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With more than 320 miles of coastline, dozens of lakes and the breathtaking peaks of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina is a natural masterpiece and might be one of the best states to invest in a second home especially for those area residents looking to get away. In fact, a recent survey of the top 10 places to buy a waterfront home uncovered two popular North Carolina destinations – Corolla, which ranked second, and Hatteras Island, at number seven. Travel to North Carolina vacation destinations such as these are hitting calendars as summer kicks into full gear.  Whether you are interested in laying on the beach all day or hiking up mountains or something else entirely, there is no shortage of options across the region whether that be to a vacation rental or second home.

Since the onset of the pandemic, many home buyers with the ability to work remotely have toyed with the idea of moving to vacation home markets. Senior economist at Zillow, Jeff Tucker, notes, “As millions of office workers transitioned to working from home during the pandemic, many of them reconsidered where they might like to live now that the commute no longer mattered. Vacation towns beckoned many buyers, offering natural amenities like proximity to the ocean and mountains, along with robust retail and restaurant industries to serve traditional seasonal visitors.” As interests and priorities have shifted, it has changed where and how people want to live – the Triangle area and greater state of North Carolina has certainly felt the impact of this shift and continues to benefit.

At the start of Covid, listing views of properties in markets typically considered vacation destinations were up nearly 50% from a year prior, compared with only a 37% increase in home sale views in non-vacation destinations. One market in particular, located within just a few hours of the Triangle, was identified among the metro areas nationally having increased interest by home buyers. Myrtle Beach, SC was not only named but is said to still be an affordable choice for a second home according to despite having appreciated more than 34% over the last two years.  Like the Triangle, the area has benefited from job growth, second home investors and a slew of work at home buyers and retirees choosing to relocate to more desirable locations near family, better weather or lower overall cost of living, transferring their equity into new markets.

Close proximity to a beach, lake or ski area have been common themes among the top vacation areas during the pandemic and accumulated more views and favorites by home buyers nationally, according to reports. Many towns across North Carolina popular for travel and recreation are within just a short drive of the Triangle; it’s no surprise the area has a lot to offer to residents and those considering investing in second homes or relocating to make it their new home.

The Coast

With more than 100 miles of shoreline, the Outer Banks or OBX, as locals call it, is a true beach lover’s paradise. Character-rich small towns with plenty of campgrounds, museums, scenic lighthouses and state parks have made the area popular. Vacation home properties are especially attractive with few area hotels and make for a strong rental investment market.  The average home in Duck increased by almost 40% from 2019 to 2021, but despite the increase, OBX might still be a bargain when compared with many other Eastern coastal towns. Continuing south along the federally protected shores of Cape Hatteras, you will find a wealth of wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation. The historic Hatteras lighthouse marks its location and invites visitors to experience nature, sightseeing, picnicking and water activities.

You will find charming oak-tree lined streets and Civil War-era homes in the Crystal Coast town of Beaufort which offers visitors endless history to explore. Head to the river or the wetlands during the day and retire in the evening to dinner along the water at one of its fine restaurants.

Emerald Isle features a small town atmosphere and 12 miles of coastline for leisure family getaways. Offering a variety of options for travelers to spend time on and off the sand, the area is a popular location among those considering a beach getaway or vacation home.

Comprised of small towns with expansive coastal views, the Brunswick barrier islands are often thought to be more affordable than other coastal areas of North Carolina and boast delicious seafood and world-class golf facilities which have become a draw for many. And located along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington is wildly popular among area residents for a quick escape and considered the gateway to nearby beaches. Beloved for its dining, arts, museums and the downtown historic district, Wilmington has been the site of hundreds of TV shows and movies and connects visitors to the Carolina and Wrightsville beaches, boardwalks and saltwater fun in the sun. North Carolina’s largest and oldest oak tree can also be found in Wilmington which dates back to the 1500s.

