Vacation home sales rose 10 percent nationwide last year from 2011, and local Realtors said that upward trend is continuing so far this year despite the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

At least along the barrier islands from Long Beach Island down to the Wildwoods, agents confirmed that second home sales in 2012 saw significant improvement from 2011, and sales were relatively strong in the first few months of 2013.

“We are at the early stages of what I would say is a very strong recovery,” said Jack Binder, broker and owner of the Jack Binder Group in Avalon.

According to the 2013 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey by the National Association of Realtors, vacation home sales increased to 553,000 from 502,000 in 2011. By comparison, owner-occupied purchases increased 17 percent, to 3.3 million from 2.8 million.

Meanwhile, investment property sales declined by about 2 percent from 2011 to 2012. Vacation homes accounted for 11 percent of all transactions last year, while investment sales made up 24 percent.

The association’s report attributes the changes to a stock-market recovery and home prices that remain discounted. Interest rates also remain low.

Binder said those national figures mean little for the local markets. He compared it to looking at the national average temperature to get an idea of what the weather is like here.

In fact, he said, the weather actually can be a driving force in sales, whether spurring or dissuading people from looking at vacation homes by the shore.

“The weather can drive our market remarkably, both on the sale and rental side of it,” he said.

Huge percentages of the residential properties in New Jersey’s coastal communities are secondary homes. In some places, such as Avalon, Sea Isle City and Stone Harbor, more than 85 percent of residential properties are second homes.

From Long Beach Island south to Cape May Point, Atlantic City is the only coastal municipality where more than half of residential properties are owner-occupied, according to an analysis of tax records by The Press of Atlantic City.

Hurricane Sandy’s lingering impacts in terms of both physical damage in shore towns and mental impressions it left for out-of-towners would seem to be an obvious drag on the market, but agents said that has varied by community just as the storm’s effects did.

“We were impacted very differently than the areas above us,” said Donn O’Brien, sales agent with Ager Realty in the Brant Beach section of Long Beach Township.

O’Brien said the main problems facing home sales at this point are concerns about future flood insurance rates and raising homes to comply with building codes. Jamie Sofroney, broker and co-owner of the Landis Co. Realtors in Sea Isle City, said the same thing.

 Sofroney said sales were surprisingly brisk in the beginning of the year but slowed down recently.

“I think you could attribute that to people just not knowing what’s going to happen to flood rates,” he said.

Sofroney said that while the number of sales has steadily increased in the last couple years, sale prices have been down in his area.

Still, he said, he expects those figures to climb throughout the season.

“I really think we’re going to have a good summer and great fall,” he said.

Other findings in the Realtor Association survey were that the typical vacation home buyer was 47 years old, had a median household income of $92,100 and purchased a property that was a median distance of 435 miles from their primary home.

Buyers also listed many reasons for buying a vacation home, with 80 percent saying they want to use the property for vacations or as a family retreat, 27 percent planning to use it as a primary residence in the future, and 23 percent planning to rent to others.

Contact Lee Procida:

609-463-6712

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