Has owning your own piece of beachfront real estate ever seemed more appealing?
Even during this so-called Hot Vax Summer, in which Americans are contemplating what post-pandemic fantasies to put into real-world action—packed ballgames! epic barbecues! debauched hookups!—the idea of owning property in a nice beach town stands alone. Sure, traveling the world after a year-and-a-half lockdown sounds awfully sweet. But, given the choice, we’ll opt for life-affirming ocean breezes, fresh lobster rolls, and jalapeño margaritas on the sand—all from our own place!
After all, why clock in to a Zoom meeting with a fake ocean background when you can have the real thing?
But here’s the rub: Even in the best of times, the words “affordable” and “beach towns” are rarely found in close proximity to each other. And for homebuyers, these are far from the best of times. Low inventory and rising prices are the rule across the land, even hundreds—or thousands—of miles from the ocean.
That’s where the sun-craving data team at Realtor.com® comes in. We’re here to tell you that you don’t need a trust fund to buy your own sunny, ocean-area escape as a primary home, vacation abode, or an investment—you just need to know where to look.
As we do each summer, we crunched the numbers to find the nation’s best affordable beach towns—the ones that offer plenty of ocean access, lots of fun things to do, and affordable prices for those who want to kick back on the sandy shores on a budget. These places tended to be smaller spots on the East Coast with a few notable exceptions.
Buyers this summer should expect plenty of competition.
“The pandemic did drive more buyers to want fresh air and wide-open spaces,” says Brad Hunter, president of Hunter Housing Economics, a West Palm Beach, FL–based housing market research and consulting firm.
“I expect the strength in demand to persist long after the pandemic is a distant memory,” says Hunter.
To figure out the most affordable beach towns, our data team looked at the median home list prices of more than 1,300 towns located on America’s coastlines from May 2020 through April 2021. We then found the places with the most beach-based businesses, like restaurants, entertainment, and marinas, using U.S. Census Bureau data, to ensure these are places where buyers will want to be.
Only one town per state was included to ensure geographic diversity.
Ready to soak up the sun and saltwater?
Median home list price: $145,050
Boardwalks and casinos likely come to mind when you think of Atlantic City, even though the gambling industry has struggled in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, cooped-up city dwellers have flocked to the area, attracted to the outdoor activities, fresh seaside air—and affordable prices.
But they’re going up. Home prices in the Atlantic City area jumped 34% during the first quarter of 2021 compared with last year, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
“Through the pandemic, the lifestyle here has been in demand: a happy place to live, stress-free, no congestion, a place to gather your thoughts,” says local real estate broker Mary Lou Ferry Wimmer, of Farley & Ferry Realty.
Wimmer says home inventory is low, but there are still plenty of deals, whether buyers are looking for brand-new construction, fixer-uppers, or condos.
This two-bedroom condo is listed at just under $200,000 in a high-rise with bay and ocean views.
Median home list price: $237,050
Millions of tourists flock to Myrtle Beach each year, lured by its surf and sand, as well as its golf courses, festivals, and art scene. But it’s becoming a popular place to call home, too. In fact, U.S. News & World Report recently named it the fastest-growing city in the country as retirees and younger workers have flocked to the area, enticed by the warm weather, low taxes, and affordable homes, despite the higher crime.
“A lot of what we are hearing from those relocating and looking to call Myrtle Beach their next home is that they want to be able to enjoy life, outdoors, with their families,” says local real estate broker Jason Potter, of Grand Strand Coastal Realty says.
Plenty of homebuyers here are also looking for second homes or investment properties, which they can rent out part of the year. The good news is there is more inventory than in other spots on our list. Affordable homes abound, including oceanfront condos, single-family homes, gated communities, and townhouses. This three-bedroom home listed at $249,900 is situated on a golf course and features a backyard pond view.
Median home list price: $239,050
Daytona Beach is a popular vacation destination thanks to its wide, sandy beaches and the Daytona International Speedway, which draws NASCAR fans from around the country. But lately more of those vacationers are deciding to stay.
“Because your homebuying dollar goes further here, homebuyers can purchase larger homes to accommodate additional needs, including working from home and home-schooling,” says local real estate broker Joyce Marsh of her eponymously named firm.
Residents enjoy lower-than-average real estate taxes and no state income tax. Home prices are reasonable, too, and Marsh says there is a lot to choose from. This waterfront condo is available for $159,900 and comes with amenities like a heated pool, tennis courts, fitness room, and a clubhouse.
Median home list price: $250,050
Rockland is a small town on the Penobscot Bay along the southern coast of Maine that has been attracting creative types for years. That’s inspired the town to call itself the “art capital of Maine,” says Michelle Gifford, a local real estate associate with Re/Max Jaret & Cohn. The city is home to dozens of galleries and museums.
New residents have plenty to explore when they move to Rockland, including local art walks, farmers markets, the Maine Lobster Festival, and the North Atlantic Blues Festival.
Over the past year, home prices have increased and places are selling fast. But there are still lots of deals for those looking for a single-family home, waterfront property, or condo. Buyers just need to be aware property taxes are slightly higher than in neighboring towns.
Much of the real estate here tends to be older. Listed at just under $250,000, this three-bedroom home offers stunning views of the Chickawaukie Lake, a wood-burning fireplace, and close proximity to all of Rockland’s amenities.
