5 Top Resort Retreats
From Maine to Mexico, these vacation-home markets are among the hottest in North America.By Jessica Decina
Puerto Aventuras, Mexico
Buyers seeking a European flair in a Caribbean setting should look no further than Puerto Aventuras, a gated resort community located along the Riviera Maya. It’s just south of Cancun, which is not as popular of a market as it once used to be, according to Sally Wood Evans of Coldwell Banker City.
“Basically, Americans are not buying in Cancun. They started out buying there and then as the Riviera grew, they followed it there. There’s a wealth of things to do here. The beaches are fantastic, the snorkeling is great, [there is] world-class cave diving,” she says.
But she can remember when residents had to rely on making the trip to Cancun for basic needs and supplies. In the last decade, a number of malls, groceries and other industries have appeared in Puerto Aventuras, making it a much more self-sufficient area, while still being easily accessible to historical sites such as the Mayan ruins of Coba. Evans also affirms “nobody should be scared to come to the Riviera Maya.”
“I have been here for 14 years and there has never been a problem. It’s very safe and very beautiful,” she adds.
Buyers can expect to pay approximately $550,000 for an oceanfront property, down about 15 percent in the last two years, Evans says. However, she remains confident she’ll come back to the $750,000 price range.
“There’s only so much oceanfront in the world. You’ve got to make your prices attractive. My typical buyer is much more careful of what they’re buying. They really want to buy quality. The buyers that we have now are people who want to be down here and it’s just a question of the recession in the United States,” she explains.Lake Arrowhead, California
Vicki Smith of Coldwell Banker Sky Ridge Realty couldn’t believe the crowds that gathered at Lake Arrowhead this summer. After a quiet Memorial Day weekend, when the community sees a huge population increase, Independence Day weekend “was packed.”
“You could barely drive down the street,” Smith recalls. “What tends to happen is that we have more sales in the later half of the summer. We get a lot of newcomers who come up 4th of July or Memorial Day and then they really like it a lot and decide to look for something.”
Tucked away in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California, the close-knit community of Lake Arrowhead offers plenty to do for water sport lovers and boating enthusiasts. Homes will sell anywhere from $250,000 for “a small fixer upper” to as much as $15 million, Smith reports. She says lakefronts tend to be in the $2 million to $4 million range, although a number of homes are more than $5 million.
Smith has seen a resurgence of second-home buyers who have settled into areas such as Palm Springs and want to live in Lake Arrowhead in the
“It’s such a great lifestyle. Half the population lives here full-time. It’s a very safe neighborhood, very community-oriented, family-friendly and a great place to bring kids for the summer. It’s a great place for families to come and have family gathering — there are great memories to be made up here,” she says.
According to Smith, residents in the community have been buying up into larger properties as well. “Prices are lower than they have been in years. There’s nothing compared to what California has in general; we’re much more exclusive up here.”
“It was an older home that had been renovated,” explains Gail Arnold of Kennebunk Beach Realty. “But it shows the uniqueness and quaintness of our area is very much alive.”
Arnold reports a lot of activity in the market compared to this time last year, and attributes the strong market to the versatility of the area. The scenery and offerings of both the coastal and inland areas of the Kennebunk Beach region make it ideal for “second-home buyers, retirees, families seeking close-knit communities,” she says.
“We’ve got a diversified range of people and it’s hard to pinpoint anything exact. Maine has a reputation for being more laid-back. It’s a tranquil environment. I think it’s the way of life here,” she adds.
The latest development in Southern Maine is the brand-new Cottages at Seagrass Lane, which was formerly an old motel chain that was completely renovated into luxury oceanfront condos. Some units have sold for as much as $2.3 million, Arnold reports.
“It has been tremendously successful. We’re amazed that a developer took the project on last year and did it so well. It has turned out quite lovely. We started with 11 cottages and only have three left,” she says.
Arnold suggests that a buyer can purchase a home within walking distance to the beach for a little more than $500,000. She reports that many of her customers are long-time renters looking to buy. As she puts it, “People are shopping value, and shopping value hard.”
