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Peak Attraction

Second Homes at Ski Resorts Provide Opportunity for Fun, Investment

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page F01


Humberto Vazquez of Reston bought two properties at the Wintergreen Resort in Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains recently -- a two-bedroom condominium near the ski slopes and a plot of land where he plans to build a house.

He bought them so he, his wife and his two young boys could whoosh down the slopes in the winter, splash in the pools in the summer and play golf and tennis in the spring and fall on weekends away from Washington.

Hans Wachtmeister takes to the slopes near condominiums at Wintergreen Resort, less than a three-hour drive from the Capital Beltway. (Photos Stephanie Gross For The Washington Post)

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He also bought them with an eye toward making money.

"We mainly did it because we really like the place," said Vazquez, 46, an architect. "But they're really good investments as well. Properties there are appreciating very fast."

More and more Washingtonians feel the same. Most buyers at Wintergreen, less than a three-hour drive from the Capital Beltway, come from the metropolitan area, according to figures from Wintergreen Real Estate Co., the largest brokerage at the resort. Washington area residents are buying more there every year, the figures show.

And the boom in second-home buying, whether for investment or recreation, doesn't stop at the top of the ski-lift at Wintergreen. Second-home buying is exploding across the United States.

"It's unprecedented," said David Lereah, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. "We've never had the largest generation ever in this country in their peak earning years purchasing second homes at the pace they're doing now. The real estate boom has touched second homes in a very, very big way."

Baby boomers at the top of their earning power are the primary buyers of second homes, economists say. The typical second-home owner is 55 to 64 year old, according to research by the National Association of Home Builders. "As age rises, so does the chances of having a second home," said Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research at the builders' group. "After 65, it slows down."

But younger boomers are buying too, according to the National Association of Realtors. In a 2002 study, the association put the median age of second-home buyers at 47 with a median income of $86,000.

Besides the powerful demographics at play, second-home buyers also have more access to money than they used to, largely because their primary homes have escalated sharply in value.

"The run-up in house prices have given people a lot of money to play with," said John Tuccillo, author of the recent book, "How A Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment," and former chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. "Homeowners have seen huge capital gains in places like Washington, D.C. And they've taken that gain and bought second homes in places like the Charlottesville area and the Outer Banks of North Carolina."

Vazquez, for example, funded the purchase of his $150,000 condominium and his $130,000 plot of land, which is just short of an acre, with money from the sale of a townhouse he had owned in Reston since 1991. Its value had appreciated handsomely.

Low interest rates over the past few years have also played a part in the boom. Additionally, weak stock and bond markets have pushed investors toward real estate.

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