Vacation home sales surge during pandemic

National Association of RealtorsThe purchase of vacation homes has skyrocketed in the last year thanks to the pandemic’s impact on work and lifestyles. 

Vacation home sales have been surging during the pandemic, according to National Association of Realtors’ recently released 2021 Vacation Home Counties Report. In 2020, vacation home sales rose by 16.4%, outpacing the 5.6% growth in total existing-home sales. Vacation home sales have continued to pick up during January-April 2021, rising by 57.2% year-over-year, more than twice the 20% growth in total existing-home sales during the same period. The share of vacation home sales to total existing-home sales has increased to 6.7% in the first four months of 2021, up from a 5% share in 2019.

The surge in the demand for vacation homes has occurred during the pandemic when people are able to work from home, students are schooled virtually, people are taking safety precautions and staying away from crowded areas, and with urban-based recreation limited by social distancing regulations.

Vacation home counties are outperforming non-vacation home counties in terms of sales pace, price appreciation, and how much faster the homes are selling on the market, according to the analysis of 145 vacation home counties and 1,060 non-vacation home counties.

Existing-home sales typically rose by 24.2% on average in vacation home counties, more than double the 11.2% annual pace in non-vacation home counties.

Home prices rose at a stronger pace in vacation home counties. The median existing-home sales price typically rose by 14.2% in vacation home counties, compared to 10.1% in non-vacation home counties.

Properties typically stayed longer on the market in vacation home counties at 59 days, compared to 30 days in non-vacation home counties, in 2020. However, the time to sell a home in vacation home counties has sped up more than in non-vacation home counties. In 2020, properties in vacation home counties typically sold more quickly by 13 days compared to eight days in non-vacation home counties.

Vacation home buyers are more likely to pay all-cash. During January-April 2021, all-cash sales rose to 53% of all vacation home purchases, a higher share compared to the less than 50% seen in past years. In comparison, 22% of all existing-home sales in January-April 2021 were cash sales.

Vacation home buyers are more likely to put down a higher down payment compared to all existing-home buyers. Seventy-seven percent of vacation home buyers put down at least 20% as down payment compared to just 49% among all existing-home buyers.

Of the 145 counties that NAR has market information on, it identified the top 1% (roughly 30 markets) hottest vacation home counties in 2020 based on sales growth, price growth, change in days on market, and the number of seasonal homes in 2019 to account for market size.

The top 1% of vacation home counties were in 16 states. North Carolina had four vacation counties (Swain, Alleghany, Macon, Watauga); there were three each in New York (Greene, Sullivan, Hamilton), Vermont (Windham, Bennington, Windsor), Massachusetts (Dukes, Barnstable, Nantucket), and Michigan (Oscoda, Alcona, Clare); there were two each in Florida (Lee, Collier), Missouri (Hickory, Camden), Maryland (Garrett, Worcester). Oklahoma, Maine, Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia, New Mexico, Delaware, and Minnesota each had one vacation home county that landed in the top 1% list.

Top 10 Vacation Home Counties

Lee County, Florida is located in Southwest Florida on the Gulf Coast. Fort Myers and Cape Coral are popular destination spots. It has the largest number of seasonal vacation homes, at 90,792, which accounts for 23% of the housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 10%, the median sales price rose 12.3%, and properties sold 45 days faster than in 2019. Home prices are in the mid-price range with the median sales price at $247,000.

Oscoda County, Michigan is located on the northern side of the Au Sable River that runs into Lake Huron. Detroit is about four hours away. It boasts the Huron-Manistee National Forests, Oscoda Beach Park, Clark Marsh, and Turtle Marsh. It is one of the smallest vacation home counties with 5,028 seasonal vacant homes that account for 54.5% of the housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 53.8%, the median sales price rose 79.2%, and properties sold 30 days faster than in 2019. It is one of the most inexpensive vacation counties with a median sales price of $107,500.

Swain County, North Carolina is located on the far western border of North Carolina. Knoxville, Tennessee is about two hours away. The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is a major draw for tourists and homebuyers. Another draw is Dollywood Parks and Resorts. It is one of the smallest vacation counties with 2,066 seasonal vacant homes that account for 22.9% of its housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 140.7%, the median sales price rose 19.8%, and properties sold 48 days faster than in 2019. Home prices are in the mid-price range with the median sales price at $245,000.

Collier County, Florida is located on the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida. Popular natural wonders include the Everglades National Park, Naples Zoo, and the Bird Garden. It is the third-largest vacation home county with 58,406 seasonal vacant homes, which account for 27.2% of its housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 4.6%, the median sales price rose 10.2%, and properties sold 53 days faster than in 2019. Home prices are still in the mid-price range with the median sales price at $314,000.

Dukes County, Massachusetts consists of the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Chappaquiddick Island, the Elizabeth Islands, the island of Nomans Land and other islets. It has 10,681 seasonal vacant homes which account for 59.7% of its housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 13.8%, the median sales price rose 63.6%, and properties sold 38 days faster than in 2019. It is the second most expensive vacation home county with a median sales price of $1.4 million in 2020.

Alleghany County, North Carolina is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northwestern North Carolina, so its main attraction is the Blue Ridge Mountains and its parks and rivers. It is a small vacation home county with 2,432 vacation homes that account for 29.7% of its housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 248%, the median sales price rose 9.9%, and properties sold six days faster than in 2019. Home prices are in the mid-price range with the median sales price at $219,900.

Garrett County, Maryland is the westernmost county of Maryland. It is in the Appalachian Mountains and is drained by the Potomac and Youghiogheny rivers, so it offers vacation spots for hiking, kayaking, and camping. It is a small vacation county with 4,623 seasonal homes that make up 23.9% of its housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 35.8%, the median sales price rose 35.4%, and properties sold 48 days faster than in 2019. Home prices are in the mid-price range with the median sales price at $325,000.

Barnstable County, Massachusetts consists mainly of Cape Cod and several small islands. It is the second-largest vacation home county, with 62,643 seasonally vacant homes that make up 38.3% of its housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 20.4%, the median sales price rose 16.1%, and properties sold 20 days faster than in 2019. Home prices are bordering in the high price range with the median sales price at $475,000, although home prices are relatively affordable compared to the homes in Dukes and Nantucket.

Alcona County, Michigan is in the Northeastern Lower Peninsula with six miles of Lake Huron coastline. Detroit is about four hours away. It is one of the smallest vacation home counties, with 5,573 seasonally vacant homes that make up 49.8% of its housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 80.4%, the median sales price rose 51.5%, and properties sold 10 days faster than in 2019. Houses are inexpensive, with the median sales price at $150,000.

Macon County, North Carolina is in western North Carolina. It’s a relatively small vacation home county with 7,633 vacation homes that account for 29.8% of its housing stock. In 2020, home sales rose 155.3%, the median sales price rose 30.6%, and properties sold two days faster than in 2019. Houses are in the mid-price range, with the median sales price at $320,000.

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