How We Turned an Empty Cape Cod House Into a Vacation Rental


Turning an empty Cape Cod style house into a successful vacation rental was a challenging but rewarding project for us. We had purchased a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom Cape Cod in a tourist beach town with the intention of renting it out short-term to travelers and families. The house had good bones but needed a full renovation and decor refresh to get it rental ready.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the full process we went through to transform this empty house into a highly desirable and profitable vacation home. From initial planning and budgeting, to fully executing the remodel, furnishing the space, and marketing it as a rental, we share everything that went into getting this Cape Cod from vacant to booked.

Finding the Right Cape Cod House to Renovate

Choosing the right Cape Cod home to take on as a vacation rental project is key. These were our main criteria when we were searching for a property:

  • Prime location near beaches, boardwalks, restaurants etc. Ideal walking distance to attractions.
  • Classic Cape Cod architecture and exterior charm
  • Good structural condition with no major repairs needed
  • Flexible floor plan with at least 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
  • Room to expand footprint or finish lower level if needed
  • Undervalued property with renovation potential

The house we ended up purchasing matched all of our wishlist features. It was a 3 bed, 2 bath Cape Cod in a premier beach town location. The house itself was structurally sound overall but cosmetically very outdated. With some renovations and TLC, we knew it could be completely transformed into a gorgeous, modern vacation rental.

Creating a Renovation Budget

Once we purchased the property, we needed to map out a full renovation budget. The major costs included:

Contractor fees – We got quotes from 3 contractors before selecting one to manage the full remodel. This accounted for most of the budget.

Roof replacement – The existing roof was in poor shape and needed to be fully replaced.

New siding – To give the exterior an updated look, we invested in new vinyl siding.

Windows – We opted to replace all of the home’s old windows with new energy efficient models.

Flooring – From tile to hardwood, we budgeted for new floors throughout the home.

Appliances – The kitchen needed all new stainless steel appliances.

Furnishings – Furniture, bedding, decor, etc to stage the home for rentals.

Landscaping – Yard work and planting a few shrubs for better curb appeal.

Marketing fees – Cost of professional photography and advertising for the listing.

Our total renovation budget came out to around $75,000, which may sound high but this investment was absolutely worth it in terms of rental income potential. The home could easily command over $300 per night once renovated.

Handling the Design and Decor

Since vacation rentals live and die by reviews, we knew the design and decor had to be top notch. Our goal was to make the home feel quintessentially Cape Cod – casual, beachy, and inviting.

Cape Cod decor

To achieve this style throughout the home, we focused on details like:

  • Light and neutral wall colors
  • Textured bedding and soft linens in sandy tones
  • Whimsical beach prints and photography
  • Weathered wood furnishings and accents
  • Pops of color from starfish pillows, striped blankets, etc
  • Natural fiber or seagrass area rugs
  • Wicker baskets, rattan shades, and driftwood details

For a cohesive look, we worked with an interior designer who helped select all the finishes, furniture, and decor. Their expertise was invaluable for making this Cape Cod home stylish, functional, and truly one-of-a-kind.

Remodeling Kitchen and Bathrooms

The kitchen and bathrooms were our top priorities for the renovation since these spaces get the most use.


To create a chef-quality kitchen, we installed:

  • Quartz countertops with a crisp white paint color
  • Shaker-style maple cabinets with beachy hardware
  • Marble backsplash in a brick pattern
  • Stainless steel appliances like a 5-burner gas range
  • Farmhouse sink overlooking landscaped yard
  • LED recessed lighting for brightness

By opening up the kitchen floor plan and keeping the color scheme light and fresh, the new kitchen felt airy and inviting.


We fully remodeled both bathrooms for a hotel-like experience:

Hall bathroom:

  • Subway tile showers with glass doors
  • Floating vanities with undermount sinks
  • Toilets and fixtures in brushed nickel
  • Wood-look porcelain tile floors
  • Beach scenes in coastal blue frames

Master ensuite:

  • Quartz countertops with double vanities
  • Marble large-format tile in the walk-in shower
  • Freestanding tub perfect for soaking
  • Blue and white beachy prints and towels
  • Spa-like lighting and finishes

Shopping for new fixtures and fittings was a lot of fun. We were able to find affordable boutique pieces that still had high-end style.

Optimizing the Floor Plan

The existing house was already a good size at 1600 square feet. To make it work even better for vacation rentals, we adjusted the floor plan:

  • Converted the small 3rd bedroom to a laundry room with a stacked washer/dryer. This added a major convenience factor for guests.
  • Turned a back den into a 3rd bedroom by adding closet space and new lighting.
  • Expanded the master suite by taking space from an adjoining sitting room.
  • Added built-in bunk beds to bedroom 2 to allow it to sleep 3 kids.
  • Upgraded all closets by installing custom shelving and rods. This provided ample storage space.

Thoughtful layout changes like these improved the functionality of the house without the need for any major additions or building expansions.

Focusing on Curb Appeal

You never get a second chance to make a first impression! To maximize the house’s curb appeal, we focused on enhancements like:

New exterior paint color – We worked with a color consultant to choose a fresh, vibrant blue shade that popped. White trim accents balanced it out.

