Household Wealth Drives Demand for Vacation Homes

According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2019 U.S. Vacation Home Counties Report, increased financial wealth and low mortgage rates boosted the demand for and price of vacation homes. In fact, household wealth nearly doubled from a decade ago, reaching an all-time high of $100.3 trillion, explained Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

Between 2013 to 2018, the median sales price in vacation home counties increased at a slightly higher pace of 36% compared to the pace of increase of all existing and new homes sold, at 31%. Median price increases occurred across both expensive and inexpensive areas.

Nantucket, Massachusetts, is the most expensive vacation-home county in the nation. In the county, which consists of three small islands including Nantucket, Tuckernuck and Muskeget, 55.5% of homes are vacation homes. And the median sales price was over $1 million in 2018.

Top Vacation Home Counties

According to the NAR report, the top 26 vacation home counties – the counties with the largest percentages of vacant seasonal, recreational, or occasional use housing units – include those with nationally-known sites, as well as local destinations. Though less populated, this group includes a large number of counties along northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Leading the list are counties in Massachusetts (Nantucket and Dukes, 56%; Barnstable, 41%), New Jersey (Cape May, 51%), Colorado (Grand, Summit Eagle, Jackson and Pitkin, 51%), Wisconsin (Vilas, Lincoln, Langlade, Forest and Oneida, 43%), and Michigan (Roscommon, Ogemaw, Gladwin, Iosco and Arenac, 42%).

Some other notable vacation home counties are found in Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, Vermont, Florida, California, Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Idaho and Oregon.

Most Expensive Vacation Home Counties

The areas identified as the top 25 most expensive vacation home counties included many well-known summer and winter getaways. Using Black Knight property records data, Nantucket, Mass. emerged as the most expensive vacation home county in 2018, with the median sales price at $1 million. Following were other counties in Massachusetts, including Dukes, a portion of which includes Martha’s Vineyard.

Other places of note were Colorado, which contains counties like Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Grand that are popular Rocky Mountain summer and winter destinations; Florida, which includes Monroe and Collier, known respectively for the Florida Keys and Naples; California, which contains the counties of Mono, Alpine and Inyo, among others, all of which are near Yosemite National Park; and Arizona, which includes Coconino county, home of part of the Grand Canyon.

Taking into account the 2018 median sales price and the income of a typical family in the top 25 most expensive areas, the typical family – that is, a family earning the median income only – would be unable to afford to purchase a home in these counties.

Least Expensive Vacation Home Counties

Data from Black Knight property records showed that the median price for a vacation home was usually less than $100,000. The most inexpensive vacation home counties were found in Maine (Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Washington and Waldo), New York (Chenango and Franklin), Pennsylvania (McKean, Venango, Clarion, Elk, Potter, Clearfield and Jefferson), Missouri (Miller), and Michigan (Gogebic, Lake, Arenac, Iosco and Cheboygan).

The expected annual mortgage on a 30-year mortgage with a 20% down payment for a home purchased at the median sales price is less than $5,000. Under such a scenario, the mortgage payment would account for less than 10% of the income of a typical family that purchased a vacation home in one of the top least expensive vacation destination locations. Owning a second home is more affordable for families living in these particular areas.

Other Significant Findings

Buyers purchasing a vacation home usually pay all-cash or opt to obtain a mortgage, and typically make a 20% down payment. Recent low mortgage rates made it more affordable to borrow to purchase a second home. Cape May, New Jersey, topped the list of vacation home counties where second home mortgages accounted for the largest share of home purchase loans.

Also on that list, among other areas, was California, which has Alpine and Mono counties; New York, which has Hamilton and Delaware counties; and, among others, Colorado, which is the location of Grand and Summit counties.

Most of the borrowers who obtained mortgages for second homes earned around $100,000 or more. Among borrowers for second homes, the estimated mortgage payment to income ratio ranged from 4% to 12% in the vacation home counties.