Vacation Home Sales Surges During Pandemic

by Kim Mantz

Vacation home sales have been surging during the pandemic, according to the National Association of Realtors. The surge in the demand for vacation homes has occurred during the pandemic when people are able to work from home, students are schooled virtually, people are taking safety precautions and staying away from crowded areas, and with urban-based recreation limited by social distancing regulations. 

In 2020, vacation home sales rose by 16.4%, outpacing the 5.6% growth in total existing-home sales. Vacation home sales have continued to pick up during January-April 2021, rising by 57.2% year-over-year, more than twice the 20% growth in total existing-home sales during the same period.  

Vacation home counties are outperforming non-vacation home counties in terms of sales pace, price appreciation, and how much faster the homes are selling on the market, according to NAR’s analysis of 145 vacation home counties and 1,060 non-vacation home counties. Properties typically stayed longer on the market in vacation home counties at 59 days, compared to 30 days in non-vacation home counties, in 2020. However, the time to sell a home in vacation home counties has sped up more than in non-vacation home counties. In 2020, properties in vacation home counties typically sold more quickly by 13 days compared to eight days in non-vacation home counties. 

Vacation home buyers are more likely to pay all-cash. During January-April 2021, all-cash sales rose to 53%.  In comparison, 22% of all existing-home sales in January-April 2021 were cash sales. Vacation home buyers are more likely to put down a higher down payment compared to all existing home buyers. Seventy-seven percent of vacation home buyers put down at least 20% as a down payment compared to just 49% among all existing home buyers. 

The Top 1% of Vacation Home Counties Are Scattered Across 16 States. 

Of the 145 counties that NAR has market information on, it identified the top 1% (roughly 30 markets) hottest vacation home counties in 2020 based on sales growth, price growth, change in days on the market. The number of seasonal homes in 2019 to account for market size. 

The top 1% of vacation home counties were in 16 states. North Carolina had four vacation counties (Swain, Alleghany, Macon, Watauga); there were three each in New York (Greene, Sullivan, Hamilton), Vermont (Windham, Bennington, Windsor), Massachusetts (Dukes, Barnstable, Nantucket), and Michigan (Oscoda, Alcona, Clare); there were two each in Florida (Lee, Collier), Missouri (Hickory, Camden), Maryland (Garrett, Worcester). Oklahoma, Maine, Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia, New Mexico, Delaware, and Minnesota each had one vacation home county that landed in the top 1% list. 

Top 10 Vacation Home Counties 

Lee County, Florida, Oscoda County, Michigan, Swain County, North Carolina, Collier County, Florida, Dukes County, Massachusetts, Alleghany County, North Carolina, Garrett County, Maryland, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, Alcona County, Michigan and Macon County, North Carolina 

1 NAR is delineated as vacation home counties, where vacant seasonal, occasional, or recreational use housing accounts for at least 20% of the housing stock. Based on the 2019 5-year U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, NAR identified 323 out of 3,143 counties (including independent cities) as vacation home counties, representing 10.3% of U.S. counties. 

2 An additional criterion for being in the top 1% was that the county had to meet all three criteria of having a higher price, higher sales growth, and faster days on the market. Only counties with non-zero sales during the years 2017 through 2020 and with at least 10 sales were included in the analysis. Scholastica Gay Cororaton is the Research Economist for the National Association of REALTORS®. 

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