Grandfather Mountain State Park, NC; Photo by Margaret.Wiktor/

The Blue Ridge Mountains

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and set amongst two world-class ski resorts, Banner Elk and Blowing Rock are year-round destinations that draw visitors looking for a plethora of outdoor activities, vibrant music and arts scene and excellent restaurants. With mild summers and snowy winters, the region is especially attractive to outdoor enthusiasts, and there’s something for every budget from sprawling multi-million dollar residences to empty lots to build your future dream home.

Known as the Land of Waterfalls, Brevard is another popular destination set among the mountains for outdoor enthusiasts with numerous hiking and biking trails and forests and rivers. And adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City, considered to be one of the best small towns in North Carolina, affords vacationers all the outdoor adventures they might be looking for. “While a bit lesser known, these areas West of Asheville are sure not to disappoint! With amazing views, hiking, biking and the infamous Santa Land and Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, there is something for everyone!” asserts Bill DeVore, local area real estate broker with Keller Williams Professionals Realty.

Only a short drive from Asheville and Atlanta, the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau is a charming area popular for its cooler temperatures, laid-back lifestyle and stunning mountain vistas. The pandemic has made this high-elevation area even more popular among second–home buyers, which has long served as an escape to those looking for a break in the intense heat and humidity of summer.

Before heading due East, don’t forget to stop in Asheville which ranks second in the nation for the most breweries per capita (only second to Portland, OR) and is home to America’s largest residence built by George Vanderbuilt II in the late 19th century, the Biltmore Estate. A must see among architecture aficionados, the estate sits just minutes from downtown Asheville, which has earned acclaim for its vibrant arts and dining scene. DeVore notes, “Real estate in the Asheville market has seen tremendous growth over the last several years. With folks moving in from major cities across the country, Asheville has become a great place for many to call home. Inventory is still at record lows, driving up home prices – we are currently seeing less than 1 month of inventory in most price categories. It’s still a great time to sell and now is the time to buy before interest rates creep up further.”

The Piedmont Region

With close to 40 golf courses within a 15-mile radius, Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen areas are a golfer’s paradise. The area has become so popular that the USGA has announced it will open their second headquarters in Pinehurst, committing a $25 million investment to construct two buildings in the area with 50 full-time staff members. For those who don’t golf, the area offers visitors and locals alike a plethora of restaurant and shopping venues or opportunities for hiking and horseback riding to keep one busy.

Lake Lure, NC; Photo by Jon Bilous/

The Lakes

Surrounded by the lush Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake Lure offers year-round golfing, tennis, boating, biking, fishing, rock climbing and spectacular views. Known for being the destination where Dirty Dancing was filmed, it’s recognized as one of the fastest growing areas for vacationers in the country. The median list price of area homes increased twofold in a single year.  North Carolina’s Chimney Rock State Park overlooks Lake Lure with its 315 foot tall Chimney Rock geological spire looming overhead.  Hike the park or drop a line in the Rocky Broad River for its popular trout fishing.

Straddling the North Carolina and Virginia border, Lake Gaston is a 20,000 acre lake with 350 miles of shoreline. Renowned among fishermen, boating and water sport enthusiasts, it’s easily accessible from the Triangle to escape and invest in a vacation home. Unlike many waterfront areas, residences dot the waterline rather than hotels and resorts making it ideal for those interested in a vacation destination with solid rental income.

Just 20 miles north of Charlotte, you will find the largest manmade lake in North Carolina, Lake Norman. It boasts endless water sport potential with 520 miles of shoreline and one of the most popular mountain biking networks in nearby Lake Norman Park. Communities around Lake Norman became increasingly popular when I-77 was created.  Towns of Huntersville, Mooresville, Cornelius and Davidson have in some cases more than doubled in residents as home buyers and investors have discovered the lake lifestyle.

Interest in second homes and vacation destinations peaked in March 2021, up 95% from pre-pandemic levels; today, however, demand is still 35% higher than before the start of Covid, and RedFin expects the appeal of second homes to remain as remote work is here to stay for many Americans. A recent report notes that while Americans’ participation in public activities including recreation, travel and entertainment has rebounded significantly since March 2020 to 87-96% of pre-pandemic levels through May 2022, office space attendance is picking up more slowly still well below these levels at 41%.

