Updated: January 13, 2023

We get the questions often so we wanted to put together a comprehensive buying guide to the Poconos where we'll cover a range of topics and what to buy to maximize your ROI! Ready? Ready!

** Please Note - we are not licensed real estate agents, and we recommend seeking the advice of a licensed agent, and if are looking for an expert in the Poconos we have some preferring partners! **

The two main topics we want to cover are where and what. That is...

(1) Where to buy in the Poconos (2) What type of home to buy.

But before we get into it, I feel it is important to understand that in order to have a successful rental property you do not need to meet all these qualifications. This is very much a best-case-scenario. You can have an amazing home in a less-than-perfect community and still do incredibly well. And conversely, you can have a "par" home in a super-desirable community and still do very well.

Where to Buy:

The Poconos is a large, loosely defined area, and depending on who you speak to they will give you different dividing lines. For us, we'll stick to our service area, which is this...

ServiceArea

In order to best understand "where" to buy, you must first understand a bit about the Poconos rental market. While It's proximity to major metropolitan areas is a major demand driver, the two peak season are very much Summer and Winter. And in order to get the best results from your future rental property, you want to buy in an area that will take advantage of that summer and winter demand.

  • Summer - Lake Access! While many homes do plenty fine without lake access, you'll certain make more money if your home comes with that feature. Many communities include this feature and have some beach access on the lake.
  • Winter - Skiing! The big winter driver is the mountain being open. Some notable peaks are Camelback, Jack Frost and Big Boulder. The closer to skiing the better (12 mins or less is ideal).

First, let's talk communities. Many communities will meet this qualifier, but some of the better ones that we would recommend include, in no particular order:

#1 - Lake Harmony Estates - Lake Harmony is one of the most sought-after areas in the Poconos because of it's lake (allows motorboats), proximity to skiing, dining and other attractions. While the Poconos is going through a bit of a renaissance, Lake Harmony has always remained in-demand (even got a shout out in the HBO show Mare of Easttown!). Not to be confused with the neighboring Split Rock HOA, which had a Deed provision stating that owners are not allowed to rent for less than 30 days, and while this has not been historically enforced, the resort is under new ownership and they may have the right to enforce this in the future.

Location

LakeHarmonyMap
  • Pro's:
    • Under 2 hours from Philly and NYC
    • Strong rental demand with fairly limited rental competition (not a huge community)
    • Has wooded/mountain "feel" to it
    • 5 minutes from Lake Harmony/skiing/waterpark (Split Rock)
    • Low guest registration costs (see below)
    • Proximity to attractions (hiking, dining, outdoor activities)
    • Renter-friendly community
    • Lake Access (most other adjacent communities do not have lake access for renters)
  • Con's:
    • Limited community amenities (no pool, but does have Lake access).
    • Higher purchase prices
    • Has a busy "feel" to it over the weekends
  • Guest Registration Costs - $~700/year

#2 - Brier Crest Woods - located adjacent to Lake Harmony, and is able to capitalize on many of the attractions there while not having to pay the higher purchase prices.

Location

BrierCrestWoods
  • Pro's:
    • Under 2 hours from Philly and NYC
    • Comparatively affordable home prices
    • Has wooded/mountain "feel" to it
    • < 10 minutes from Lake Harmony/skiing/waterpark (split rock)
    • Proximity to attractions (hiking, dining, outdoor activities)
  • Con's:
    • Guest registration costs (below)
    • Limited community amenities (no pool, but does have Lake access).
  • Guest Registration Costs - $60/registration and both $5/guest/day (beyond 10 guests) and $5/vehicle/day (beyond 4 vehicles)

#3 - Emerald Lakes - comprised of 5+ smaller lakes, Emerald Lakes is located in the heart of the Poconos, attractive to NYC/Philly/NJ travelers and close area attractions (waterparks, skiing, dining)

Location

EmeraldLakes
  • Pro's:
    • Heart of the Poconos (under 2 hours from NYC and Philly)
    • Comparatively affordable home prices
    • Has wooded/mountain "feel" to it
    • Close to activities but does not feel like a developed area
    • Proximity to attractions (very close to major waterparks, camelback skiing, outlet shopping, dining)
    • Many waterfront homes
  • Con's:
    • Guest registration costs (below)
    • Guests have to pay to use the amenities (pool)
  • Guest Registration Costs - ~$2,000/year

#4 - Towamensing Trails - located in Albrightsville, TT is one of the closest destinations for travelers coming from the Philadelphia area.

