Paul Purcell is a man who knows what he likes and gets it. Co-founder of Braddock and Purcell, an upscale real estate consultancy in New York, Purcell says he is a huge proponent of second homes, so much so that he has three of them.
Call it an extreme response to the volatility of Wall Street or a longing to reunite scattered families for quality time, but second homes resonate with today's biggest demographic (and the one with the most disposable income)--the baby boomers. Purcell says that since 1999-2000, he's seen about double the number of people buying second homes.
"It does make sense," Purcell says. "It's real instead of a stock. You can enjoy it yourself, you also can rent it, and you can realize an investment return on rental income and the appreciation on the investment. You control it. There's been a move away from things we can't control."
That desire for control has helped fuel a boom in the second-home market. In 2002, nearly 460,000 consumers joined the ranks of second-home owners, according to a national study done by the National Association of Realtors. Today, one in 10 Americans owns more than one house.
The news about second homes is virtually all good. The average age of the second-home buyer is 52, and the number of people who will hit that age between this year and 2017 is staggering. In 2004 alone, the number is nearly four million, and if the demographers are correct, it will peak between 2009 and 2014 at about 4.3 million per year.
"There's a big surge coming," says Richard Gollis, principal in the California-based real estate consulting firm The Concord Group. "We're in for a pretty good run."
That's not to say the run isn't pretty good right now. Buyers are taking advantage of the low interest rates and the equity in their primary residences to buy bigger, more heavily amenitized homes. At Superstition Mountain Arizona, a master planned community near Phoenix, the developer originally marketed 2,500-square-foot homes. The houses they wound up building were closer to 4,500 square feet, with every possible upgrade.
Bigger is better for these buyers, says Superstition Mountain's designated broker, Tom Popa, because they consider their second home their retreat, a place where the family gathers to reconnect. They want lots of space so the whole gang can stay together.
Ray Jackson, the vice president of sales and marketing at Superstition Mountain, says he has seen the age of the second-home buyer drop from the early 60s to the late 40s or early 50s.
"In many cases, they're trying to reconstitute their family," Jackson says. "Sometimes in the pursuit of their careers, they feel they've neglected the kids. They're looking for a place where it's fun. Recreation is a big thing, and not just golf. That's expected. We offer hiking, jeep trips over the mountains, and we just opened a new sports complex. Wellness and fitness are very high on their list. If you don't have that, you're missing that element they're looking for--fun, recreation, places your kids and grandkids will love to come visit."
They also don't want to wait five years for the trees and bushes to fill out.
"People who buy second homes like to live in amenitized communities that are landscaped lushly," says Michael Greenberg, senior vice president of home building and real estate services for WCI Communities, an industry leader in luxury communities in Florida. "The perception is that they're coming to a place that is creating a zen, relaxing moment. They want to feel they're away. It feels special. When a buyer goes into a community where you have to wait for things to grow in, you miss the opportunity of maximizing the relationship."
And while resort destinations with water are still the hands-down favorite locations for second-home buyers, there are ample opportunities for builders in urban areas. Market studies show that recreation is the driving factor in the buying decision, and about three-fourths of the buyers want to be on or near water, whether it be the ocean, a river, or a lake. But across the country, builders are reporting that buyers are snapping up in-town properties that allow them to avoid long commutes between home and the office. Or, they may just want to be able to enjoy the cultural benefits of the city over long weekends.
Nixon Jefferson, president of Atlanta-based Chartwell Development, says he was "totally surprised" by the interest his new in-town luxury condominium has generated from residents who live within an hour's drive of the city.
"At first blush, you would think of it as a place for business people from out of town," Jefferson says. "But as much as not, it's a place to have in the city so they're not driving back and forth to where they live at the country club. It's not what we thought our profile would be, but we're happy about it. It's a stable community."
Nationally recognized new-homes sales consultant Bob Schultz says his research has led him to believe that ease of access to the property is critical to the buying decision. It's helped fuel the growth of second homes a short distance from the buyers' primary residences.
He's seen it in his own travels. The difficulties he faced in visiting friends on Nantucket completely turned him off to the thought of buying on the island.
"We could have gone to Australia in the amount of time it took us to get there," he says.
