Market for Vacation Homes Is on the Rise – WSJ.com

Market for Vacation Homes Is on the Rise

Sales in many vacation communities across the U.S. soared last year to levels not seen since boom times, driven by deep discounts, cash purchases and buyers’ rising stock portfolios.

On Mercer Island, Wash., waterfront sales nearly tripled in 2010, compared with a year earlier, reaching par with 2006 volume there. Sales on Hilton Head Island, S.C., rose 14% for the year. Palm Beach, Fla., experienced a 40% annual increase and a 54% increase in homes under contract, indicating an especially strong fourth quarter. Palm Beach sales volume now is comparable to its 2007 peak. These figures were gleaned by brokers in each locale.

“The proverbial train has left the station,” said Ned Monell, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in Palm Beach. “We haven’t felt energy like this in a long time. Buyers sense that they’ve been on the sidelines long enough.”

The question now is whether the momentum will last. The strength of second-home sales paints a stark contrast to the overall housing market, which is expected to worsen in 2011.

Existing-home sales in November rose 5.6% on an annualized basis, according to the National Association of Realtors, a trade and lobbying group. Last month, the Case-Shiller housing index of 20 cities showed prices across the U.S. fell in October, and most analysts predict another 5% to 10% slide in the coming year.

Data for the nationwide vacation-home market aren’t tracked regularly. The National Association of Realtors conducts an annual survey of home buyers, but results for 2010 won’t be out till March.

Yet the market for vacation homes, based on local sales data, appears to be booming. The comeback, NAR economist Lawrence Yun said, has been helped by gains in the stock market and an improving economy, which have made wealthier Americans more upbeat about the future. “It also implies that prices in some markets have come down so much that people are fighting for those properties,” said Mr. Yun, noting that demand is strongest in areas close to stable labor markets.

According to the NAR, one in 10 real-estate transactions in 2009 was for the purchase of a vacation home. And though a small fraction of the overall market, it is significant because vacation homes are often big-ticket properties and attract discretionary buyers. Just four houses sold last year on Madeline Island, Wis., for example, but the island’s average dwelling sells at two to three times the price of the county average, said Eric Kodner, a realty broker on the island.

Sales of second homes are showing an uptick even in more-affordable communities. In some locations, prices are even inching upward. Cape Cod sales climbed nearly 9% in 2010 from 2009, while prices rose 7%. Monroe County, Pa., in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, saw a 3% decline in transactions, but its Lake Naomi resort community was up nearly 15%. A one-acre plot off Lake Naomi recently fetched $1.1 million, a record deal for the area.

It seems that people with disposable income or available cash are realizing that now is the most affordable time to purchase. Prices are down. Basically, real estate is on sale.

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