Endless summer: Amid pandemic, Americans are looking to move to vacation destinations

by Kerrie Kennedy

After months spent at home during lockdowns, travel but a distant memory and a long hard winter ahead, Americans are increasingly deciding to pack up and move to a destination where the vacation is just outside their door.

According to a new report from Zillow, while page views of for-sale listings across the country are up 37% annually, page views of for-sale listings in traditional vacation areas are up nearly 50% from a year ago.

Zillow defines vacation destinations as metros with at least 65,000 people and five times more vacation homes than the U.S. as a whole.

Beach towns, ski destinations and vacation areas across the country seeing a rise in demand include Myrtle Beach, Key West, Lake Tahoe, Cape Cod and Park City.

Accordingly, newly pending home sales in many of these markets are rising, with 90% of them experiencing growth.

Pending sales in Salisbury, Maryland (on the Chesapeake Bay) Traverse City, Michigan (on Lake Michigan, and Brainerd, Minnesota (on the Mississippi River) all saw pending sales increases of more than 30% compared to the previous year.

According to Zillow Senior Economist Jeff Tucker, remote work is fueling the phenomenon.

“As millions of office workers transitioned to working from home during the pandemic, many of them reconsidered where they might like to live now that the commute no longer mattered,” Tucker said in the report. “Vacation towns beckoned to many buyers, offering natural amenities like proximity to the ocean and mountains, along with robust retail and restaurant industries to serve traditional seasonal visitors.”

Although Tucker said it’s too early to tell whether those migrating to vacation towns will stay permanently or return after the pandemic, it’s a trend that’s hard to ignore.

“They may not even know yet themselves,” Tucker said. “But owning a second home in a traditional vacation area provides a lot of long-term flexibility.”

Besides page views and home sale growth, homes for sale in vacation spots are also are seeing more “favorites” on Zillow, which allows users to catalog listings they’re interested in. Highly saved homes not only sell faster, they command higher sale prices, according to Zillow research.

Vacation areas with the highest share of favorites on Zillow include Hilton Head in South Carolina and Key West, Naples, Fort Myers, Panama City and Punta Gorda in Florida.

Tommy Mack, a Best of Zillow Premier Agent with Coastal Collection Real Estate in the Florida Keys, speculated that international travel restrictions have led many buyers to focus their search on South Florida. “I have many new clients who say they’ve always wanted to move here and now they can because of changes in day-to-day life from COVID.”

In the Northeast, Ocean City on the Jersey Shore saw more than twice the rate of listing favorites as the U.S. average and East Stroudsburg in the Poconos region — where home values are expected to grow 5.6% in the next year — saw a 90% increase in page views.

For 27-year-old project manager Emily Rush, who recently bought her first home in Ocean City, the pandemic has given her the opportunity to recalibrate her work-life balance.

“I love the beach and I would rather be here,” she said in the report. “Since I can successfully work remotely, I wanted to live in a place where I can disconnect after work. I feel more relaxed near the water and that’s allowed me to have a better work-life balance while working from home. It also felt like a safe investment because if I eventually return to the city, I will still have a great rental property or vacation home.”

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