Most second-home builders agree that the target audience lives within four hours of the site, whether by car or by plane, with the ideal distance being within two and a half hours. Any further and the house is too far away to use for a weekend and loses much of its appeal.
Nancy Haynes, an advertising executive in Charlotte, N.C., who works regularly with builders, says she's seen a significant number of consumers buying second, in-town residences when their primary residences are little more than 10 miles away from downtown.
"As baby boomers, we're all about convenience," Haynes says. "Our parents were about saving. If we have money to do it, we'll do it."
In a home-buying purchase, that translates into a desire for carefree exteriors, lawn maintenance, the security and privacy of a gated community, and lots of high-touch extras. As a result, communities are not only touting their golf, swim, tennis, and water sports, but also their resort-style services. Not only will someone keep an eye on the place while the owner is gone, they'll turn on the air conditioner before he comes in for the weekend, stock the fridge with favorite foods, and put fresh towels in the bathrooms.
"We have an exceptional amenities division," Greenberg says of WCI. "We're really specialists in the lifestyle opportunities we offer our customers."
Bring on the upgrades
As for the houses, it's safe to say that the sky is the limit in terms of upgrades. It's not at all unusual for second-home buyers to spend much more money on this house than on their primary residence, Purcell says. They want to reward themselves for their hard work, he says, and they think they might be living there full time someday.
"They do want something nice enough to live permanently," Purcell says, "and if they don't wind up doing that, the worst that can happen is they make money on the appreciation, sell it, and get something else."
WCI buyers are asking for wine cellars, lavish master suites, elaborate pools with outdoor kitchens, and home theaters. At Superstition Mountain, the houses that have been the hardest to sell are the ones with the least amount of upgrades. The big sellers have granite countertops, huge walk-in closets, and top brand-name windows, cabinets, appliances, and plumbing fixtures. Home offices are standard in Arvida's SouthWood community in Tallahassee, Fla.
Greenberg says WCI pays close attention to kitchen design and focuses on spacious, open floor plans that facilitate graceful entertaining.
If the location and the price point for the target audience dictate smaller units, builders can still offer buyers the opportunity to host large events and overnight guests. Many builders are incorporating guest cottages in their master plans that residents can rent to accommodate their company. Arvida's Summer Camp community in Florida's panhandle also offers its residents "gathering pavilions." They're places to hang out and have parties and reunions, without cramming everyone into the house.
"We've found that in legacies and estate planning, people want a place to gather," says Tim Edmond, president of Arvida Capital Region. "But they don't want to have to build 3,000 square feet to do that. They can relax in a home that is well appointed, with sleeping porches, without having to overbuild their main structure."
If there's one place not to cut corners in a second-home community, it's the exterior merchandising and the marketing. One of the distinctions of successful second-home communities, Gollis says, is that they look and feel like the surrounding area and they don't resemble the communities the buyers come from. What that typically means is a bigger marketing budget to go into the feeder markets and do serious research.
Why spend the extra money when the market is booming and everyone seems ready to buy?
The answer is simple: Nobody needs a second house.
"The thing that's really important to recognize for a builder," Gollis says, "is this is a totally discretionary purchase. You have to be clicking on all cylinders."
Pat Curry is a freelance writer based in Watkinsville, Ga.
After the Grand Canyon, the Superstition Mountains are the most visited site in Arizona. With its legends of lost gold and millions of acres of federally protected wilderness, the area holds a unique appeal for people who truly want to get away from it all. Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club is set in the foothills at an elevation of about 2,000 feet.
Second-home buyers at Superstition Mountain come from 38 states and all walks of life, says designated broker Tom Popa. Most of the buyers come from relatively small towns and rural areas and want the same sense of community in their second home.
With its parent company, The Lyle Anderson Cos., well known for its golf, Superstition Mountain's two championship courses are no exception. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and his sons, the community has hosted two major tournaments. No more than 780 golf memberships will be made available, enough for everyone at the community who wants to buy one but not so many that the courses are overrun.
But golf isn't enough to sell the community, Popa says. That's expected. The community just opened a sports complex and offers hiking treks and jeep tours into the mountains, as well as themed events, such as a Tuscan-style street market with pasta stations, wine tasting, and a gelateria.