Palm Beach, Florida
On the pristine beaches of Palm Beach, the resort/vacation property market can perhaps be best summed up by the phrase “mixed messages.”
Dermot O’Brien of Illustrated Properties, who specializes in luxury condos, feels that the market is gaining strength, but “you never know how it’s going to turn out,” he adds.
O’Brien has sold more condos from January to July than he did in all of 2009. It’s surprising to him, given that Palm Beach is not typically popular in the summer months, but with these numbers, O’Brien suggests that the region could be well on its way to becoming “a year-round resort destination, little by little.”
“[Buyers] arrive at Thanksgiving and stay to Easter time. There’s a lot more people coming down into the area for weekends. Say people have bought a condo down here — what they’re doing is staying down in the their winter condo with kids. They’re saving money but still going on a vacation.”
He also attributes the high property taxes in New York and New Jersey to the spike in extended stays in the area. Those who live in Florida for six months and one day are exempt from those taxes, he explains.
“It’s in their interest to make this their homestead, a more annual kind of place,” he says.
Homes are selling anywhere from $450 to $500 per square foot. It rounds out to about $1.5 million for an oceanfront condo, though O’Brien notes “people paid $2 million a few years ago.” Earlier this year, he sold a fully furnished, 4-bedroom unit at The Resort at Singer Island for $1.49 million, down from $1.6 million. However, he also sees prices beginning to creep back up in some cases.
“The buyers seem to sense that we’re within the bottom,” he says. “The only way you know what’s happening is if the units keep selling.”
Welcome to the Carolinas, where variety goes hand-in-hand with resort properties. Whether it’s an oceanfront estate, a home on the Inner Banks or a place in the historic district, there is something for everyone.
Just ask Jan Tomlinson of Charter One North Realty and Marketing of Hilton Head Island, S.C., who has seen a huge rebound in high-end single-family homes on the island.
“We’re selling more this year than we were last year. People are taking advantage of fantastic inventory, fabulous interest rates [and] realistic prices for properties to use as second homes and then retire to. Prices are not increasing, but more people are seeing the value,” she says.
Buyers have paid as much as $2 million or $3 million for an oceanfront home and $1.5 million to $1.8 million elsewhere on the island; on average, it’s about 30 percent less than prices from 4 or 5 years ago, Tomlinson says.
“The prices are realistic. What I am finding is that even the high-end buyers are being conservative in spending right now. In the home market, we have hit the bottom. We’re selling more but the prices are not going up yet,” she says.
She adds that many buyers are surprised that they can afford Hilton Head Island. She recently sold a home to a family from New Jersey who were shocked they could get a property “with a screened lanai, pool and a bike path to a lagoon, in a gated community” for less than $1 million.
While the southern end of the island tends to boast more high-end and resort properties, the entire island offers pristine beaches, biking trails, golfing and wildlife. Plus, it’s a lifestyle that many soon-to-be retirees are after.
“People are looking at this for their future,” Tomlinson says. “Whatever your interest is, it’s such a wonderful lifestyle.”
Further north and a little more inland, North Carolina’s Inner Banks, particularly New Bern, are becoming an increasingly significant region, according to Drake Bratton of Coldwell Banker Willis-Smith. Buyers are moving away from the beaches, though not necessarily the waterfront, which gives the Inner Banks a leg up over the better-known Outer Banks, N.C.
“We’re waterfront, but not the front line,” he explains. “What happens is people have done the beach or something really coastal and now they’re looking for quality. They’re not on the beach anymore. It’s all about new urbanism, creating these neighborhoods that are more than just an escape.”
Bratton describes the buyers in four categories, each having a domino effect on the other: “It starts with the tourism and that’s what keeps our market going. It ultimately brings in the retirement, which brings in the industry. The military is the fourth leg of the stool. It’s
pretty diverse [and] it has kept us very stable.”
Recently, New Bern has become a huge area for industry. Bratton notes that companies such as Bosch and Hatteras Yachts have set up shop in the area, attracted to the idea of being able to mix business with leisure.
“People will come here and see what’s going on. [They] can run their business and play golf, too.”