Every summer when Trevor Plencner, 24, was growing up, his family would take a trip to New Buffalo, Mich., where they’d rent a house on Lake Michigan. Year after year, Mr. Plencner became increasingly intrigued by the notion of owning a vacation rental property himself—so much so that he decided to give it a whirl.

In February 2018, when he was 20, Mr. Plencner purchased a vacation rental in Lake Geneva, Wis., about an hour northwest from where he lives in Hoffman Estates, Ill. While there are multimillion-dollar houses on Geneva Lake, through persistence and good timing, Mr. Plencner bought a 1,200-square-foot cottage a few blocks off the water for $111,000. He put 3.5% down using a Federal Housing Administration loan. Six months later, after painting and furnishing the interior and renovating the basement, Mr. Plencner put the cottage on booking websites. In the summer, his nightly rate is around $400; in the…

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