Location

TrailsMap
  • Pro's:
    • Large community/homes on the market
    • Close to Philly Metro (1.5 hours)
    • Comparatively affordable home prices
    • Community amenities (pool, beach, lake, basketball, tennis, clubhouse)
    • Proximity to attractions (hiking, dining, outdoor activities)
  • Con's:
    • Guest registration costs (below)
    • Farther from NYC metro
    • Distance from Skiing and Waterpark (10+ mins)
    • Very large community, lots of homes
    • Not the most rental-friendly community (quick to issue fines)
    • Large amount of rental homes in the area (rental competition)
  • Guest Registration Costs - $600/year + $25/registration + $5/car

Other Communities - The below communities are some of the larger communities in our service area, but do come with some notable downsides. Once again, the right home in any of these communities can still be very worthwhile (see the next section for that logic!).

  • Arrowhead Lake / Locust Lake:
    • Huge communities (next to one another), with lots of rentals, meaning lots of competition.
    • Farther from NYC, Philly, NJ. In other words, guests will most likely look at other communities that are closer.
    • Farther from skiing. You will feel this impact in the winter
  • Indian Mountain Lakes:
    • ** We no longer work in this community **
    • Many of the homes have an older feel to them
    • Gated community. This can give guests some issues when getting in (long lines on Fridays. not a great first impression).
    • Amenities aren't quite as nice as in other neighboring communities
  • Lake Naomi / Pinecrest / Timber Trails
    • High HOA fees and Taxes (especially in Lake Naomi)
    • Not the closest destinations from Philly, NYC and NJ. Also, not the closest to skiing.
    • Not very rental friendly, and it seems like they may soon no longer allow them.
  • Northridge / The Villages
    • Very cookie-cutter. The homes in each community have a nearly identical look/feel, making it hard to have a unique value advantage.
    • No lake access, and tend to struggle for high-end performance in the non-winter months
    • Northridge also requires the renters to be related, which is a big handicap when considering options

Now that we've covered communities, I want to talk about townships. In 2022, we saw a lot of changes to the rental ordinances, which were put in place by the local townships. Every township now has somekind of ordinance, or regulations so hosst rent responsibly and it's not the wild wild west. Some communities are more lenient than others, and I want to break it down.

This map isn't exact, but it's actually pretty darn good if I do say so myself! if you need to see more exact coordinates, please type in the township directly into google maps (seen here ).

townships

Keep in mind, almost all townships now require an annual license and payment. This usually includes an inspection prior to the license being given. They also enforce caps for maximum occupancy, which is as follows:

  • Occupancy Max = 2 guests per bedroom + additional 2 guests
    • Ex: a 4-bedroom home can sleep 12 max
  • They also require your septic tank to be a certain size. The default septic tank is usually 1,000 gallons which only allows you to advertise as a 3-bedroom home. In order to advetise as a 4-bedroom home you need to have a 1,250 gallon tank and for 5 bedroom you need a 1,500 gallon tank (*note* please check with your local township as this may vary slightly)
    • Ex: if you have a 4-bedroom home and your septic tank is 1,000 gallons, you can only advertise as a 3-bedroom home

The only exception to the above is for Tobyhanna Township, which does not allow for the additional +2 guests and have instead elected for 2 guests per bedroom with a hard cap of 10 guests.

For this reason, homes that are outside of Tobyhanna Township and can sleep more than 10 guests are particularly desirable! It's important to note that Tobyhanna township also cuts directly through Arrowhead Lakes, Locust Lake, Stillwater Lakes and Emerald Lakes, so if you're able to purchase a home in those communities and have your home not be in Tobyhanna Township you'll be at a particularly great advantage.

What to Buy:

So now that we have identified some of our favorite communities, it's important to understand which type of home to buy.

