More choosing to get away from it all

Just how far will you venture to find a terrific getaway in the sun?

The strong domestic magnet that pulled Americans closer to hearth and home after Sept. 11, 2001, began to lose its strength about three years later, as evidenced in the report from Pulte Homes that showed a greater percentage of homebuyers over age 50 who were considering a move were “seeking distance” rather than buying a home within three hours of their present residence.

While the grandparent factor was still an enormous incentive for senior boomers to keep at least some geographic tie to the traditional family home, the results of a national survey demonstrated that U.S. citizens had begun to shed some of their safety concerns.

“I was absolutely stunned by it. It caught us all by surprise,” said Sheryl Palmer, one of the key officials in Pulte’s Active Adult Communities for Pulte Homes and Del Webb. “People are looking at the next step in their lives as ‘a time for me.’ They are planning to slow down and do what they want, where they want. There’s more volunteering … a move to things they’ve always seen themselves doing but were too busy to do. I think the distance piece is probably a part of that.”

Retirees, or those seeking to retire in the near future, are also looking for a quieter environment where the hassles of congested areas are absent. In more popular areas, such as Florida and Arizona, gated communities are growing. These afford the advantages of community while screening out the dangers that are always present in city life.

More power was added to the distance factor this week when Kirkland-based released a new survey indicating that nearly one-third of those considering a second-home purchase don’t consider its proximity to their home a major factor. In fact, they would be very willing to jump on an airplane to reach it.

The HomePages survey of more than 1,300 adult consumers found that 21 percent say they are considering purchasing a second home within a year, while another 42 percent said they will consider buying within the next two to six years.

“Vacation and investment homes remain a strong and prominent part of the real estate market, both as a means of providing an escape and providing supplemental short-term and long-term income,” said Ian Morris, chief executive officer of HouseValues, the parent company of HomePages.

One quarter of respondents to the HomePages survey said they are considering a second home for investment purposes, while 22 percent said they wanted one for “enjoyment” such as weekend getaways, vacations and family use. Among those who do consider geography an important factor, 36 percent listed proximity to water as key, followed by mountains (17 percent), golf courses (5 percent) and the desert (2 percent).

Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows there are 6.8 million vacation homes in the United States and 37.4 million investment units in addition to 74.6 million owner-occupied units.

Distance was not a common answer when participants were asked what factor would most likely cause them not to buy a second home. Leading the list of negatives was rising home prices (32 percent), followed by rising mortgage rates (18 percent) and job insecurity (12 percent).

A comprehensive report released by the National Association of Realtors in May differentiates between vacation-home buyers and investment buyers. The distance factor was included in the vacation category, which showed 34 percent of all vacation homes purchased in 2005 were 500 miles or more from the owner’s primary residence.

According to the Realtors association, 27.7 percent of all homes purchased in 2005 were for investment and another 12.2 percent were vacation homes. There was a total of 3.34 million second-home sales in 2005, up 16 percent from 2.88 million in 2004. The market share of second homes rose from 36 percent of transactions in 2004 to 39.9 percent in 2005.

“Vacation-home sales will remain strong for the foreseeable future,” said David Lereah, the association’s chief economist. “Baby boomers are favorably positioned in terms of affordability, as well as being at the stage in life when people are most interested in making that kind of a lifestyle purchase Discretionary purchases of that nature are more likely in a healthy economy, and that is looking positive as well.”

And so is the chance potential buyers will look further when buying.

Tom Kelly’s new book “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Houston-based Stewart International. The book is available in retail stores, on and on

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