Landscape lighting – For drama and nighttime allure, we added landscape lighting along the walkway and front steps.

Statement door – A shiny black front door replaced the dated brass one and instantly elevated the look.

Potted plants – Bursts of colorful flowers and greenery helped the entry feel lively and welcoming.

Updated outdoor lighting – Sconces and pendants added style while improving visibility and safety.

New mailbox – We swapped the old metal mailbox for a classy wood and black number.

Fresh shutters – Crisp black shutters replaced the worn existing ones.

Power wash and re-stain deck – Prepping the outdoor space also helped boost curb appeal.

Let’s just say when these updates were complete, the transformation was jaw-dropping. The formerly bland house now had tons of warmth and personality.

Outfitting the Rental with Amenities

Vacation rentals are akin to boutique hotels, so providing the right amenities is essential for guest satisfaction. We loaded up the Cape Cod rental with everything travelers need and expect:

  • Fully stocked kitchen: All dishes, cookware, utensils, knives, baking sheets, spices, oils, mixers, blenders, etc. This allowed guests to cook full meals if desired.
  • High quality linens: Plush sheets, duvets, blankets, towels and more from stores like West Elm and Pottery Barn.
  • Smart TVs in every bedroom plus living room, all with premium channel subscriptions.
  • High speed wireless internet capable of handling multiple devices streaming movies or gaming.
  • Outdoor furniture like teak patio dining set, adirondack chairs, fire pit, and hammock.
  • Beach gear like umbrellas, chairs, coolers, towels, water shoes and toys for kids.
  • Guide book we created with recommendations for local attractions, restaurants, etc.
  • Welcome basket with local fruit and treats, plus basic toiletries in case guests forgot anything.

Thinking through how guests would use the home ensured we provided everything needed for a smooth, enjoyable stay. The little conveniences go a long way.

Renting Out the Cape Cod

With the remodel and preparation complete, it was finally time to list the property for rental. Gorgeous professional photographs were key to enticing renters online. We listed on major sites like Airbnb, Vrbo and TripAdvisor.

Within 2 weeks, the property booked its first stay! Guest feedback so far has been incredible. People love the updates, amenities, location and overall charm. Average nightly rate has been $325 which is right in line with our projections.

Following a successful first season, we are already thinking about next upgrades like expanding the outdoor living space. Operating this vacation rental has been a great income stream, providing the flexibility to visit in the off-season too. The Cape Cod has become a special place our own family loves as well – and it all started with a vacant house!

Top Tips for Renovating a Cape Cod for Rentals

If you’re considering a similar vacation rental renovation project, keep these tips in mind:

  • Stick to a cohesive style like coastal, modern farmhouse, etc. for maximum appeal.
  • Don’t skimp on kitchen and bathrooms – focus budget here for the biggest impact.
  • Curb appeal deserves attention too – the exterior sets first impressions.
  • Adjust the floorplan where possible to enhance functionality and sleeps.
  • Outfit with amenities galore so guests have an exceptional stay.
  • Professional photography is a must to highlight your decor and spaces.
  • Leverage design experts if you need help pulling off your vision.
  • Prioritize energy efficiency with the upgrades for lower utility bills.
  • Be realistic with rental rates – undercutting won’t earn more bookings.
  • Partner with a property manager if you want help managing bookings/guests.

Frequently Asked Questions About Vacation Rental Renovations

What is the cost to renovate a house for vacation rental?

The costs can really vary, but expect to invest $50,000-$100,000 to fully renovate a 2-3 bedroom house. Key costs are contractors, flooring, kitchen and bathroom upgrades, HVAC, furniture and landscaping. High-end finishes will increase budgets.

How do you make a rental house beautiful?

Use a cohesive design style like beachy, modern farmhouse, etc. Install new floors, counters, cabinets, appliances and lighting fixtures. Upgrade bathrooms with stone tile, new vanities and stylish hardware. Add plenty of comfy new furniture and decor like pillows, throws and wall art.

How much does it cost to furnish a vacation rental?

Furnishing costs can range from $5,000-$15,000 depending on size of home and quality of furnishings. Shop sales and discount retailers. Mix in some vintage or budget-friendly accents. Provide extras like luxury bedding and beach towels. Outfit kitchen with all dishware, cookware and appliances.

What amenities are expected in vacation rentals?

Travelers expect amenities like fast WiFi, cable TVs, fully stocked kitchen, laundry, outdoor space, bedding, toiletries, guide book, toys/games, fire pit or grill, pool (if relevant), beach gear etc. Include anything that enhances the stay and saves them hassle.

How much higher are vacation rental rates than long term?

In popular destinations, vacation rental rates are often 2-3X higher than long term rental pricing for the same home, especially in peak seasons. Catering to short term guests justifies charging premium rates. List prices competitively based on comparable offerings.


Although an intensive process, renovating and renting out this charming Cape Cod has been extremely rewarding for us as owners. We took a outdated, vacant home and turned it into a beautiful and profitable vacation rental property through a smart redesign and investing in high-end finishes and furnishings. The project required diligent budgeting, contractor oversight and interior design expertise. However, we’re thrilled with the final result and the income potential as a short term rental in a top travel destination. We hope the details provided here offer inspiration and practical tips to others pursuing their own vacation home transformations!