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Vacation Home Sales Sinking

Prospective second-home buyers deterred by high costs, slowing short-term rental market

Dana Anderson
Dana Anderson
Vacation Home Sales Sinking

The number of people locking in mortgages for second homes dropped to its lowest level since 2016 in February and remained nearly as low in March. Prospective second-home buyers are deterred by high costs, a slowing short-term rental market, and the declining prevalence of remote work.

Mortgage-rate locks for second homes were down 52% from pre-pandemic levels on a seasonally adjusted basis in March, compared with a 13% decline for primary homes. Second-home rate locks fell to their lowest level since 2016 in February and remained nearly as low in March.

That’s according to a Redfin analysis of Optimal Blue data. A mortgage rate lock is an agreement between a homebuyer and a lender that allows the homebuyer to lock in an interest rate on a mortgage for a certain period of time, offering protection against future interest-rate hikes. Homebuyers must specify whether they are applying to secure a mortgage rate for a primary home, a second home, or an investment property.

This analysis does not include cash purchases. We define “pre-pandemic levels” as January and February of 2020. We use early 2020 as a comparison point because it provides a baseline for mortgage demand before homebuyer activity fluctuated wildly during the pandemic.

Second-home demand is also down from a year ago and from January 2022, just before mortgage rates started rising from record lows. Mortgage-rate locks for second homes were down 49% year over year in March and down 71% from January 2022. Mortgage-rate locks for primary homes have dropped 29% year over year and 35% since January 2022.

The drop in second-home demand follows a meteoric rise during the pandemic homebuying boom. Mortgage-rate locks for second homes reached a peak of 89% above pre-pandemic levels in August 2020. At that time, many affluent Americans bought homes in vacation destinations, encouraged by low mortgage rates, remote work, and limitations on traveling from place to place.

A scarcity of new listings, elevated mortgage rates, still-high home prices, and persistent inflation, among other economic woes, are holding back demand for both primary and second homes.

“With housing payments near their all-time high; a lot of people can’t afford to buy one home right now, let alone a second,” said Redfin Deputy Chief Economist Taylor Marr. “Add the recent increase in loan fees, inflation, shaky financial markets, the end of pandemic-related financial stimulus, and many companies calling workers back to the office, and it’s simply a challenging time for most Americans to buy a vacation home.”

Florida 2nd Home Mortgage-Rate Locks

But there are still some second-home buyers out there, especially in popular vacation destinations. Redfin agent Van Welborn said some buyers are looking for vacation condos, especially in desirable neighborhoods.

“It’s mostly affluent cash buyers who don’t have to worry about high rates,” Welborn said. “They’re motivated to buy now because they think they can get a vacation home for under asking price — and in some cases, they’re right. There are fewer buyers looking to buy properties to be used as short-term rentals, though, as they’re finding that the market is saturated.”

“Despite a national cooling in residential real estate, we’re finding that the luxury real estate market is still in a league of its own,” Pacaso CEO and Co-Founder Austin Allison told Florida Originator Magazine previously. “High-net-worth buyers are not as reliant on financing, so they might be less deterred by rising rates, and we hear a lot from our buyers that they don’t want to wait for perfect market conditions — they are ready to enjoy the benefits of a second home now.”

    Taylor Marr, Deputy Chief Economist, Redfin

    A variety of factors are causing the outsized drop in second-home demand:

    • Many potential second-home buyers are priced out because it’s frequently more expensive to buy a vacation home than a primary home. The typical second home was worth $465,000 in 2022, versus $375,000 for a primary home. Additionally, the federal government increased loan fees for second homes in April 2022.
    • Vacation-home buyers are quicker to pull back from the market than primary-home buyers because second homes aren’t a necessity.
    • Workers are returning to the office. Second homes are less attractive when there’s less time to spend in them. While working from home is more common than it was before the pandemic, the share of job openings that allow remote work has shrunk since early 2022.
    • Buying a vacation home to rent it out is nowhere near as attractive as it was during the pandemic homebuying and investing boom. Owners of short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb are reporting a steep decline in business. That’s because many people became vacation-rental hosts during the pandemic, which led to oversupply. Many local governments are also instituting new short-term-rental regulations, like new taxes and stricter permitting. The long-term rental market is also cooling.
    • Bank accounts are shrinking as stock markets decline, so would-be buyers have less cash on hand for down payments and monthly payments.
    • Many people with the means and desire to buy a second home have already done so, during the pandemic homebuying boom of 2020 and 2021. 
    This article was originally published in the Florida Originator August 2023 issue.
    Dana Anderson
    Dana Anderson,
    Data Journalist

    As a data journalist at Redfin, a full-service real estate brokerage, Dana Anderson writes about the numbers behind real estate trends.

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