to build my own cabin is appealing. Push come to shove, we have priced out some cabin kits as well as some other options

Debating on septic vs. composting. I do not mind composting for us. Once we get into the vacation rental side of things, we would put in the septic system. That part of the cost is not a problem for me personally. Solar is also a maybe. Really going for the off-grid idea so I (and others) can unplug.

Based on what I have looked into, similar lots that sell with some sort of livable structure sell for nearly 6-8x the raw land value. Been looking for months (almost a year) and within a day or two of listing these kind of listings go under contract. Too many times I saw something I wanted to buy that was listed as "new" that was already sold. So I am not too worried about reselling it if I need to for any major reason (though I certainly plan on holding).

Thanks for the input.

That would be ideal if the trees in the area allow for it. Skinny little birch trees won't cut it. I have built some things, nothing as big as a house, but I have. So has my wife. We've both done some woodworking. My job is also hands on so I am also building things and equipment. It's a huge undertaking to build from raw materials, but its a project I would like to tackle.

@Gregory Mizzi Living in northern New Hampshire there are plenty of places around here that you can get “off grid” but still be close enough to civilization to get people to go clean your house and maintain your property between visitors.

I’d personally recommend buying a property close enough to a town with some stores, restaurants, and services so you will attract a wider variety of tourists to support your vacation rental.

My town has 2200 people and has 4 restaurants, a little store, two gas stations, some shops, 2 golf courses, a summer theater that has movies and sometimes live entertainment and plenty of backroads where you can buy 5-10 acre parcels you’d rarely see other people and could build a cabin and have solar.

Or about 10 minutes away is another town with no amenities that you can get from 2-30 acres of land, maybe more, that’s still close to services, a 10 minute drive to a different town with a full grocery store and many restaurants, a reservoir for boating and swimming, and all of these places are very close to a national forest.

After owning 2 bed and breakfasts for 24 years I think the key to draw a large market to your property is a wide variety of attractions and not just being set on one thing like being unplugged in the wilderness. Yes, there’s a call for some of being unplugged but I think people still want their amenities too.

Hello! I'm originally from Maine but lived many years in NYC before moving back home. We have a cabin on Little Sebago that we use personally and rent out a few weeks in the summer and then we rent it out on a longer term basis from October to May. There are a lot of small cleaning businesses that would help you clean it out and prepare for the next renters at an affordable rate.

But I just wanted to mention you will definitely want to pull permits in Maine for any building. If you don't, chances are very good you'll pay a lot more in the end. I know of a neighbor who had a long expensive court case and still had to tear down the house they built without permits. 

Another thing to consider is if you're trying to build near shoreland, there are a lot more rules. This is a good guide for you on that.

Best of luck to you! You're going to love it and may not want to return to NYC. 

@Alecia Loveless Thanks for the input. There is a small town about 20mins away which has some things like stores, a diner, movies, etc. So there is the option to reenter society if a vacationer really cannot stay away. Good things to consider that I will look more into. There is also a large public lake with boating and other activities near where I am looking, maybe 30mins away, on top of all the other lakes and streams. I am also going to want something to do when I stay there too after all.

@Jen Whitehead That area looks amazing. The plot I am looking at is about an hour from Bangor. Thanks for the tip about permits. Where I am currently looking, it has a stream on the property and is not far from the Chain Lakes. Its just over 80 acres, so plenty of space to work with. I definitely do not want to return to NYC. I am looking to get out of the city by any means. One thing I was thinking about, other than working remotely, is what I would do to make a living if I decided to quit my job and move permanently rather than use it as a vacation spot.

@Gregory Mizzi Wow, over 80 acres sounds amazing!!! You'll most likely be able to build just outside of shoreland to make things easier for you. A lot of people moved here from out of state since the coronavirus because of the ability to work from home. I would definitely check into the internet and cell coverage of the area you're looking to buy. I'm not sure if it's the same in the Bangor area (I live outside of Portland) but everywhere I go businesses are desperately looking for employees. I think another really cool business that would do well on 80 acres up north would be a bunch of small hunting/fishing lodges for rentals, and if you became a hunting/fishing guide that could be another income stream. 

@Jen Whitehead I was thinking about the hunting/fishing guide idea once I become accustomed to it myself. I also have some business ideas as well. Not sure how they would work out in the area I am looking at, but it is something to think about. Cell service is fine. Did a video chat with the agent for the initial look at the land. Did not have any connection issues. There is also power at the road which I can access if I need/want power. Overall, its a pretty nice spot. Close enough to lakes for fishing/boating, not so close to worry about flooding.

I am just north of Bangor and have cleared land to develop. I also have STR out of the way so to speak. The unplug idea works for some but not most. Everyone we have rented to wants internet. You need to have something convenient for people to do. It could be the ITS sled and four wheeling trails, hunting, fishing, etc. Another consideration is snow removal. Some of these large partials of land have long driveways which could be a couple hundred dollars to plow. If you are north of Bangor, figure 15-20 plowing a year. I'm familiar with an hour north of Bangor area. There's not much there 6 months out of the year so your likely to run about 40-50% occupied during the winter unless there is a strong sledding attraction. You definitely want to get a building permit to start. Depending on what town or if it is a town, that may the only one you need, just ask ahead of time. Cleaning people may be a challenge as the work force is limited. As far as cutting your own trees, if it is going to be more of a rustic camp, that may work. If you want to build something nice, I wouldn't recommend it as it should be dried before building and unless you are an experienced logger, it will take you 10 times as much time. If you want the experience, consider building the living quarters with traditional lumber and cut your own trees to build out buildings or a garage. You will need shelters for your stuff in the winter. Also if you are thinking off grid, think about how you are going to prevent pipes from freezing. That opens up a whole bunch of other necessities like generators, fuel, a heating system besides wood, remote monitoring, etc. There's a lot to think about.

@Ed Emmons Yeah, I have been thinking about just about all of this. I understand that timber, unless dried in a kiln, can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to dry. That being said, this is going to be a long term project. I figured a small temporary cabin to live in/use during the year or so drying period would be okay as I work on other ventures. I am debating adding power, whether it is solar or connecting (there is power at the road I can access). I thinking about starting small. I've seen tents yurts get booked for months at a time as well as completely disconnected cabins (just looked up 3 and they were booked until March). These are all great things to think about. Thanks!

@Gregory Mizzi

If you’re planning to build with native trees, and don’t want to wait for drying/seasoning you should consider timber framing. Hire a portable sawmill to come to your plot. Then the frame would be built with green wood right off the mill