Combining work and pleasure, buyers snapped up vacation homes in a big way during pandemic

Housing markets across the country heated up during the COVID-19 pandemic, but demand for vacation homes, including in Colorado, sizzled, according to a new study from the National Association of Realtors.

For the purposes of the study, NAR defined a vacation-home county as one where seasonally vacant and recreational-use housing accounted for at least a fifth of the housing stock. Of the 1,250 counties in the U.S., 145 met the definition of a vacation-home county, and in Colorado 19 out of 64 counties met the definition.

Home sales in vacation-home counties last year rose 16.4%, outpacing a 5.6% gain for all home sales, according to NAR. In the Mountain West, which includes Colorado, sales rose 18.8% in vacation home counties versus 11.5% for non-vacation home counties. Median home prices also increased twice as fast in resort areas, 20% vs. 10.1%

Year-over-year through April, vacation-home sales are up 57.2%, compared to a 20% rise in existing-home sales overall. Colorado’s mountain counties are among those feeling the crush. Nationally, vacation home sales were 5% of all home sales in 2019, and their share rose to 5.5% in 2020. Through the first four months of 2021, they accounted for 6.7% of all home sales.

“As we enter the month of June, buyers and their agents are hopeful for more inventory — reminiscent of thoughts we have about snow — when it is going to come and how much we are going to get?” said Steamboat Springs-area Realtor Marci Valicenti, in separate comments provided by the Colorado Association of Realtors.

Before the pandemic, workers in vacation home counties worked from home at an above-average rate. And when employers opened the door wide to remote work last year, more people headed to their favorite vacation spots.

Valicenti said it comes down to basic supply and demand, and supply is struggling to keep up. Although new construction normally provides relief by boosting supply, most homes built in resort towns are custom-made.

“It will be interesting to see how many buyers who purchased land in the last nine months are going to be patient enough to wait for an available contractor or decide it is too expensive to build,” she said.

The NAR ranked vacation-home counties based on how active or hot their housing markets were last year. Lee County in Florida, which counts 90,792 vacation homes and had a median sales price of $247,000, was the top county.

Colorado’s highest-ranked county on the list was Routt at 38th, followed by Huerfano at 43rd and Park at 69th. Huerfano and Park counties may not be the state’s most well-known vacation destinations, but their relative popularity during the pandemic reflects a larger trend of buyers seeking out more affordable options when it came to second homes.

Although Colorado counties weren’t among the hottest in terms of activity, several rank highly for the share of homes that are seasonal. They include Mineral County, where 67.1% of homes are not used full-time; Hinsdale County at 64.1%; Summit County at 63.7%; and Grand County at 54.7%.

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