Cape May County resorts top in vacation stays, vacation homes

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Ocean City file photo by Bill Barlow / Ocean City recently topped a national list of spots for vacation homes, with North Wildwood coming in as number two.

In a number of recently released lists ranking the nation’s vacation destinations and vacation home markets, Cape May County seashore towns have won the top spots.

OceanCity and North Wildwood have been named the No. 1 and 2, respectively, most searched locations for vacation home sales by the real estate website Trulia for the period between April 2012 and March 2013. Parents Magazine, in its June issue, ranks Cape May No. 5 on its list of family-friendly beach towns, the best showing by a New Jersey resort. And FlipKey, the vacation rental sector of the website Trip Advisor with properties in more than 7,000 locations worldwide, last week named Cape May to its list of top East Coast beaches.

Diane Wieland, for one, is not surprised. The director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism, Wieland is particularly pleased that local efforts to spread the good word about the state’s southernmost county have been so enthusiastically received.

“Cape May County resorts have been listed among the top destinations with well-known and respected publications and media outlets for many years,” she said, mentioning Frommer’s, Budget Traveler and National Geographic Traveler as examples. “They have designated our resorts as top choice awards in the past and these recognitions have become a source of pride for the entire county.

“Travelers like to go to ‘it’ places and these designations go a long way in bringing attention to Cape May County,” she said.

Appeal of OC and Cape May

Bill Godfrey, a sales associate for 11 years at Marr Agency in Ocean City, is another one who isn’t surprised at all the accolades the county is receiving.

“We’ve thought it for a long time,” he said of the attractiveness of living in Ocean City. “It’s not news to us. It’s news to everybody else.”

Ocean City’s strongest point, he said, is its consistency. “You know what you’re getting,” he said. “Clean beaches with fine sand. Family friendly. We may not have the high-end restaurants of other towns, but you know when you go to Uncle Bill’s, you’re going to get a good breakfast.”

Gail Wilsey Morrison, who opened Wilsey Realty in Cape May in 2005, said she sold three $1 million to $1.5 million beach-block houses on the same street last year that the new owners converted into rental properties, a testament to the Victorian town’s draw. Her rental income is up 4 percent this year over last year at the same period, she said, proof that Sandy hasn’t kept visitors away.

Across the country, sales of vacation homes were up 10 percent last year, accounting for 11 percent of all home sales, the National Association of Realtors said. Cape May County’s 2010 survey of second homeowners showed that, on average, a vacationer to the area will visit from seven to 10 years before buying a vacation home here. The vast majority (88 percent) cited the beaches as a reason for buying, and 67 percent named quality of life as a reason to purchase a vacation home in the county.

Ocean City, which has the greatest number of vacation homes in the county with 13,000, attracts 60 percent of its second homeowners from Pennsylvania and 30 percent from elsewhere in New Jersey, Wieland said.

Sandy’s effect minimal

Trulia said searches to the top two spots, Ocean City and North Wildwood, declined after the towns were hit by Sandy in October 2012, but rebounded quickly. A vacation area was defined as having 25 percent or more of its housing stock used seasonally, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. Cape May County’s shore towns, on average, are the reverse of that, with about 25 percent of its housing stock occupied year-round, and three out of every four houses used as vacation homes.

The Cape May County shore towns of Avalon, Stone Harbor and Ocean City are the reverse of that, with about 25 percent of their housing stock occupied year-round, and three out of every four houses used as vacation homes. In the county’s 16 municipalities, 47 percent of all dwellings are considered vacation homes, Wieland said. According to the 2010 New Jersey Economic Impact Report, the county’s 48,335 vacation properties, which represent 50 percent of the housing stock, lead the state in number of vacation homes. Ocean County is second with 41,564 units and Atlantic County is third with 16,103 units.

Sandy, Godfrey said, is creating opportunity for home ownership in the town with the highest median purchase price -- $525,000 – among Trulia’s Top 10 most-searched locations for vacation homes.

“People are looking for deals right now,” he said. “If they can get a home hit by the hurricane for $250,000 to $300,000, that’s something that hasn’t been able to be achieved here in the last few years. People are searching for opportunity. They all want their own piece of Ocean City.”

In North Wildwood, the median price of a home is $289,000, marking the first time since 2007 that home prices have increased.

Sandy also has created opportunity in the other Ocean City. According to Trulia, interest in the Maryland resort town, listed at No. 4, has risen among residents of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey as potential buyers have expressed wariness at purchasing farther north on the East Coast.

Good news for county

A population of 30 million people within a 300-mile driving radius makes Cape May County an easy drive for getaways and extended stays, Wieland said, adding that in 2012, the county became the second most visited destination in New Jersey behind Atlantic City. The 12.4 million visitors to Cape May County generated a record $5.2 billion in direct tourism sales and $1.8 billion in rental income last year, she said.

“The greatest appeal for our area is the beaches along with the diversity of attractions with a quality of life not found in many other destinations,” she said. “While individual towns are selected, being a top destination is good for all of Cape May County since the true vacation experience includes attractions and events from Ocean City to Cape May.

“When I see these designations, it makes me smile,” she said.

Trulia’s Top 10

  1. Ocean City, NJ; $525,000
  2. North Wildwood, NJ; $289,000
  3. Kissimmee, Fla.; $298,800
  4. Ocean City, Md; $275,000
  5. Marco Island, Fla.; $499,000
  6. Big Bear, Calif.; $335,000
  7. Lake Arrowhead, Calif.; $399,000
  8. Panama City Beach, Tenn.; $294,245
  9. Gatlinburg, Tenn.; $179,00
  10. Cherry Grove Beach, S.C.; $219,900

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