Housing

The Most Popular Towns to Buy a Vacation Home

Mansion with chairs and palmsThe economy is improving, banks are beginning to ease standards for lending, and mortgage rates are near their record lows. These factors are making it easier for Americans to wade into the real estate market again. For those who can afford it, even vacation property, either as a second home or as an investment to rent out, is increasingly in high demand.

Click here to see the most popular towns

According to real estate website Trulia, there are several commonly searched-for vacation spots all over the country, from Big Deer Lake, Calif., to Panama City Beach, Fla. Right now, no spot is in higher demand than Ocean City, N.J. Based on searches on real estate listing service Trulia, these are the most popular towns to buy a vacation home.

Not surprisingly, people who are searching for the most-sought after locations tend to live within driving distance of the vacation spot, said Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist. People who search for North Wildwood, N.J., he said, tend to live around the Philadelphia and New York areas. People who search for Lake Arrowhead, Calif., tend to live in Los Angeles and San Diego.

The presence of picturesque natural resources is also important for vacation home owners, Kolko added. Because of this, they usually are located either on a beach or in a mountainous area.

It is not only the wealthy that have second homes. While the most expensive area on this list, Ocean City, N.J., had a median home price of $525,000, the least expensive on this list, Gatlinburg, Tenn., had a median home price of just $179,600. However, even within a single area prices can vary by hundreds of thousands of dollars from street to street.

Prices for vacation homes have started rising in these areas, but not as fast as the U.S. housing market as a whole, Kolko noted. “Second homes are a luxury,” he said. “The demand for second homes bounces back more slowly after a recession.” Indeed, in three of the five most searched-for markets, home prices are either unchanged or down, year-over-year, even as national asking prices have risen by more than 8%.

The top two vacation spots — Ocean City and to a lesser extent North Wildwood — were hit by Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012. Kolko said that although searches in these areas declined initially after the storm, they bounced back quickly. He explained that after disasters, some housing stock is destroyed, tightening supply in the area.

Based on data provided by Trulia, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 most searched places for vacation homes on Trulia’s website between April 2012 and March 2013. A place was considered a vacation area if 25% of the housing stock was used seasonally or occasionally, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. We also looked at the median asking price in the area, also provided by Trulia.

These are the most popular towns in which to buy a vacation home.