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Buying a vacation rental property in Mammoth Lakes can be a great investment. With recent boosts to the market — the sale of Mammoth Mountain to Alterra Mountain Company, thriving year-round tourist visitation, and ever-increasing public interest in mountain vacations — it’s a great time to consider buying a vacation rental property.

Before you dive in, here’s what you need to think about:

Consider Your Ideal Location & Budget

Photo by Josh Wray for Visit Mammoth

Properties that are closer to Mammoth Mountain access points (lodges and lifts) usually have higher asking prices. That said, you can also charge more for a vacation rental if you can boast that it’s a ski-in, ski-out property or if it has direct access to the gondola or chairlifts. Access to the local bus system can also be a selling point when renting to vacationers.

Determine Your Priorities & Bang for Your Buck

Interestingly, in the last few years smaller properties have reflected a higher return on investment. For example, a one-bedroom condo at The Village at Mammoth costs roughly $125,000 less than a two-bedroom condo, but the one-bedroom grosses nearly the same amount of rental revenue. If you are flexible on size, smaller is better. Of course this all depends on if rental income is your priority.

Check the Zoning Regulations in Neighborhoods You’re Considering

Town of Mammoth Lakes CA zoning map

While Mammoth Lakes is a resort community, some areas in town don’t allow transient rentals (rentals for less than 30 days at a time). The majority of condos allow nightly rentals, while the majority of single family homes do not. Your real estate agent will be able to help you make sense of zoning regulations, but if you want to take a look for yourself, see the Town Zoning Map and Zoning Compliance Guide. When buying a vacation rental property, it’s essential that you understand where transient occupancy is allowed.

Do Market Research

If rental income is important to you, search vacation rentals in Mammoth Lakes to get an idea of what owners are charging for vacation rentals. If you have a type of investment property in mind, look for rates for a similar property. Look at rates in winter holiday periods (the most expensive) as well as in winter and summer in general. Check out the lower end of rates too — spring, fall and midweek stays. If you’re considering a long-term rental, ask your real estate agent for monthly rental rates for various property types.

Have a Calculator Handy to Factor in Hidden Costs

Managing a vacation rental isn’t as simple as the sale price and what you plan to charge per night. You’ll need to consider other hidden costs too: annual property tax, your monthly HOA fee, property insurance, costs of repairs and upgrades, utilities, a cleaning service between stays, snow removal and landscaping, etc.

Decide If You’ll Hire a Property Management Company or Do It Yourself

If the list of hidden costs leaves your head spinning or you’re short on time, I strongly suggest hiring a property management company to do the heavy lifting. Whether you live in Mammoth Lakes or are managing the property from afar, getting a call to fix a toilet in the middle of the night probably isn’t your idea of fun. There are several quality property management companies in Mammoth Lakes. Depending on where you buy and the level of service you need, your real estate agent should be able to provide a list for you to contact and a few questions to consider when talking with each company.

Make a Plan for Marketing

rustic vacation rental bed with decorative pillow on it and a stylish bedside lamp

Unfortunately your vacation rental isn’t going to rent itself. If you have a property management company, they may handle the marketing for you. If not, come up with a plan before you jump into buying. Look into Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO in addition to rental companies in town, each of which will offer different levels of service from online booking only to online advertising, cleaning and maintenance assistance. If you have other properties or a marketing background, you might decide to handle marketing on your own.

Get Familiar with Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT)

TOT is standard in resort destinations across the country. In Mammoth Lakes, this tax is 13% and is required to be paid by the guest to the owner when the stay is paid for. It’s then the owner’s responsibility to remit the TOT collected to the Town of Mammoth Lakes. A transient stay is any stay of less than 31 days. You’ll add the 13% tax on to the entire cost of each guest’s stay. If you hire a property management company, they’ll handle this for you. Learn more about TOT.

If You Plan to Use It, Make Sure You’re Excited About It

If the property will also be your vacation home, it’s more than just a monetary decision. You need to want to stay there yourself. And chances are, your renters will appreciate thing that you appreciate too. Things that make your life in Mammoth Lakes easier — underground parking, comfortable beds, a well-outfitted kitchen, access to public transportation — will make their vacations easier too.

Read more of our tips on buying and operating vacation rental properties. If you’re ready to buy, check out my Ultimate Home Buyer’s Guide. Give me a call if you’d like to talk: (760) 914-4664.

