It may be only April, but the warmer weather and vaccine rollouts have already gotten some people obsessing about summer vacation. After a year spent mostly crammed indoors, Americans are itching to get back into the world and see some things nonvirtually.
But that doesn’t mean everyone wants to jet off to packed resorts—not yet, anyway—or deal with international travel restrictions due to COVID-19. Is it any wonder that second-home sales are going through the roof? For those who can afford them, second homes offer up more space, more opportunities for escape, more outdoor adventures right near your doorstep. Bonus points for those who can work remotely.
Across the country, second-home purchases rose about 46%, to make up 6% of mortgages from January through March of this year compared with the same period last year, according to an analysis by realtor.com® using mortgage application data from Optimal Blue, a real estate analytics firm. With more people looking for vacation homes, the data team at realtor.com took a look at the metropolitan areas that have seen the biggest growth in second-home sales so far this year compared with before the pandemic.
Since the data does not account for sales made in cash (a preferred method of vacation home purchasing for the wealthy), most of the places on this list aren't the typical playgrounds of the uber-rich. Instead, we found a new crop of more out-of-the way destinations—relatively affordable, not too far from larger cities, and typically near water or the mountains. What's not to love?
“The pandemic has underscored for many people the idea that it's nice to have a place to escape to,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com. Meanwhile, being able to work from anywhere has made second homes more accessible year-round, so buyers are getting more bang for their buck. "If you can afford it, a second home that gives you an alternate place to retreat."
Looking ahead, the desire for second homes is expected to linger, even without a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Still, demand may slow down by the end of the summer as employers begin bringing employees back to the office.
To figure out the places seeing the biggest surge in second-home buyers so far this year, we filtered out any area that had fewer than 100 loan originations. Our list was limited to one metro per state to ensure geographic diversity. (Metros include the main city and surrounding towns, suburbs, and smaller urban areas.)
So where are the new hot places to snag a vacation home this year? Let’s take a look.
1. Marion, NC
Median home price in March: $344,500 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 21.8%
Known as "Where Main Street Meets the Mountain," Marion is situated in Western North Carolina at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Just an hour and a half by car from Charlotte, Marion boasts a quaint downtown and easy access to hiking trails.
The Marion area offers an affordable alternative to nearby Asheville, a popular destination known for its thriving arts, brewery, and dining scenes.
"It’s a stone's throw away, but you tend to get more bang for your buck and also get more elbow room," says Ameliah Davidson, a real estate agent with Greybeard Realty. (For reference, the median list price for homes in Ashville was $492,000 in March.)
The town's historic Main Street is home to shops, restaurants and breweries, and a seasonal farmers market. There is also camping and fishing at nearby Lake James as well as several golf courses and a couple of water parks not far from town.
Cabins in the woods are most popular here, especially if there aren't too many neighbors around, Davidson says.
2. Sturgis, MI
Median home price: $187,900 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 21.8%
(No, not that Sturgis, the one with the oft-controversial motorcycle rally...) Located midway between Chicago and Detroit, Sturgis, MI, provides a small-town feel while being close to many natural resources. Lake houses are the most popular in this region, and with six lakes to choose from in St. Joseph County, it's easy to see why.
For some family fun, Camp Fort Hill boasts 220 acres of woods and 3,800 feet of shoreline along Tamarack Lake. Nearby Fish Lake is also a popular spot for fly-fishing and baitcasting. For a day trip, Sturgis is also close to Amish country—nearby Shipshewana, IN, has plenty of places to shop and hosts festivals throughout the summer.
Buyers looking for affordable lake-front living have some decent options.
3. Brainerd, MN
Median home price: $329,900 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 21.8%
About two hours north of Minneapolis, this vacation destination in the Land of 10,000 Lakes has become an escape for city dwellers hoping for a quiet weekend getaway on land or water. This ultra-affordable lake town boasts more than 500 lakes located within a 25-mile radius.
There are plenty of outdoor activities to choose from, including swimming, hiking, and golf. Snowmobiling, year-round fishing, and plenty of wildlife for hunting also make this area appealing year-round, making it a great weekend getaway.
