Destination Vacation: The Most—and Least—Affordable Second-Home Hot Spots


Who doesn’t dream of escaping the rat race come Friday afternoon and heading out to your very own vacation home—a scenic oasis to salve the weekend and rejuvenate your life? And with fall’s leaf peeping in full gear and ski season just around the corner, some folks are realizing they don’t have to spend a fortune to make their dream come true.

While the median sales price for a vacation home in the U.S. was $178,100, folks in some parts of the country are paying as little as $21,000 to score a second home, according to a recent National Association of Realtors® report. That may explain why the number of vacation home sales rose 10% from 2015 to 2018. Just be forewarned: These cheaper destinations, many in remote stretches of states like Maine and Michigan, don’t have the name recognition or cachet of Aspen, Martha’s Vineyard, or anywhere in Hawaii.

“My big takeaway is we have a lot of vacation homes in little-known, local places,” says Gay Cororaton, NAR’s director of housing and commercial research. They’re not big names. [But] I was surprised how relatively inexpensive those properties are.”

Vacation counties made up just 6.6% of the 3,141 counties analyzed in the NAR report. The group defines vacation counties as having about 20% of the housing stock designated as seasonal, recreational, or for occasional use from 2013 through 2017 by the U.S. Census Bureau. To come up with the median sales prices, the association analyzed Black Knight Public Record data.

Half of the 10 vacation counties with the most inexpensive homes were in Maine, with Aroostook County—the northernmost point in the state on the border of Canada—leading the pack with median prices of just $21,000. Rounding out the top three on the affordability scale were Miller County in Central Missouri, with prices just above $21,000, and Michigan’s Gogebic County on Lake Superior, where homes cost $29,000.

They were followed by Piscataquis County ($30,000), Somerset County ($35,000), Franklin County ($40,000), Oxford County ($40,000), and Washington County ($45,000) in Maine, and Boise County ($55,000) and Clearwater County ($55,000) in Idaho.

“If you’re in the upper Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, and Pennsylvania and upstate New York, the vacation homes there are surprisingly not very expensive,” says Cororaton.

The most popular vacation destinations aren’t always the cheapest

Unfortunately for budget buyers, none of the cheapest vacation destinations happens to be the most popular places for those seeking second homes.

The most sought-after vacation destinations were in wealthy communities off the coast of Massachusetts. Nantucket County, a small island across the sound from Cape Cod, and Dukes County, home to Martha’s Vineyard, had the most vacation homes, making up 55.5% of the housing stock in each.

“It’s a nationally known vacation destination,” says Cororaton of this part of the Massachusetts coast. “It’s beautiful.”

But you’ll pay for that beauty, big-time. The median home prices in the counties were $1 million and $450,000 respectively. Prices in Nantucket rose122.2% from 2013 through 2018.

The third most popular vacation destination was New Jersey’s Cape May County, a seaside community on the tip of the Jersey Shore. Vacation homes there made up 50.6% of the residential real estate.

The next five counties were all in Colorado ski country. Pitkin County, home to ultrapricey Aspen; Jackson County, in north central Colorado; Grand County, just below Jackson; Summit County, home to the Breckinridge Ski Resort; and Eagle County, where uber-popular Vail is located.

The most expensive counties for vacationers were Nantucket, Pitkin, and Eagle. Median home prices were $1 million, $710,443, and $636,525 respectively.

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Source: Housing Trends Feed