If you’ve been longing for a quiet getaway in Rappahannock County or a beach house in Bethany, now may be the time to buy. Popular vacation communities near Washington are reporting higher inventories and softer prices, making this one of the most buyer-friendly markets in recent memory.
“We went through a period where prices were a lot higher, and people were saying, ‘I wish I had bought five years ago,’ ” says Michael Owen, chair of the National Association of Realtors’ resort-and-second-home committee. “Well, now they can, because we’re looking at prices from 2003, 2004, and maybe even better.”
Buyers are thinking longer-term and choosing vacation homes that will make sense for future generations of their families, says Erika Heet, editor of the Robb Report Collection magazine, which specializes in real estate and home design. “The days of flipping and short investments are, for the time, over,” she says.
While bargains exist, they’re hardest to find in the upper end of the market. Because owners of second homes are typically well off, they’re seldom under pressure to sell quickly.
But prices are likely to rise as baby boomers retire, Owen says, making the current values seem even more attractive in retrospect.
Here’s a look at the market in five popular areas:
Bethany and Rehoboth: Willing to Walk to the Ocean?
At the height of the real-estate frenzy, an oceanside tear-down on the Delaware shore would have cost a million dollars. Now that amount can buy an oceanside house in good condition, says broker Kim Hook of ReMax by the Sea: “They’re still big prices, but they’ve come down. But a lot of buyers comment that they haven’t come down enough.”
That’s what Ira Malis, who works in financial services in Baltimore, thought when he tried to upgrade his Bethany vacation home. Over the summer, he looked at homes in Rehoboth, close to the beach as well as more shops and restaurants, but was surprised to find sellers unwilling to budge. When he made a couple of offers around 10 percent below the asking prices, sellers responded by lowering the price only a little. “There were no desperate sellers,” he says. He decided to stay in Bethany.
Rich Riddle at ResortQuest in Bethany says prices have come down since then, even for oceanfront homes. Buyers will find the best deals in developments farther from the ocean. “If their lifestyle allows them to come off beach, there are bargains everywhere, especially in new construction,” he says, adding that many builders are cutting deals to unload excess inventory.
Recently on the market
$1,250,000: A three-bedroom Fenwick Island cottage just off the beach.
$410,000: In Bethany, a new three-bedroom home half a mile from the beach with a community pool and tennis courts.
Rappahannock County: Prices Have Dropped Here
Buyers in Rappahannock County, near Shenandoah National Park, have benefited from significant price cuts, even on high-end homes. One property recently dropped by $1 million, says Julie Emery at Century 21 New Millennium in Warrenton. “The prices are much more negotiable than usual,” she says, adding that the lower end has taken the biggest hit.
Buyers—including many retirees—come here for hiking, locally grown food, canoeing, and other outdoor activities. Rappahannock has been shielded from development largely because of zoning regulations that limit new construction. The 100-plus properties currently on the market are mostly one of a kind and come with some land.
Recently on the market
$1.1 million: A 1900 Flint Hill house on about five acres that was originally a schoolhouse; it has two bedrooms and room for more.
$550,000: A horse property built in 2006, with a four-bedroom house, five fenced fields, and 11 acres.