Median home list price: $310,050
Long known as “The Friendly City by the Sea,” Swansboro is surrounded by fishing communities and charming historic towns full of locally owned shops and restaurants. Visitors enjoy the welcoming atmosphere and are often inspired to move there themselves, says local real estate broker Ginger Weaver Robles, of Southern Coast Realty Group.
Situated near several military bases, Swansboro is also six miles from the beautiful Emerald Isle beaches. And it’s just a 10-minute boat trip from Hammocks Beach State Park, which features a 4-mile-long undeveloped barrier island, marshes, and a maritime forest.
“Our real estate market is different,” Robles says. “We have the benefit of continuous military moves, people moving to the coast or just off of the island to retire. [We have] people purchasing second homes and people that visit our area from states both north and south of North Carolina that fall in love and choose to relocate here.”
Single-family homes are mostly what new residents will find, including townhouses, ranches, cottages, and two-story abodes. This home listed at $277,000 is minutes from local beaches and golf courses.
Median home list price: $389,050
As Virginia’s only resort island, Chincoteague Island, located along the state’s eastern shore, is known for its oyster beds, national wildlife refuge, and the feral Chincoteague Ponies. The island is just 7 miles by 3 miles in size, so it feels like a small town with a tight-knit community.
Living on Chincoteague Island is “like you are away from the entire world,” says local real estate broker Angie Abell, of Beach Bay Realty. That made it particularly popular during the pandemic as folks focused on social distancing.
“The nature trails and beach and boating were ways we could enjoy ourselves and still isolate,” she adds. “We didn’t experience the chaos of the cities.”
Homes on Chincoteague Island are in demand, and many owners rent out their properties to vacationers during the summer. There are a lot of single-family homes for sale as well as some less expensive manufactured homes. This historic 1865 cottage listed for $219,000 is three blocks from a bike path to the beach.
Median home list price: $399,050
During the pandemic, people left big-city tech hubs like Seattle for areas like the Long Beach Peninsula. They were seeking fewer people, less traffic, and, of course, the sand and surf. Long Beach can get busy, though, especially when it hosts the Rod Run to the End of the World event and thousands of car enthusiasts descend on the beach.
“If you’re making a big tech income and living in a small beach town, you can have a laid-back lifestyle and a lower cost of living—a win-win,” says Brad Whittaker, a real estate agent with Realty One in Long Beach.
Homebuyers have two sides of the peninsula to choose from: the ocean side or the bay side. Whittaker says the bay side can be a little calmer, while the Pacific Ocean side can be stormy. But both offer beautiful views.
Smaller homes and ranches are common. Just a few blocks from the beach, this open-concept home is available for $325,000.
Median home list price: $399,050
Primarily a tourist spot, Matagorda is a small town with a population of around 500. It’s located on the upper coast of Texas along the Gulf of Mexico and at the mouth of the Colorado River. Visitors and residents alike enjoy collecting seashells along the beach, birdwatching, fishing, and kayaking.
Living in Matagorda brings a quiet mix of a rural and suburban. Many homebuyers purchase second homes in the area to rent out and recoup their investments, says Tammy Hill, a real estate agent with Texas Coastal Properties in nearby Palacios. Many of the homes on the water are raised or on stilts.
“You can’t be in a hurry around here,” says Hill. “There isn’t a lot to do here unless you are a fisherman or hunter.”
A variety of homes are available in Matagorda with lots of amenities. For less than $200,000, you’ll find a cozy three-bedroom located on the Colorado River that comes with its own golf cart.
Median home list price: $399,050
Grand Isle is Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island, and it’s known for its fishing, birding habitat, and Gulf of Mexico views. The beach town is mostly a travel destination, but during the pandemic, it served as a place to get away from the mayhem.
“We have everything from beach homes to water access on a bay or canal, homes in residential areas, homes in gated communities, and lots of commercial opportunities,” says Carolyn Angelette, owner and broker of Island Realty in Grand Isle. “For the right price, you can be on the beach or on the water with boat access.”
One caveat: It’s a regular target for hurricanes, hard-hit by Katrina in 2005. That means higher insurance premiums, and Angelette says taxes are higher than in some areas. It was also the site of a BP oil spill in 2010. Still, many second-home and investment buyers flock here.
There are many affordable options. This three-bedroom home available for $225,000 is located across from the bay and sits on two lots.
Median home list price: $475,050
“The Port,” as locals call it, is a popular area of Cape Cod that has been extensively revitalized over the past few years. Vacationers head here for its long stretch of sandy beaches and Main Street filled with boutiques and cafes. And it attracted plenty of new residents during the pandemic, despite the higher price tags.
“COVID created a huge influx of its traditionally seasonal residents becoming year-round residents,” especially those from nearby big cities who were working from home, says Amanda Howey, an associate with Re/Max Spectrum in nearby Osterville.
The real estate industry in Cape Cod is booming, with prices going up and home inventory going down. Eager buyers can still find the right property—if they move quickly and are “willing to be flexible on contingencies, price, and have a healthy deposit to put down,” Howey says.
Shoppers can snag a two-bedroom newly updated cottage with two outbuildings for $389,000, just a short walk to the beach.
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