Transient Occupancy TaxTransient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is a 13% tax that is paid by the guest to the operator of the transient facility at the time the rent is paid.  The Town of Mammoth Lakes is responsible for the collection of transient occupancy taxes and has a team dedicated to providing effective TOT enforcement and revenue collection services.  It is basically a pass-through tax paid by the guest and passed on to the Town.

TOT makes up approximately 60% of the Mammoth Lakes General Fund.   The monies fund services such as snow removal, recreational programming and road maintenance.

There has been a lot of press in the last year about the TOT.   Keep in mind the full-time resident population of Mammoth Lakes  is around 8,200 and we have 30,000 – 60,000 visitors over peak periods.   A few simple calculations and it is easy to see why TOT is so important.  The major challenge over the years has been enforcement.  TOT existed and although the property management companies complied, many of the VRBO (vacation rental by owner) did not.   Quite frankly most people knew it was illegal to not remit the TOT to the town but there were no consequences for not complying.

To make matters confusing, there are some areas of town where transient rentals are not allowed.  Most of these are single-family homes in residential neighborhoods.  Again, with no consequences for not complying with the zoning requirements  there is illegal activity.

In 2012, city officials along with Town Council, implemented a few things to help the situation.  The team was formed to educate, enforce and collect  TOT.  Informational articles and advertisements were placed in the local papers, letters were mailed to homeowners, a hotline for questions and reporting illegal activity put in place, and informational meetings were held in the community.  In addition, a new local disclosure was implemented for use by real estate agents to inform property buyers of the TOT and the zoning of the property they are purchasing.  A website was launched ( where after entering the property address, the zoning information detailing whether transient rentals are allowed is displayed.

Additional information (including the full ordinance) can be viewed at

Buying in Mammoth Lakes

There are so many great developments in Mammoth Lakes.   Besides understanding your budget, it is important to clearly define your goals for the property.   Key things to consider include:

1.  Will you be renting out the property?  If yes, occupancy rates and property management fees should be taken into consideration and these vary by project.   Consider how often and when you will be using your property.

2.  Are you a “summer” or a “winter” fan?  Specifically, what are your interests?  Although Mammoth Lakes is relatively small and you can be anywhere in a few minutes, being closer to your favorite activities is nice.   For example, is ski in/ski out access important to you?  What about easy access to the shuttle?

3.  Do you have children?   There are some projects that have more entertainment options for children.  Many clients with children like to be in or near projects in Mammoth where there is a heated pool, arcade or other child friendly activities.

4.  Do you want to want to be in walking distance to dining and shopping or do you prefer to be more off the beaten path?  Some prefer to stay in the center of action where they can simply “park and play” without ever using their car.  Others like to be within walking distance to shopping but want to be more remote during most of their time in Mammoth Lakes.

5.  Will you be financing or paying cash?  Make sure the project you are interested in has financing available.  Knowing in advance which projects are cash only can save you time and help you avoid wanting a property that cannot be financed.

Most of the above questions are common sense but many people have not thought through what is important to them.  A qualified real estate professional can help you find a vacation condo in a location that best suits your needs.

For previous articles, visit

Clients visiting our office often ask for a list of “all available properties.”  The first question I ask is to determine whether they will be renting out the property.  Only some areas within the Town of Mammoth Lakes are zoned transient rentals (check the town’s website). Many people are not aware most single family homes cannot be rented out on a nightly basis.   This narrows the search considerably.

After discussing the pros/cons of various areas, the next step is for the potential buyer to determine goals for the property.   If income/cash flow based, ask your agent for any receiveables provided by the seller.  Keep in mind most of these reports show “gross” income and there will be a percentage you will pay to the property management company plus any utilities or fees not included in the Home Owners Associate fees.

Property management fees vary greatly as do the services provided.  Some fees can be as high as 60% of gross income but often these offer greater name recognition and advertising presence which could increase the number of rentals booked for your property.

Ultimately your short and long term goals are key in selecting the property.  It is easy to get swept up in the emotions – my advice is to slow down and secure a real estate agent in your pursuit to make an educated decision.

Sonja Bush

Broker Associate – DRE #01904399


The Village at Mammoth

661.979.9000 cell

[email protected]

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