Sales of vacation homes surged 30 percent nationally last year, but South Jersey markets dominated by such homes seemed to have missed most of the gains.
A National Association of Realtors survey released Wednesday indicates the vacation home market soared in 2013 as stock market gains gave high-net-worth households the money and confidence to buy these second homes.
U.S. vacation home sales reached an estimated 717,000 last year, with median prices up nearly 13 percent.
“I think what you’re seeing is this widening disparity between more affluent households and those who are not,” said Peter Reinhart, director of the Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University. “You see it with all the luxury brands, such as Tiffany’s. I think it’s another example of that.”
In coastal municipalities from Cape May to Long Beach Island, the second-home market makes up the majority of home ownership everywhere but in Atlantic City. In municipalities such as Avalon and Stone Harbor, more than eight out of 10 homeowners are second homeowners.
Separate data on single-family homes and condos from the New Jersey Association of Realtors showed significant price and sales differences among shore towns in 2013.
In Longport, for instance, total sales fell 12 percent last year, although median sale prices skyrocketed (up 20 percent for single-family homes and 43 percent for condos), according to the state Realtors.
In Margate, the median single-family home price dropped 13 percent last year to $500,000 as sales fell 7 percent.
Margate-based real estate agent Paula Hartman reported a boom in sales for her office in the first quarter this year — nearly 100 sales in a region that includes coastal towns and mainland Atlantic County.
Hurricane Sandy remains on buyers’ minds as they look for homes, she said.
“Everyone knows there was a storm here. They want to check the elevation, they want to make sure,” said Hartman, broker-associate of the Hartman Home Team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Realtors.
“Before they had to be beach block, now a block away is very strong, probably because of the storm and the taxes and flood insurance. A block away, two blocks away is very desirable,” she said.
In Margate, for instance, the prices are driving people to purchase properties that might otherwise have been out of their price range several years ago, she said.
“In Margate, you can get a house now for a price you couldn’t even get the ground for before,” she said.
Last year, sales volume dropped 11 percent in Atlantic County coastal municipalities and 8 percent in Cape May County coastal towns, according to state Realtor data analyzed by The Press.
Median prices differed significantly, even among single-family homes and condos in the same municipality.
In Ocean City, the median single-family home price was $565,000 last year, a 7 percent decline from 2012, according to state data. Condo sales prices were $441,950, about a 1 percent decline.
Allan Dechert, broker of Ferguson Dechert in Avalon and Stone Harbor, said the market slowed down earlier this year from heavy snow and cold weather, but picked up significantly in the final weeks of March.
Sales are nearly on pace with last year’s despite the weather-related slowdown, he said.
In Avalon and Stone Harbor, average sales are in the $1 million to $1.5 million range, he said.
The stock market is a major bellwether in this segment, Dechert said.
The Dow Jones industrial average ended 2013 up nearly 27 percent, its best gain since the mid 1990s.
“It has a lot of do with consumer confidence. What’s interesting too is the way that market goes, if the stock market’s going well, we’re seeing people working on Wall Street coming down here and buying too. That’s a good thing,” he said
The National Association of Realtors released its annual Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey on Wednesday morning. The survey, conducted in March, included information from about 2,200 homes purchased during 2013.
While the survey showed U.S. vacation home sales rose last year, investment properties declined from previously elevated levels, the National Association of Realtors said.
Investment home sales fell about 9 percent last year while the median price rose 13 percent to $130,000.
NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said the drop in this segment was anticipated as prices rose and availability of discounted foreclosure properties declined.
Reinhart said the U.S. decline in investment homes was also not surprising.
“Investors tend to buy when they perceive prices to be low, which they were coming out of the recession, but they’ve moved up in the last 18 months,” he said.
Vacation home purchasers paid cash 38 percent of the time last year, the survey suggested. Investors paid cash 46 percent of the time.
Contact Brian Ianieri: