TIMELY REASONS TO BUY A Vacation Home
Kiplinger's Personal Finance|September 2020
With remote work on the rise, more people are looking for a permanent getaway.
LISA GERSTNER

If you’ve been dreaming of buying a cabin in the woods, a cottage on the beach or some other retreat, you have compelling reasons to pull the trigger. As coronavirus cases surge in parts of the country, being able to shelter away from crowded areas has a lot of appeal. To keep employees healthy, some companies continue to allow telework, reducing the need for workers to be near their offices. Why not plugin with a view of the ocean or mountains?

THE POCONO MOUNTAINS COUNTIES: Monroe, Pike and Wayne, Pa. JUNE 2020 MEDIAN LISTING PRICE: $209,050 to $229,550 2019 MEDIAN SALE PRICE: $151,891 to $158,313

You can ski, hike, fish and boat to your heart's content in the Pocono Mountains, which are convenient to New York City and Philadelphia and drew 28 million visitors in 2018. Skiers and snowboarders can choose among more than 185 hills and trails, ranging from bunny slopes to double black diamonds. Or try out other winter activities, such as snow tubing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. In warmer months, tee up at any of the region’s many golf courses, which offer a variety of terrains to challenge golfers. To keep the kids happy, take them to play mini-golf or laser tag, drive go-karts, or splash down water slides at one of the area’s family entertainment centers.

Skiers who want to be near Camelback Mountain can find a townhome for less than $300,000. In the Northridge community, a four-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom unit with 2,465 square feet of space and a deck with mountain views recently had a $289,900 price tag. Is a lake retreat more your style? In Pocono Pines, a three-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom, furnished 1,488-square-foot townhome with views of Pinecrest Lake had a $216,500 asking price. In a neighborhood surrounding nearby Lake Naomi, a newly constructed four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home had a $399,000 listing price and 3,000 square feet of space.

What’s more, mortgage interest rates have sunk to record lows. In mid-July, the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 2.98%— the first time the rate has fallen below 3% in the nearly 50 years that Freddie Mac has been keeping records.

But be prepared to compete with other buyers for the house you want. Following spring shutdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19, buyers emerged hungry to live in locations and houses with more space and other features suited to spending a lot of time at home. Sellers have been slower to list their homes, however, causing a shortage in many areas of the country. In June, U.S. housing inventory fell by 27% from the same period a year before, according to Realtor.com.

Many popular vacation spots are no exception to the trend of tight inventory and pent-up buyer demand. In late June, Nancy Reither, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Ocean City, Md., said that the city had about 340 listings, compared with about 1,500 at the same time a year ago.

Since the pandemic-related shutdowns eased and buyers were able to look at homes again, “I have not been able to take a day off,” says Bill Cullin, a Long & Foster agent who focuses on the Delaware beaches north of Ocean City. The beaches are within a few hours of major metropolitan areas including New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and buyers are driving there as air travel becomes less desirable during the pandemic, says Cullin. Plus, many buyers expect to work from home until sometime this fall, and some are permanently permitted to telework.

In northeastern Florida, buyers are snapping up second homes—especially oceanfront properties and those with swimming pools, says Cara Ameer, a Coldwell Banker agent-based near Jacksonville as well as in Orange County, Calif.

How the housing market fares in coming months will depend largely on the economy’s trajectory, says Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com. If the economy slowly improves, buyers may continue to grab properties as they come on the market. A weakening economy, however, may mean more owners putting their houses up for sale out of financial necessity but fewer buyers jumping in to purchase them. The status of remote work and education will affect the vacation-home market, too. “If schools or colleges resort to remote learning again in the new school year, we would expect a continued surge in interest and shopping for vacation homes,” says Zillow economist Jeff Tucker. That would be unprecedented for the quieter fall and winter seasons, he adds.

Home prices are stable. In June, the median listing price was 5.1% higher than a year before, according to Realtor .com. Many homeowners who lost income because of the pandemic have had legally mandated access to mortgage forbearance, helping to avoid distressed sales that can push down prices. And leading into the crisis, the overall health of homeownership was stronger than with the previous downturn, says Skylar Olsen, senior principal economist for Zillow.

To help you navigate the vacation-home market, we’ve explored what to expect as you search, ways to make your offer stand out, and mortgage and tax considerations. With data from Realtor.com, we’ve also highlighted five vacation areas around the country that are attractive in terms of inventory and price.

LAY THE GROUNDWORK

If you’re eyeing a place that you’ve visited only as a vacationer, keep in mind that owning a home there comes with a different set of concerns. Talk to locals about living in the area, and visit it during the times of year you plan to be there. You may realize that a community quiets down—with some restaurants and shops closed—more than you may have expected during certain seasons, or that you don’t like being there when it’s most active, says Ameer. Find out whether the community normally offers activities and entertainment that you’ll enjoy during extended visits—say, golf courses, great restaurants or an arts scene.

Do you prefer a condominium, a detached home or something in between, such as a townhouse or duplex? A house may offer more privacy—a coveted trait during the era of social distancing—and you won’t have to worry about pet restrictions or other limitations that sometimes come with communal properties. But you’ll likely have increased responsibilities that may be tougher to manage when you’re not there, such as snow removal, lawn mowing and landscaping. With a condo, the association typically takes care of such tasks (although you’ll likely pay a fee to cover them). Plus, internet and cable may be included. Especially if you’re interested in an attached property, try to get a sense of whether the neighbors frequently rent out their properties. “Nobody wants to find out that it’s like a fraternity party every weekend in the summer,” says Ameer.

RUIDOSO, N.M. COUNTY: Lincoln JUNE 2020 MEDIAN LISTING PRICE: $349,550 2019 MEDIAN SALE PRICE: $217,372

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM KIPLINGER'S PERSONAL FINANCEView All

The Virtues of Volunteering

My column on fulfilling ways to spend retirement (“Living in Retirement,” April) continues to generate inspirational responses from readers, many of whom have sung the praises of volunteering. You also volunteered the names of additional service groups that you have found rewarding. I’ll cite a number of them for those of you in search of a cause that strikes a chord.

2 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
June 2021

The Benefits of Working Longer

Delaying retirement for a couple of years—or even a few months— is the most effective way to improve your retirement security.

10+ mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
June 2021

Finally, on the Brink of Dow 36,000

In early 1998, my American EnterpriseInstitute colleague Kevin Hassett, a well-credentialed academic who would later become chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Trump administration, came to me with an idea. Over the previous three-fourths of a century, stocks had returned an annual average of about 11% and government bonds 5.5%.

5 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
June 2021

Limit Losses With These ETFs

The catch: You’ll give up some gains in return.

3 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
June 2021

BET ON INFRASTRUCTURE STOCKS

On the heels of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, President Joe Biden has unveiled a major infrastructure initiative that would spend $2 trillion over eight years, financed in part by an increase in corporate tax rates from 21% to 28%.

3 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
June 2021

Get Dividends Every Month

One way for income-hungry investors to keep cash flowing is to assemble a portfolio that shells out dividends every month.

3 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
June 2021

Earn Up to 10% on Your Money

Yields are beginning to lift off. We found great deals for every level of risk.

10+ mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
June 2021

How to Surf the Net More Safely

To help you fight identity theft, consider adding a VPN.

3 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
May 2021

Tap Home Equity for Extra Income

Home is where the heart is, but it’s also a source of regular income for many retirees.

8 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
May 2021

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO CAR RENTALS

Get up to speed on how to snag a deal and avoid pesky fees.

10 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
May 2021