The average second-home owner in the community lives there two to eight months out of the year. The community highlights its quality of life, says Ray Jackson, vice president of sales and marketing.
"Couples tell us they have more friends in their second-home community than at their primary home community," he says. "They work at home; here, they're swimming, golfing, going to member mixes on Tuesday night. They want to be here more because they're missing their friends."
Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club
Location: 35 miles due east of downtown Phoenix
Developer: The Lyle Anderson Co., Scottsdale, Ariz.
Number of units: 800
Price range: $150,000 to $1.1 million
Opened for sale: spring of 1998
Sales through June 2003: approximately 400
At first blush, Tallahassee, Fla., might not seem a likely choice for second-home buyers. It's not on the beach, a lake, or a river. It's not in the mountains. The airport service is mediocre at best, and lots of people speed right past it on the interstate on their way to the famous beaches of the Florida panhandle.
To overcome that challenge, SouthWood developer Arvida Corp. has made two key alliances. One is with the regional lifestyle magazine Southern Living. "Their readership is our type of buyer, people interested in horticulture, food, wine, and travel," says Tim Edmond, president of Arvida Capitol Region. "Our markets overlap precisely. The next four Southern Living Idea Homes will be in Arvida communities, including SouthWood. That gives us access to 14 million people a month."
The other deep source of prospects: alumni of Florida State University, who spent their formative college years in Tallahassee and come back for football games and other events.
To maximize those marketing opportunities, Arvida does intensive research into its target audience, Edmond says. "I don't know if there's a company in the country that does as much demographic and psychographic study as we do," he says. "We have spent an awful lot of time focusing on these second-home, un-retired, pre-retired people who will work forever. We've focused on them. They travel extensively, they have extended families, and they want to locate in places close to culture."
One surprise from all the research was the extent to which their second-home buyers use the Internet, says Marsha Shalley, marketing manager for Arvida Capitol Region. With an average age of 67, the company's first guess was that between 16 percent and 32 percent would be Internet users. The survey said it was more like 62 percent. So Arvida has paid a great deal of attention to make its Web site and community intranet compelling and interactive.
"We get a lot of hits and exposure," Shalley says. "It's another way to put us on the map."
Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
Developer: Arvida Corp.
Number of units: 4,700
Price range: $160,000 to $280,000
Opened for sale: 2001
Sales through June 2003: 523
These are the home buyers who have it all--and now they want it all in more than one place. They have very large homes in country club communities in the Chicago suburbs, but enjoy the shopping, dining, and cultural activities of the city. They don't skimp on the niceties at home, and they don't expect their second home to be anything less.
"They are very particular about finishes," says Tamara Laber, senior vice president of MCL Cos., developer and builder of RiverView Phase II, a luxury condominium on the Chicago riverfront. "They do a lot of entertaining, and they're not willing to give up on what they're accustomed to."
The tower is part of a 13-acre master planned community called RiverEast. Bounded by the Chicago River, Grand Avenue, Columbus Drive, and Lake Shore Drive, RiverEast is one of the largest mixed-use urban developments in the country, and has been nicknamed Chicago's Platinum Coast.
MCL has paid particular attention to the common areas of the building, designing a "very simple but elegant" lobby, a state-of-the-art fitness center with an indoor pool, sauna, and whirlpool, an all-purpose meeting room, and, on the roof, an outdoor entertaining terrace that homeowners can reserve for private parties.
Advertising for the project has targeted the affluent northern suburbs of Chicago, with placements in newspapers, lifestyle magazines, social publications, and theater playbills. One of the ads highlights the project's appeal to second-home buyers, with copy that says "Four days a week I live in Barrington on the golf course, the other three I'm walking along Lake Shore Drive in the city."
MCL also "courts our real estate brokerage community very highly," Laber says. "These buyers want people to do research for them. We visit the real estate community once a week and keep them apprised of the units that are available."
With the building still under construction, MCL has engaged buyers with events such as cocktail parties to keep them up to date on the progress. While they're excited about moving in, they're being patient with the construction process, Laber says.
"It doesn't matter," she says. "It's not like they don't have a home to live in."
