The past few years' economic climate — cloudy and stormy at times, downright dangerous at others — has kept many of us scrambling for cover, to make ends meet and to keep our heads above the rising tide of instability. For others, however, the low depressions have been a mere hiccup, a glitch that will surely correct itself. In the meantime, they tread water and continue to work, slogging along through the year and looking forward to a couple of weeks off for rest and relaxation. For these people, buying rather than renting a vacation home for that R&R may be more of an option than ever.
The prime locations around the country are certainly well-fortified against any unpredictable real estate weather, battened down behind recognizable names, heavenly vistas, and proven hunting grounds for art and culture. But make no mistake, even they have felt the bending winds and stinging rain of recession.
Now is the time if you're of a mind and have the means to buy. Plenty of good deals are out there, not necessarily in the form of foreclosures and short sales as found in our neighborhoods and bedroom communities, but in the embodiment of lower prices, motivated sellers, or the simple fact that there are more homes for sale now with inventory opened up in otherwise sold-out locations. This may be your chance to finally own a little piece of heaven.
According to the National Association of Realtors, vacation home sales rose 7.9 percent from 2008.
"We saw a little up-tick in 2009 in the number of vacation home sales, and I think that's largely attributable to the fact that we've seen some pretty significant price declines in a number of areas, making it an attractive proposition to invest now in a vacation home at those much lower prices," says Paul Bishop, vice president of research for the NAR.
We all count the weeks, scratch off the days on the calendar until vacation begins. The short-timer's disease is a pandemic reaching across all economic and social classes, and though you should plunge into a vacation with all your heart, purchasing a second home may be an adventure better left to your head.
Whether looking for a home in South Florida, where crowds gather nightly to watch as the sun sinks into the Gulf of Mexico, or on ski slopes covered with soft, powdery snow, real estate agents advise that you do your own research before looking to buy. Certainly there will be qualified and knowledgeable agents to assist in the search, but understand first what you want as far as location and amenities, condo vs. single-family home, and, of course, price.
For many, travel is adventure, yet there are those who want a jumping-off point, a comfortable and familiar place to call home base before heading into the unknown, or to return to after their plans and dreams have been met. They want to know that after casting a hook into Menemsha Bight, that there is food in the fridge, or a fire in their hearth after a run down the mountain.
"We wanted a place where, year after year, we know where we're going. We like continuity, we're a very predictable family," says Barry Pelts, co-owner of Corky's Ribs & BBQ. "We get comfortable. Not to say that we don't like new things, but we do have a comfort zone."
Pelts purchased a house within a new 60-home development in Sandestin, Florida, three and a half years ago. It's a place his wife and three children, ages 17, 15, and 5, can spend the summer and Pelts, a self-proclaimed workaholic, can join them for long weekends.
A vacation home can be thought of as an investment, but for many, it's a place to gather with family. The second home often is in a community or resort that reminds buyers of their childhood, and they want to give that same feeling, those special times away from home, to their own children. They tend to do so in destinations known for their price stability so there is less worry of loss when the world of work is left behind.
"The amenities such as location and all those things that make some of these areas attractive to begin with are still going to be things that draw people to those areas five years from now and forward," says Bishop.
Communities in the mountains of Colorado, the northeast coast of the United States, and the wilderness of Arkansas are increasingly becoming family-oriented again and moving away from the strictly investment homes and property-flippers of the real estate boom.
"The mom-and-pop flippers that we all watched on those cable shows are pretty much off to the sidelines at this point," Bishop says, noting that buyers are making the choice to own their homes longer and that there are certainly a lot more hoops to jump through than there were five years ago.
"I never really thought of it as [an investment]," Pelts says of his home away from home. "I bought it strictly as, not so much a vacation home, but as a second home to use that we would have for many, many years. Is it worth the price now that I paid? No, but I don't plan on selling anytime soon so in my mind I haven't lost any money."
Whether it's in your budget to travel and buy a thousand miles away in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico, or the tony townships on the island of Martha's Vineyard, opportunities now exist that may not have been there before and may not be again for some time.
At a relatively small size of only 100 square miles (about the size of Bermuda) Martha's Vineyard has an air of seclusion to it, a land frozen in time somewhere between the whaling era of the nineteenth century and the neighborhood comfort and safety of the 1950s. A sense of seclusion is what gives way to celebrities strolling unfettered down Main Street, brushing elbows with vendors, business people, and tourists alike. Seclusion, however, should not be confused with impenetrability and, with the current buyer's market, something seldom seen here, there may be no better time to get a sandaled foot in the door of island living.
