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Hunting Far and Wide for a Second Home

The vacation home market seems to know no bounds, the pricier the better. Resort developers are happy to create luxury palaces for buyers cashing in on their newfound wealth from the stock market. But where does that leave the middle-class buyer, apart from gazing wistfully at ads for million dollar communities? Actually, it just requires digging a little deeper and looking a little farther abroad to nontraditional locations where the prices haven't shot into the stratosphere, yet.

Today's vacation homebuyer has to search harder for bargains. Fueled by the high-flying economy, the housing market is just responding to higher incomes and higher demand for luxury vacation homes. Costs in traditional vacation areas such as the southeast coast are rising as available property gets snapped up for luxury beachfront communities. So if a $500,000 home in Hilton Head, South Carolina isn't exactly in your ballpark, try looking somewhere else.

Where do you look? Hint: It's a big planet out there. That's right, don't restrict yourself to the United States. Certain trends are favoring the foreign home market. First, the U.S. dollar remains strong, so you can get a lot more for your money in most foreign countries. Plus you have better access to listings than just a few years ago. Just a few minutes of searching the Internet will reveal a taste of what's out there. Newsletters cater to the foreign vacation homebuyer. Second, you might be surprised at how accessible a foreign vacation community might be. A flight to Mexico or Canada might take less time than fighting traffic from other commuters heading for allegedly "convenient" vacation homes.

A cautionary word or two, however, for adventurous types who want to explore the far flung vacation home destinations: research, research, and research. Some places are friendlier to foreign buyers than others. First of all, why are homes cheaper in the first place? These places aren't discovered for a reason. Finding a home and getting a loan isn't exactly the consumer friendly experience of the U.S. The real estate and home finance industry is regulated here but you may not have the same recourse as a consumer if something goes wrong abroad. Be sure to check out laws restricting property ownership by foreigners. And watch out for clouded property titles. Some places don't bother with title searches or recording transactions properly. You don't want to buy a jungle-view hacienda only to discover that three local families have claims to your title.

And there still are some relative bargains left in the U.S. Our expanded sunbelt now includes places like Pahrump, Nevada, where average home prices are $88,000. Or check out Florida's West Central coast, or the Florida Panhandle, where you can still find fairly good bargains-just remember it's still rural in many of these areas.

Sources used to create this article include The Wall Street Journal.

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