Bolstered by stock-market gains, affluent Americans bought more than 1.1 million vacation homes last year, up 57% from 2013 and the most since annual sales of the properties were first surveyed by the National Assn. of Realtors in 2003.
The strong sales of second homes contrasted with a weaker year for purchases of principal residences and a decline in sales to investors.
Vacation home sales represented a record 21% of all home purchases last year, the Realtors group said Wednesday.
California witnessed a contrasting trend, with the percentage of vacation home sales falling to 5% last year from 6% in 2013, according to a tally by the California Assn. of Realtors.
Sky-high housing prices impeded the sales, though the methodologies of the surveys were similar, said Lotus Lou, a spokeswoman for the state group. Indeed, vacation home sales fell throughout the more expensive West and Northeast, the survey showed.
The national lobbying group's survey of about 2,000 home buyers calculated that purchases by investors fell about 7% last year to just over 1 million and purchases by owner-occupants declined 13% to 3.2 million.
Aging baby boomers boosted the sales by buying homes for retirement, often with help from stock investment gains in recent years, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the real-estate association.
"The steady rise in home prices has likely given them reassurance that real estate remains an attractive long-term investment," Yun said.
The Realtor group said the typical vacation-home buyer last year had a median household income of $94,380, up from $85,600 in 2013.
The median vacation home price fell 11.1% to $150,000. Yun attributed the trend in part to higher sales of condos and town homes versus single-family homes.
Buyers also increased their purchases of distressed properties and of homes in the relatively affordable South.