First first thing to understand is 60% of rental homes in the Poconos are 3 bedroom homes. If you are able to find a 4 or 5 bedroom home, there will be a few distinct advantages:

  • Less Competition - since most homes are 3 bedrooms, you'll have fewer homes to compete against by being in a more exclusive category
  • Less Price Sensitivity - when you have a larger home, you will typically rent to multiple families or a friends group. And because of this, when the bill is being split multiple ways, guests tend to worry less about paying an extra $100/night (for example)
bedrooms

(the above image shows Albrightsville, but similar ratios can be found in surrounding zip codes)

Having a 4+ bedroom home is not a prerequisite, we manage many 2-3 bedroom homes that perform exceedingly well, but if you do have a 3 bedroom home you'll want to stick out from the crowd. A few ways to do that is by considering the following:

  • Game-Room - this is our #1 difference maker. Homes that have a 2nd living space that can accommodate a Game-Room (think: Ping Pong, Billiards, Shuffleboard) appeals to family/friends getaways and will perform exceedingly well in the rental market. Sometimes this can be a loft that's converted into an entertaining space, but having a dedicated 2nd living room to use for this purpose is preferred.
  • Mountain "Feel" - Typically the homes that perform best are the chalet and cabin style homes as they embody that mountain "feel". This also includes wood interior and anything embodying that lodge feel.
  • Vaulted Ceilings - this plays into "chalet" style home, but having high ceilings and natural light will not only photograph well but also exclude the right experience.
  • Hot Tub - can always be added after the fact, but prices of hot tubs can range from $5k-$10k. However, they tend to earn approximately 20% more than an identical home without a hot tub.

"Unique" Value: There has never been more rental homes on the market, seeing greater than a 2x growth in a 2 year period! More rental homes means more competition, so one of the best ways to make sure you cash-flow positively and have a worthwhile investment is to look for home that is unique. You do not need the aforementioned 4+ bedroom home, if you do stick to an elementary 3 bed/2 bath home that is similar to many neighboring homes, you will have to compete on price to win rentals.

growth
(the above image shows Albrightsville, but similar growth trends can be found in surrounding zip codes)

Earning Potential:

We're in unprecedented times, and the market is changing quickly, but we wanted to provide some (very) directional numbers so you can better understand what you may be able to make.

It's not just the home. Management matters! First things first, a home's earning potential isn't static and the marketing and management matter! Sure, some homes will inherently make more money than others, but the below estimates are specific to our management expertise. We use nifty tools like Dynamic Pricing and Minimum Length of Stays to maximize your earning potential. PriceLabs also evaluated this and concluded that homes managed by professionals tend to make 37.8% more .

Gross Annual Revenue - this is the amount that you make before expenses. The nightly rate changes drastically based on weekday vs weekend, season, holiday, etc. so we like to look at earning potential on an annual basis to best understand what success looks like.

Low-End: $25-30k GAR - this might be a 3 bedroom saltbox home with no distinctive features Mid-Range: $60-70k GAR - this might be a 4 bedroom home, with a hot tub, in a rental friendly community High-End: $100-150k GAR - this might be a 5 bedroom home, with the higher end of this spectrum likely being a home with high-end furnishing and/or on the water.

Our average home (mean average) has a GAR of $55,500 and rents for 145 nights of the year (~40% occupancy). However, the most important metric is GAR. Sure, we can lower the nightly rate and have you booked for more nights, but if you make less money than its not worth it!

As of early 2023, you might expect... - 3 bedroom home: $250-$300k purchase price | $30k-$40k GAR - 4 bedroom home: $325-$400k purchase price | $60k-$70k GAR - 5 bedroom home: $450k-$600k purchase price | $80k-upwards GAR

(as a rule of thumb, for lakefront, expect to pay 2x on the purchase price and the GAR will be 75% higher).

You also have to consider the rental costs. GAR is the gross annual revenue, but there are costs that go into operating this "business", which include..

- Cleaning costs - may be $150-200 per cleaning - Platform Fee - Airbnb (3%) and VRBO (8%) - Materials Restocking - $15-$30/stay depending on what you provide - Hot Tub Treatment - $25/stay - Management fee - if you go this route. We're bias, but we recommend it!

(you can learn more about this, and see it visually, in our Expectations on Profitability post)

You can expect your GAR to net down to about 55-60%. For example, if you have a home that Grosses $75k, you may expect to see $42k-$45k range.

If you are interested in learning more about what you could make on a home, please reach out to us at www.PoconoRentalManagement.com/Inquiry and we can put that together for you!

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