RiverView Phase II
Developer/Builder: MCL Cos.
Number of units: 148 luxury condominiums and townhouses
Price range: $1 million and up
Opened for sale: 2002
Sales through June 2003: 96
* The vast majority of second-home buyers--85 percent--are married couples.
* Eighty-four percent of second-home buyers do not have children under the age of 18.
* The average age of the buyer is 52.
* In 2010, nearly 10 million Americans are projected to own two or more homes.
* Between now and 2010, projections indicate Americans will purchase nearly 1,000 second homes per day.
* Between 2001 and 2002, second-home sales jumped nearly 22 percent.
* The median price of a second home sold in 2002 was $150,000. Eighteen percent of second homes are valued at $300,000 or more.
* The No. 1 reason for buying a second home is recreation. Fifty-seven percent of buyers surveyed said the house is for vacations, 18 percent said they plan to retire there, 16 percent are diversifying their investments, and 15 percent want income from renting it out.
* The median distance between the owners' primary residence and their second home is 185 miles. However, a fourth of owners travel more than 1,000 miles to their second home.
* Only about half of second-home buyers obtain a mortgage for the purchase.
* The preferred recreational activities of second-home buyers are: beach, lake, or water sports (69 percent), boating (44 percent), hunting or fishing (36 percent), golf (21 percent), winter recreation, such as skiing (21 percent), biking/hiking/horseback riding (16 percent), tennis (4 percent) and the ever-popular "other" (12 percent).
* People want their second home to be near the recreational activity they enjoy. Seventy-six percent want to be near an ocean, river, or lake; 38 percent want to be near the mountains or other natural attraction. Thirty-seven percent want to be in a specific vacation area, such as Florida.
Sources: National Association of Realtors, The Concord Group, WCI Communities
Second-home buyers don't need to make a decision in any certain time frame. They aren't starting a new job, their lease isn't coming up for renewal, and they aren't trying to get settled before the kids start school.
"It's a totally emotional buy," says Tom Popa, designated broker for Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club Arizona, near Phoenix. "It makes no sense to buy a house, use it for six months, and let it sit vacant."
The issue for builders is how to convince prospects that now is a better time to buy than later.
"We spend hours every week trying to realize the reasons to buy," Popa says. "Boomers are collecting experiences, and the experience has to be the right fit."
Customers need to be involved both emotion-ally and rationally in the buying decision, says new-home sales expert Bob Schultz. The best way to do that, he says, is with a discussion of the investment value.
For example, he says, a $200,000 second home may only require a $20,000 down payment.
"In all likelihood, that real estate will appreciate at a rate of 3 percent to 5 percent a year," he says. "Three percent in one year is $6,000. As a percentage of $20,000, that's a 30 percent return on equity. You can borrow the money and deduct it on your taxes, if it's a true second home. You can't do that with any other investment. When you sell it, if you've occupied it two out of three years, you pay no tax on the gain up to $500,000. It makes a phenomenal investment."
Schultz says that many salespeople overlook the importance of presenting the community's ease of maintenance to the prospect. It's a valuable discussion, since so many second-home buyers want the ability to "lock it and leave it."
"Maintenance is a huge benefit that salespeople hardly ever talk about. If you have it, that's an important benefit for a builder."
As with all new communities, lot availability can make a big difference in getting prospects to make a decision. The best views go first. If the region has a distinct recreational season, the discussion can include buying soon enough to enjoy the entire season.
If your community has a country club with a limited number of memberships, that can be a strong sales tool, Popa says. Superstition Mountain has capped its number of golf memberships. They also use financing incentives, including incremental increases in the cost of a golf membership.
You should anticipate, however, that second-home buyers will take their time and make the decision when it makes the most sense to them.
Mike Greenberg, vice president of home building at WCI Communities, says second-home buyers do their homework, have a deep relationship with a real estate agent, and know what the location offers. As a result, they create their own urgency for the purchase.
"It comes from wanting to reward themselves for sacrifices they've made," Greenberg says. "Whether they have young children or they are in their 40s and 50s, we find people are very pre-disposed. What decides when to do it is finding the community that meets their lifestyle needs and their economic position."
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ.