This Could Be Last Chance for Second Home

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Snowbirds looking for leisurely living in sunnier climates are providing a bright spot for the battered housing market.

Each March, the National Association of Realtors assesses the previous year's trends regarding vacation- and investment-home sales. In 2010, those purchases held steady from a year earlier: 10% and 17%, respectively, of transactions.

NAR's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data show there are 7.9 million vacation homes and 41.6 million investment units in the U.S., compared with 74.8 million owner-occupied homes.

The news may be getting better for those looking to sell or broker second homes. With millions of baby boomers preparing to retire, real estate professionals are optimistic vacation and rental properties will be in even greater demand for the next several years.

NAR also sees good news in that 40.7 million people in the U.S. are between the ages of 50-59 -- a group that dominated sales in the first part of the past decade and established records for second-home sales. An additional 43.8 million people are in the primary buying demographic of 40-49 years old, while another 40.4 million are 30-39.

"Even if purchases are delayed due to economic circumstances, the underlying long-term demand -- the desire for purchasing second homes -- remains because people in their 30s and 40s will reach the prime age for buying and will drive the second-home market in coming decades as conditions permit," NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun says.

According to NAR, the typical vacation-home buyer in 2010 was 49 years old and had a median household income of $99,500; investment-home buyers had a median age of 45 and earned an average $87,600. All-cash purchases have become prevalent in the second-home market in recent years: 59% of investment buyers paid cash in 2010, as did 36% of vacation-home buyers.

"An interesting trend is showing that people are planning to eventually occupy their vacation homes," says Jennifer DuBois, director of "Thirty-four percent say they plan to use the property as a primary home in the future. So it's almost like you are buying their retirement home now."