Waterfront homes are the ones most in-demand. Best of all: Owners don't need to leave their backyards to go fishing.
4. Ruston, LA
Median home price: $242,000 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 19.4%
Ruston is another affordable, nature-friendly region for those on a budget. Located in the Sportsman's Paradise region of North Louisiana, residents here have plenty of outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.
The city is also home to Louisiana Tech, whose campus includes a massive park with trails, pavilions, and even a Frisbee golf course. Water lovers can also fish and canoe in the park's 7-acre lake.
Also known as the Peach Capital of Louisiana, Ruston celebrates its title with its annual Louisiana Peach Festival in June.
5. Hudson, NY
Median home price: $595,000 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 18.7%
This upscale town in the Catskills has become a pandemic favorite for those seeking to get away from New York City. A two-hour drive from Manhattan, the quaint small town filled with pricey boutiques and antiques shops, gourmet restaurants, and cocktail bars offers views of the Hudson River. Plus, once more offices reopen, commuters can take an Amtrak train or a bus directly into midtown Manhattan.
The town's outdoorsy vibe is a big draw. Trails abound across this area, and nearby Hunter Mountain offers skiing in the winter and mountain biking in the summer.
No, prices aren't what most people would call cheap, but New York City–area buyers can get more space for their money upstate.
6. Kapaa, HI
Median home price: $918,500 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 17%
Located on the east side of the island of Kauai, Kapaa is popular with buyers in search of natural beauty, warm weather, and stunning beaches.
Nounou Mountain, better known as Sleeping Giant, is a major landmark for visitors. Adventurous types can hike to its highest point, which resembles a reclining figure's forehead. Residents can also explore the east side of the island using the Kapaa bike path, which extends nearly 8 miles along the coast.
The downside is the price as buyers should expect to pay more for their own slice of paradise. That's not to say deals don't exist.
7. Edwards, CO
Median home price: $534,500 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 16.6%
With 184 inches of snow every year, Edwards—a gateway to the Beaver Creek Resort—remains one of the best bets for skiers flocking to Central Colorado. But it's not just snow that brings visitors to this nature lover's paradise. Temperate summers are perfect for hiking, fishing, and whitewater rafting.
Rocky Mountain views and easy access to the slopes are key here. Homes can easily top a million dollars. Condos offer a more affordable alternative, at least compared with single-family homes here.
8. Branson, MO
Median home price: $256,200 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 16.5%
Located in the Ozarks, Branson, MO, has been named one of the top affordable lake towns in the U.S. by realtor.com for the past two years in a row. This is the kind of place where buyers can really spread out and enjoy being on the water without coming into close proximity with strangers.
There’s plenty of opportunities to socially distance from strangers across the lovely 43,000 acres of Table Rock Lake. Take it in on a paddleboard, kayak, or boating trip. For a more meditative day, spread out and fish for trout in the clean, cool waters of Lake Taneycomo.
9. Wisconsin Rapids, WI
Median home price: $162.450 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 14.8%
Wisconsin Rapids caters to extreme-sports lovers. It hosts the state's annual water-skiing championships at Lake Wazeecha, as well as the national BMX Bandit cycling championship, held at the Central Wisconsin BMX velodrome.
Located in Central Wisconsin, Wisconsin Rapids is two and a half hours from Milwaukee and less than two hours from Green Bay. It's also home to the largest cranberry-producing region in the world and hosts the annual Cranberry Blossom Festival in June.
But buyers who want a home on the water should expect to pay premium prices compared with other homes in this region
10. Barnstable Town, MA
Median home price: $759,950 Increase in second-home sales percentage: 14.2%
The white sandy beaches of Cape Cod (part of the Barnstable Town metro) have long been prized vacation refuges for New Yorkers and Bostonians looking for a getaway.
But buyers in this tony, oceanside oasis will pay a premium for their second homes—the bigger the better, says Jack Cotton, a Realtor at Sotheby's International Realty in Osterville, MA.
They may not mind the higher prices as, since the start of the pandemic, people have been living in their Cape Cod vacation homes year-round.
"People want their own resort," Cotton says. "Privacy used to be at the top of the list; now it’s been supplanted by elbow room."