A Rental Apartment Can Pay For Your Ski House.

The author’s ski house has a rental apartment over the garage.

Perhaps you have daydreamed about buying your own ski house in a great resort, but dismissed it as out of your reach financially.  But don’t give up your dream!  In July 2018, my wife and I took the leap and we landed happily with a ski house in beautiful mountain country.  The central notion that works of us and for you to consider is to buy a property that doubles as an easily managed business, in the form of a home plus a rental unit. 

In this article, I’ll discuss finding a property.  In the coming weeks, you’ll be reading about marketing a rental property as well as other ideas for making this idea work.

The Right Property For An Owner-Rental Business.

Most resort houses do not have a rental unit, detached or attached, as a part of the layout.  But if you can find a house that does have a rental unit, or a house that you can easily alter to create one, you have the opportunity for income that subsidizes your mortgage payments.  You have to shop with caution.  Not all municipalities or HOAs (Homeowner’s Association) permit rentals, or they permit rentals only under certain conditions, so you have to do your due diligence. 

Easier said than done, you say, that kind of property can’t be so easy to find.  They exist.  Before you leave on a ski vacation, search for a real estate agent and call ahead.  Use realtor.com or trulia.com, or any of the many real estate websites to look for houses yourself.  Look for a property that suits you best and that is most likely to include an apartment that an owner is permitted to rent, then connect with the listing agent. 

Tell the agent you are looking for a property that includes an apartment which the owner is permitted to rent.  Add that you are willing to look at properties that are similar to the one that you identified.  Don’t be disheartened by list prices, because you will be eventually be generating rental and other revenue to subsidize your mortgage payments.

Won’t a house with a potential rental apartment have a higher price?   As a homeowner in Big Sky and a long-time house shopper before that, I can tell you that houses with apartments are not usually more expensive.  How can that be?  Most resort house buyers are not looking for a rental apartment.  They have neither the time nor the desire to manage a small business.  So if they see an attached rental apartment, they regard it as just another bedroom/bath suite and are usually not willing to pay a premium for the fact that it is a separate apartment.  To look at it another way, we are famously told that adding a swimming pool to the average house will not get a good return on investment.  Why not? Because most people do not want to own a swimming pool (the possible headaches and maintenance costs) and will not pay more for a house that has one.

What To Look For?

A basic studio furnished with simple but stylish furniture from Ikea or Wayfair.

I’ll start by describing the rental apartment in our house, a well-insulated studio tucked over our attached two-car garage.  It has an off-road parking space,  a separate thermostat, a fully equipped kitchen, a full bath, a queen size bed, a television, vaulted ceilings, many windows providing views of the surrounding mountains, and a separate entrance.  (To see a listing for our apartment, simply type “airbnb 36134350“ or “vrbo 1695325 “ into your browser.)

Having rented to guests during both winter and summer, what do we find is good about our apartment, and what is not ideal?  We have found that a studio is plenty big enough for a single or couple which is a good percentage of potential guests.  Of course, if you have a larger space, your revenue will be greater. In Big Sky, off road parking is vital because parking on the street is not permitted, so off street parking is essential.  A separate thermostat?  My wife and I agree that separate thermostats are indispensable.  We would never want to be awakened by a guest request to turn up the heat, and we want our guests to feel snug and cozy.

The kitchen includes a range (cooktop with stove), but no dishwasher.  Is a dishwasher necessary?  We have found that most guests, when they do not dine at restaurants, keep their meals simple.  A dishwasher for cleanup might be overkill. An oven?  We regret having an oven, because it is rarely used.  A cooktop or dual hot plate would be adequate, particularly if you provide a microwave

Isn’t furniture expensive?   We did not pay a fortune for furniture.  We installed inexpensive (but stylish!) items from Wayside and Ikea.  For the bed, since people crave a good night sleep, we did pay a premium for a very comfortable mattress.  We have received a number of compliments on the quality. 

And you have to have a separate entrance.  A separate entrance is very, very important.  I will explain why in next in this series.


  1. question: How about Covid? Do you do the cleaning and disinfecting or do you have a service?

    • Tks for your question, Iris. In the next two articles, I will discuss COVID. Although before COVID, we invited guests to our apartment for a drink, we are no longer doing so. Once COVID goes away, we expect to resume, because it is fun and informative to chitchat around our fireplace. Now (until COVID goes away), we keep apart from guests. self checkin and checkout.

      We clean ourselves (with a lot of gear). We could hire a service, but we don’t mind a little work.

  2. Stephen E Worrell says:

    Hey Steve, Is your property within walking distance of the slopes? I’m looking for a 2 week rental but want to avoid a shuttle/car.

  3. Brad Huggins says:

    Haven’t been to Big Sky but want to try it.
    Would you email me some info on your place?
    Thanks, Brad
    [email protected]

  4. hi Brad,
    Just enter ‘airbnb 36134350’ into any browser. 36134350 is the number that airbnb assigned to our apartment. The listing should answer your questions. To get to Big Sky, you fly to Bozeman, MT and then drive 1 hour south, mostly through the beautiful Gallatin River Canyon.

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