While the red-hot real estate market of the past two years may be starting to cool ever so slightly creating some opportunities among all housing types, demand for vacation rental real estate is still burning bright in many areas with guest demand for vacation rentals incredibly high across the country, driving up year-over-year occupancy and rates. It may be a great time to secure a vacation home and capitalize on demand if you intend to rent your home. If you’re considering a vacation rental property or second home, within a short drive of the Triangle, you will find four areas identified among the Top 25 Best Places to Buy a Vacation Home according to Vacasa. Included in the list is Litchfield Beach, SC, just south of Myrtle Beach, Banner Elk, NC, Corolla, NC and Holden Beach, NC.

At the core, real estate prices rise simply because demand outstrips a limited supply of housing, and where there’s population growth, there’s nearly always strong real estate appreciation. Dynamic population growth like we have experienced in the Triangle is in many ways spilling over into these vacation destination markets throughout NC, and as prices have continued to appreciate, buyers have also been seeking out more affordable real estate options in neighboring towns. Job growth plays a critical role in population growth, and as we have discussed in earlier issues, there has been no lack of corporate business expansion and relocation news in the Raleigh-Durham area.

While there’s some concern that we may see home values plummet in a recession, if we take a look into the markets and the broader environment, along with a historical perspective, the housing picture is not so dim for home buyers and home owners whether that be in their primary residence or second home. In fact, historically, housing is often one of the places that does well in a recession. Housing tends to remain stable or even continues to climb.  Homeowners can take comfort in knowing they not only have a home but an asset that is expected to appreciate in the foreseeable future although they may have to weather things a bit.  According to Todd Woodard, owner of SiteTech Systems which offers consulting, research and analytics to numerous banks, appraisers, developments and government entities, “When you start seeing slowing appreciation year-over-year, we could see a pullback in second homes’ values first because it’s not something you have to buy and have.” But with a 4 million home deficit (in the demand v. supply of housing available), a significant drop in pricing is not likely, especially areas with strong fundamentals like the Triangle. Dr. Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist of the National Association of Realtors, has said, “If there is a correction, it will be a brief duration.”

Areas where it’s notably more expensive to live and people are moving from will naturally be more vulnerable to price corrections; moreover, as the work from home phenomenon continues, it will likely play a part in which real estate markets continue to rise and which may falter in the coming months. Purchasing in a location with limited supply is key to making sure your vacation home (or primary home) investment doesn’t depreciate dramatically if we encounter a recession that might impact the real estate markets.

“Drive time is very important when you look at a second home destination. Less than three hours is ideal for many home buyers considering investing elsewhere – whether that means the beach or the mountains,” Woodard notes, and the Triangle serves as a great base for exploring the rest of the state and neighboring areas. From the Atlantic Coast to the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s easy to see why this accessible community has enjoyed continued growth.  Just a few hours from family-friendly vacations along the Crystal Coast to outdoor adventures in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, visitors and residents of the Triangle find its central location and laid back atmosphere an ideal spot to deliver on all fronts.  Whether you want to ski, hike or surf or simply grab an Arnold Palmer on the porch, North Carolina delivers.  For every type of home buyer, travelers or investors, the area offers endless possibilities and maybe the only difficult task is in deciding where to spend their time and money.

Erica Jevons Sizemore

Erica Jevons Sizemore

  • Broker, Realtor and Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist (CLHMS)
  • KWSE, Director of Luxury, Keller Williams Raleigh
  • 919.740.7670   [email protected]

Erica’s background in finance and marketing is matched with a personal passion for an unparalleled experience, love of home design and inability to sit still – always brainstorming how to better position her gregarious clients real estate investments to support their lifestyle and financial ambitions. After 12 years in wealth management at Morgan Stanley, Erica returned to real estate in residential and luxury home sales at Keller Williams Raleigh. With a love of North Carolina and all things Raleigh, she has been an active volunteer and committee chairperson at many of our local area community standouts, among them the North Carolina Symphony, Carolina Ballet, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, House of Hope NC and the RRAR Raleigh Giving Network.

By TerBaru