"Inventory is the highest it's been in years and interest rates are phenomenally low," says Judy Federowicz, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Landmarks Real Estate on Martha's Vineyard since 1986. "Everything takes a little longer to come ashore here, it doesn't happen in real time as it does with the rest of the country, but [the economy] does affect our market."
The island is considered in two parts: Down Island and Up Island. Down and Up have nothing to do with north and south, but are old nautical terms dealing with longitude.
Down Island (or Down Longitude) includes the townships of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury — manicured, in-town properties boasting art galleries and fine restaurants. Edgartown is the typical island resort community and beautiful with old captain's houses and white picket fences supporting climbing roses. The quaint village was once the whaling capital, the home port for fleets traveling the oceans.
Up Island you'll find Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury. The area is more rural with rolling, pastoral vistas out to the ocean. Up Island is the choice home for celebrities such as David Letterman, and the town of Chilmark has more Pulitzer Prize winners per square foot than almost any place else.
"You really have a broad range of properties and locations that, for one small island, it's pretty amazing what's available," Federowicz says.
The island, only seven miles from Cape Cod, is accessible strictly by air or boat (45-minute ferry ride); no bridge means the population is manageable and, while the peak season of end-of-June to end-of-August sees the population swell to 100,000, the rest of the year houses a sparse 20,000 residents. With a varied population and varied geography comes a great variance in price and a single family home — the most sought after as condos are scarce — can be had at anywhere from the multi-millions down to as low as the $300Ks.
"They're going to be very modest," Federowicz is quick to point out regarding any current low prices. "You aren't going to get a water view, but there really aren't any bad neighborhoods on Martha's Vineyard."
Community planners and activists realize that resources are finite on any island and, therefore, a number of conservation societies protect the assets of land and space. These good people are tasked with ensuring that Martha's Vineyard does not overbuild and develop into shore-to-shore houses — insurance and peace of mind for anyone looking to buy here.
In addition to the obvious water sports and shoreline activities associated with island living, Martha's Vineyard offers everything from shopping to golf, horseback riding, and hiking. And with so many residents from the entertainment industry, the cultural amenities such as theater and art galleries are unparalleled. The Yard is a colony for dance artists that features professional artists, emerging choreographers, and gives up-and-coming dancers a venue to train and perform.
For a few acres of nostalgia, for solitude or for a place to shop, see and be seen, step onto a boat to step back in time on Martha's Vineyard.
At the other end of the country, for those looking for a respite from winter's cold and doldrums, there is the southwest Florida town of Naples.
The connection? The land that eventually became Naples was purchased and developed by a Memphian. Barron Collier (for whom Collier County is named) was an advertising visionary who had his start selling advertising space on streetcars here before moving to New York City to expand his empire and, far to the south, expand his holdings with land he used to entertain friends and family on hunting and fishing expeditions beginning in 1911.
We, of course, don't need so much land. A comfortable place near the water is what anyone wants, especially during those days and nights below freezing back home.
Memphians Lee and Barbara Petty agree. In fact, when the Pettys purchased their waterfront condo in the Park Shore District 28 years ago, weather was a huge factor in the decision.
"We found that Naples was less crowded than other parts of Florida. We liked the smaller town, and of course, the fact that it was warmer in the winter. Even northern parts of Florida get chilly in the winter!"
Three decades later, the couple is still happy with their purchase and location.
"We go down around four times a year, and sometimes it's for a month, other times just a few days. We don't rent it out, because it's our home. And even though we love it, our roots are in Memphis, and this will always be home to us. We will always have a place here."
Leah Paige, a broker with White Sands Realty in Naples, says the price, as with any premier destination, depends on the property's location. Yhe closer you get to the white sands along the Gulf of Mexico, the more that slice of heaven will cost, but the median closed price for a single-family home in May of this year was only $190,000. Closer to the water, the slice becomes more expensive, and luxury home prices can be found in the $1.5 million and up range.
"The inventory is declining, an indicator that sales continue to be strong here," Paige says. "Now is the time to get in if you want to buy resort-like property at really good prices. Before the bubble burst in 2005-2006, it was very difficult to get even the worst property for $500,000. Now you can get a brand-new house with all the bells and whistles for that kind of money."
