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Recreational property joins American dream

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Washington -- If consumer confidence translates into purchases -- and the economy stays on track -- one of the next boom areas in American real estate may be recreational property.

A soon-to-be-released national study documents a big jump in consumer interest in acquiring some form of recreational real estate within the coming decade. The shape, price and locations differ radically -- traditional second homes, buildable acreage in the country, beach condos, rustic cabins in the woods, time shares and campground sites.

Among the findings of the study by Ragatz Associates, a Eugene, Ore., real estate research firm:

* Whereas in the midst of the 1990 recession, just 15.5 percent of American households estimated that they had a 50 percent chance or better of buying recreational real estate during the decade, 35 percent do now. The key reasons, say the study's authors: Baby boomers are moving into the prime years for second home and recreational investments. Thanks to relatively low mortgage rates and steady job growth, they have the resources to make those investments.

* Preferred locations for purchases are beach areas (about 31 percent of all households surveyed), lake areas (30 percent), mountains (26 percent), Caribbean and other tropics (9 percent), golf-related (6 percent) and ski-related communities (5 percent).

* The ideal recreational property is still the traditional detached single-family home or cabin, but a fast-rising alternative is a vacant parcel of land for later construction of a second home. Studies in 1990 and 1993 had found resort condominiums to be a strong second to detached units in popularity. But condos are now No. 3.

Given this significant change, according to the study, "one would expect an increase in purchases of vacant recreational land in most resort areas of the country."

* Your age, sex, marital status, geographic location and income greatly affect your prime choices in recreational property. For example, though nowhere near as popular as detached homes or land among a national cross section of households, time shares are relatively hot among the youngest segment of recreational buyers -- 20- and 30-somethings. Ditto for campsites. Single males have a higher preference for resort condos and vacant land than single females. For that matter, women of all ages turn in consistently lower interest levels than males in buying any form of recreational real estate.

* The most popular states for second home and recreational purchases: Florida is first by a margin of nearly 2 to 1 over runner-up California. Colorado is third, North Carolina fourth, Texas fifth and Arizona sixth. Least popular? Iowa and Delaware, both named by just one-tenth of 1 percent of families polled as the ideal site for their getaway.

If you own recreational property in a desirable area, don't be surprised if you see its resale value appreciate a little faster as the decade progresses, thanks to rising demand.

And if you haven't bought yet -- but hope to down the road -- it wouldn't hurt to begin scoping out your alternatives sooner rather than later.

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