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Suddenly, We're Shopping for Vacation Homes Again

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The vacation-home market, like the rest of residential real estate, rises and falls with the economy, interest rates and employment levels. But in one respect it's very different: People don't need vacation homes like they need primary homes, so when conditions get bad vacation homes are often the first part of the housing market to suffer.

And when the vacation-home market starts to perk up, it suggests housing really is on a comeback, because people don't buy beach, mountain or lake places unless they feel pretty confident

Well, vacation home sales are picking up. A survey by the National Association of Realtors found that sales rose 10.1% last year, compared with a 2.1% decline in investment-home sales and a 17.4% increase in sales of primary homes. (Vacation homes are bought primarily for the owner's use, while investment homes are used mainly as rentals.) For the year there were 553,000 vacation-home sales, 1.21 million investment-home sales and 3.27 million sales of primary residences.

The median price for vacation homes was $150,000, up from $121,300 in 2011, mainly due to increased sales of more expensive properties, the NAR said.

"We had a strong stock market recovery, which helps more people in the prime ages for buying vacation homes," NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said. "Attractively priced recreational property is also a big draw."

A partner in the survey, HomeAway (AWAY), operator of online rental sites such as Vacation Rentals By Owner, noted that 38% of vacation homebuyers said they were motivated primarily by low prices. Another 28% cited the desire for a family retreat.

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