Neighborhood names include Vanderbilt Beach and Pelican Bay (prices starting at $600,000); Downtown Naples with its historic cottages and high-end shopping ($1.5 million); and the exclusive and private Gordon Drive/Port Royal area ($7.4 million to start).
"We continued to see strong activity in sales volume in July, which is typically the slower time of year for Naples," says Paige, who recently showed buyers homes from $200,000 to over a million dollars. "I'm seeing activity at all different price levels."
Naples is a metropolitan town with a friendly, Midwest atmosphere where year-round population is 250,000 while the in-season (winter months) visitors swell it to over 500,000, giving the city an alive, vibrant feel.
Daytime winter temperatures in the 70s bring visitors from the north — the Midwest and Northeast, and our neighbors in Canada — yet a strong contingent from Europe also enjoy the shopping, dining, and, of course, the beautiful, palm-lined beaches. On days when those summer storms come blowing through, chasing you from the golf course or beach chair, there is still much to enjoy including the many art galleries and museums, or the Philharmonic Center for the Arts.
If the bustling life of a metropolitan city on the sand seems too much for you, a quick, 30-minute drive will find you on Marco Island with its 14,000 year-round residents and 30,000 in-season visitors. Six miles of beaches and more than 100 miles of waterways, ensconced in the mangrove islands of south Florida, Marco promises an abundance of wildlife, sunshine, and a haven for the sport fisherman. Condominiums and single-family homes here range from $650,000 to $2.7 million.
Consider the area of Naples, with its mild temperatures, cultural amenities, and wallet-friendly real estate market now, and you could be sitting on your patio, smelling the salt air of your second home by the time old man winter comes knocking at your first.
Santa Fe/Taos, New Mexico
As long as we're speaking of history — Martha's Vineyard and its seafaring industry of the 1800s and Barron Collier, the largest landowner of early twentieth-century Florida — please consider Santa Fe.
The capital of New Mexico, founded between 1607 and 1610, is the oldest state capital in the United States. Seated squarely at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the southern Rocky Mountains, the city is 7,000 feet above sea level and maintains some of the most stunning views in the country.
Santa Fe is a mecca of outdoor activities. Within an easy drive, or just stepping from your back porch, one can hike, bike, raft the Rio Grande River, canoe, or ski. Santa Fe, however, is also known as the City Different and has been named one of only nine Creative Cities in the world by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. It claims over 200 art galleries, hosting art collectors from all over the world, and is one of the largest art markets in the country.
The area is so well-known for its arts scene, Memphis artist Johnny Taylor chose it as a "second home" for a year, seeking not only a change of city, but for artistic insiration. Taylor's paintings (which were shown at Jay Etkin's Gallery on South Main ) took on a less urban feel, with softer colors and elements from nature seeping into his work. "It was a good change, a great way to get new ideas. The area is so beautiful, so full of vibrant yet soft colors, it had a very calming effect on both myself and my work."
There is very little to want from this city in the mountains. All you really have to want is to be there.
Darlene Streit has been selling homes for seven years and owns Santa Fe Realty Partners, one of the largest realty companies in the area. "What we found is that people who are serious about selling have become serious with their price as well, and then those that aren't have just taken them off the market, so there are some really good deals," she says. "We're starting to notice that the good inventory is getting low."
Streit suggests potential buyers become acquainted with the area and have full knowledge of what they want before taking the plunge into purchasing a vacation home. "Santa Fe is very diverse," she says, "so I think it would be really important to get a feel for the different areas so someone can decide what is going to work for them."
Those areas are as varied as a 2.5-acre lot outside of town or a golf course community, a home in the historic center of town within walking distance to restaurants and galleries, or a plot of land that makes your nearest neighbor invisible to the naked eye.
Listing prices for luxury homes in Santa Fe may not reflect the trend of the rest of the country. While pricing has certainly dipped, there are no bargain-basement deals.
"Prices have gone down here, but not as much as in other areas because we also didn't have the huge increases that California and some other places had," Streit says. "And because it's second homes, it's often people with money who can hold on, who can wait and don't have to sell."
Santa Fe Realty Partners has offerings from that $300,000 second-home comfort zone up to an 11,500-square-foot home on a ranch for $28 million. What you are looking for and what you can afford are as diverse as the people and amenities in the region.
