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Vacation Home Counties

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The National Association of Realtors (NAR) research group recently completed a study involving market activity in vacation home counties. NAR defines a “Vacation Home County” as one where at least 20% of the housing stock in that market has seasonal, occasional, or recreational use.

Antrim, Benzie, Kalkasa and Leelanau counties all qualify as vacation home counties, with Grand Traverse and Wexford falling just shy of the mark. In the past, Grand Traverse would have been included, but recent growth of the greater Traverse City area has increased its proportion of full-time residents.

What’s the significance? While most real estate markets have been hot this past year, the vacation county markets have had higher sales and appreciation rates than non-vacation counties because of the pandemic. Existing home sales rose 11.2% nationally last year and sales in the vacation home counties were up 24.2%. While growth in appreciation rates wasn’t as significant, values in vacation home counties were up 14.2%, compared to non-vacation at 10.1%.

Michigan exceeded national averages. Through the first half of 2021, NW Michigan 5-County waterfront sales were up 44%, average sale price was up 56%, and closed volume was up 124%. While much of the 56% increase in average sale price was caused by a run on high-end waterfront properties, average price per square foot of homes that sold for more than $900k was up 33%.

Thirty-eight of Michigan’s counties meet the definition of vacation home counties. They are concentrated in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, typically around bodies of water. This is one of the reasons the single-family home data in our Northwest Michigan Housing Report is broken down by waterfront and non-waterfront. Michigan is known as the “great lakes state”—we have 12,000 of them. Over the past year, finding a vacation home on lakes in Northern Michigan has been more competitive than ever.

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