Santa Fe's ski slopes are only a 25-minute drive from the center of town, yet for something much larger, the Taos ski basin is an hour-and-a-half to the north. Homes in the Taos area have the same price range as Santa Fe and offer breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains.
New Mexico is "The Land of Enchantment" — enchanting for those who enjoy the great outdoors, a robust life spent on the land and in powder-soft snow, and equally as enchanting for those who prefer their indoors with art on the walls and history all around.
State Highway 98 is a heavily traveled trail of asphalt that can carry you the length of the Florida panhandle, from the high-rise condos of Panama City Beach through the glittering amusement parks of Destin and Fort Walton, to the bustling beach city of Pensacola, at 70 mph. But if speed isn't what you wish for your vacation, if your day-to-day traffic headache at home is all the headache you can stand, then there is Scenic Highway 30-A, a ribbon unfurling below the raceway of 98.
30-A is a meandering pike spotted with towns and villages that harken back to a time when neighbors were closer together, both geographically and socially, and the quickest way from here to there was on foot or by pedal power. One of the area's most sought-after properties, Redfish Village, has several Memphis owners, and was designed by Memphis-based Looney Ricks Kiss Architects and built by Montgomery Martin. Redfish's roots are deeply interwoven with the Bluff City, and that should be no surprise. The community property, which offers both rentals and residences, has everything you need, from shopping to dining, right there on the property.
The crown jewel of this area of Walton County is Seaside. Developed in the early '80s as a beachside community, Seaside is one of the oldest developments along the 18-mile scenic highway, and a haven for those within a day's drive for residents of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and, certainly, Memphis.
Seaside, though, is more than a vacation destination. It's a community and has been built, marketed, and sold as such.
"We never, even in the height of the season, encourage any of these people to buy for the short term. This is a long-term investment for them and their families to have and that's the way most of these people purchase," says Jacky Barker with Seaside Community Realty Inc. "We never encourage anybody to do any speculation buying here."
Because of this, prices hold steady at around $1,000 per square foot inland up to $2,000 per square foot for the rare properties available on the beachside.
"When we started in 1981, we were selling mostly lots and then eventually started reselling houses, but we averaged about 12.5 percent increase per year up until the late '90s and early 2000s and then it started skyrocketing and went just crazy," Barker says. "There was just no way it could contain itself."
And it didn't, though prices haven't necessarily plummeted, either. Despite this, deals can be made, the odd exception to the rule of stability and consistency. Homes inland are available at $650 per square foot, homes that should be a must-see for anyone looking for a home away from home in a community away from community.
"The end of 2005 is when the economy hit and we started seeing it affect the volume of sales, but not necessarily a big reduction in per-square-foot until last year," Barker says. "Most owners are just going to hang onto it until the market comes back."
Seaside is a model of the New Urbanism movement with its walkable neighborhoods, eclectic housing styles, and retail integrated throughout. It's not Disneyland and it's not Six Flags, nor is it Naples or Santa Fe, both cities with industry and purpose other than vacation. Seaside is a place developed solely for escape, a village that is peaceful, self-contained, and, above all, beautiful and family-oriented.
We all know of the two types of people in the world: Beatles fans and Rolling Stones fans. Certainly good arguments are to be made for which is better.
In the world of vacations, travel and second-home buying, there are also two types: beach people and mountain people.
Let those with a proclivity towards sand between their toes and sunblock upon their noses claim the destinations of Naples and Seaside in Florida. And those in search of excitement, scenes of snowy peaks, and deep, wide valleys can have Colorado.
Two of the most well-known resort areas in the state include Aspen, a one-time silver mining town that eventually focused on the mind, body, and spirit — "The Aspen Idea" — and became a world-class ski resort. Only a two-hour drive away is Vail. Surrounded by 14,000-foot snowy peaks, Vail is the single largest ski area in the country and was the one-time home of President Gerald Ford.
"What I've always been successful selling in the Vail Valley is the lifestyle," says Dana Correia, an agent with Beaver Creek Luxury Homes. "When the market was booming, everyone was buying a condo and a house because they were going to hold it for a year, remodel it, and flip it. What I'm seeing now is younger families with kids that are coming out here to use it, to enjoy the skiing, and enjoy the fly fishing, the hiking, the biking. So it's become more of a purchase for the use of their family, which is what we've always sold on, and it's great to see it come back full circle to that."
The most active single-family home sale prices range from $1 million to $2.5 million, with numbers hitting as high as the slopes themselves at $15 million for the luxury homes that feature all custom design, decorating, and locations allowing an owner to ski in and ski out from their property. Like anyplace, though, there are deals here as well and now might be the most opportune time to buy.
"Prices have been changing and dropping, and we're close to the high 20s to 30 percent off from our 2007 prices, which was the peak of our market," Correia says.
The market fluctuation is different from someplace like the vacation destinations of the Florida panhandle because sales volume has remained the same in Beaver Creek while prices have come down somewhat. These price drops, combined with current low interest rates, says Correia, "make for a fantastic buying opportunity in the resort."
In addition to the ultra-high luxury homes, it should be noted that the Vail Valley has something for everyone, with prices beginning at a one-bedroom condominium in the $300,000 range. It is tempting, though, to dream of the home that went on the market for $17 million, was relisted for $13.9 million, and finally sold recently for $12.7 million. These aren't the foreclosure deals you may find in your neighborhood, but if this is your sort of neighborhood, then these savings will make an impression.
The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are known for their skiing, but they offer so much more for the outdoor enthusiast, including some of the best mountain biking anyplace, hiking, world-class rafting, and fishing. The arts are also well-ingrained and live theater and symphonies play an important part in the culture of the area.
Whether a beach person or a mountain person, no one can deny the vistas and awe-inspiring beauty of the Vail and Aspen resort areas, or the once-in-a-lifetime, entry-level deals being offered there now. In Colorado, it seems, you can always get what you want.
Mountain Home, Arkansas
But perhaps you aren’t looking to spend millions, or even hundreds of thousands, on a vacation getaway. And perhaps you don’t have the wherewithal, or the inclination, to fly across the country for a long weekend or week away.
Should you have to pass on beauty? Should you forget adventure or a sense of peace?
Of course not. Consider, please, Mountain Home. Less than a four-hour drive from Memphis, tucked up underneath Missouri in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, Mountain Home has plenty for everyone: lakes, mountains, rivers, scenery, excitement, and respite from your workaday life.
The market for second homes in Mountain Home dropped off with the economy, but is rebounding and it is definitely still a buyer’s market, says Rodney Wagner with Mountain Home Real Estate Company. As of this writing, 1,082 homes were listed in the MLS for the area with 135 being lake homes and 70 river homes.
“It’s finally coming back this year with some people coming back into the market and properties going under contract,” Wagner says.He calls Mountain Home a melting pot and says the area draws vacationers and house hunters from Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and even Arizona. They come to the Ozarks for the fishing — the North Fork River and White River attract fly fishers the world over — water sports such as canoeing and rafting, hiking, biking, and scenery. The area was ranked 7th in Outdoor Life magazine’s ranking of America’s Top 200 Towns For Sportsmen just this summer and has been ranked 1st in fishing by Field & Stream.
Over 100 practicing doctors populate the area that is home to Baxter Regional Medical Center. This fact, and the hour-and-a-half drive to the entertainment hub of Branson, Missouri, make it an ideal retirement destination as well.
The typical home in Mountain Home is 2,400 square feet and with an average price listing in the MLS at $122,273, that’s an 11 percent decrease from last year’s average of $129,771. Homes built on spec have seen a decline with the economy, says Wagner, but custom homes are being built in the 4,000 to 12,000-square-foot range.
People tend to dream big and, with that, automatically think far away, but there are treasures to be had and memories to be made only next door. These treasures are being had now for less than they have in quite a while. M
Real estate agents across the country urge potential buyers looking at second homes to do their research first, something most people are inclined to do online anyway. Know your needs concerning size, and your desires in terms of amenities. Know what sort of location will suit you and your family, and what price points make you the most comfortable. Rate these parameters according to importance before seeking out a knowledgeable agent, an expert on the local market who will narrow your big picture down to a manageable search, in the community or resort you've chosen.
Judy Federowicz, Coldwell Banker Landmarks Real Estate
Darlene Streit, Santa Fe Realty Partners
Rodney Wagner, Mountain Home Real Estate Company
Jacky Barker, Seaside Community Realty Inc.
Leah Paige, White Sands Realty
Dana Correia, Beaver Creek Luxury Homes