Rockaway Beach. Photo: @mstearne
Rockaway Beach. Photo: @mstearne

Dear reader,

Have you contemplated purchasing a vacation home only to be deterred when wondering how much use it would actually get? Some families who live in cities like New York and Los Angeles have put a twist on the term “staycation” by deciding to buy vacation homes in, or very close to, the city where their primary home is located. The Escape Home’s Molly Cuddy has the scoop.

Buying a second home so close to the primary home makes relaxing on vacation that much easier — and more affordable — without the stress of a long flight or car ride.

Just 18 miles from NYC,  the beachfront community of the Rockaways has been gaining popularity over the years. The Rockaways is a narrow eight-mile long barrier peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean, one of several on the coast that extends from Long Island. It is located in the borough of Queens, and is accessible by the NYC subway or ferry. The neighborhoods on the peninsula that receive the most attention are Rockaway Beach and Arverne.

“I can see the New York skyline from my backyard,” says Melissa Carrington, a real estate broker with RE/MAX Elite and 20 year-resident of the Rockaways.

Even though you can see downtown, residents say living in the Rockaways feels like an escape from fast-paced city living. In addition to the stretch of beach, residents and visitors have plenty of places to shop and dine and they can walk or bicycle the five-mile long boardwalk. There’s also scuba diving. And Rockaway Beach is one of the few beaches in New York that allows surfing, and its influence on the culture is apparent.

“We have a kind of hipster, surf, foodie scene out here,” Carrington says.

She divides the people in the Rockaways into three types: The DFDs, or “Down for the days,” as Rockaway residents call them, who only visit for one day, people who live there year round and commute to work in Manhattan and people who have second homes there.

“They’ll come as a DFD. They enjoy it. Maybe they stayed in an Airbnb for a couple of days, and then they decide they want a second house here,” Carrington says.

Townhouses in the Arverne by the Sea development.

Prior to the 1950s, the Rockaways was a popular destination for extended working class families who shared tiny bungalows for the summer. By the 1960s, many parts of the Rockaways became run down and unattractive. But in 2005, real estate developers rediscovered the area and began building modern condo buildings and beachfront homes, which drew newer and more affluent families to the area. One popular development is Arverne by the Sea, a massive community that includes townhomes, condos and apartments.

Then came Hurricane Sandy in 2012. While the hurricane devastated some parts of the Rockaways, the re-building phase turned out to be an unintentional advertising campaign. People from Manhattan and other areas showed up to help the community rebuild and discovered that Rockaway Beach, once overlooked in favor of the city’s more popular beaches, was a hidden gem.

The pandemic prompted a new group of New Yorkers to consider the Rockaways.

Early on, Carrington began getting calls from people living in the city who wanted to rent properties at the beach. Many people were willing to sign leases sight unseen. “Luckily I did have the foresight a couple weeks before it happened to do video tours,” she says.

Carrington says the people renting houses in Rockaways in 2020 were looking for somewhere with open air and that was less populated. And from those rentals, a lot of people decided they wanted to buy a second property there.

Rockaway Beach Surf Club. Photo: @rockawaybeachsurfclub

Although it’s quieter in the winter, the summer scene makes it all worth it. The boardwalk is lined with concession stands offering a variety of foods: everything from Peruvian eats to lobster rolls, while live music spills out of local bars.

Prices for properties can vary depending on the neighborhood and proximity to the beach. “Online analytics will say $650,000 is the average but it all depends on location, property type, size and amenities,” Carrington says. “Condos and co-ops start in the $200,000 range and mansions are closer to $6 million.”

New York isn’t the only location seeing this trend. In Los Angeles, many people are searching for vacation homes in nearby Venice, Malibu, and Santa Monica.

Meredith Gruszka is not only a real estate agent, but she also owns multiple properties herself. She works at Pardee Properties, which serves several communities across Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, including multiple beach communities, including Venice, Santa Monica, and Playa del Rey.

Gruszka’s vacation home in Venice.

Gruszka lives in Studio City, a neighborhood in L.A. that’s close to Beverly Hills. But, when she wants an escape, she heads to her second home in Venice that’s just 11 miles down the road, and a quick walk to the beach. Although she rents the house out when she’s not staying there, Gruszka and her husband plan to make it their forever home one day, for now she can head there for a beach trip close to home. It’s also closer to where she works, which was another motivation to buy.

While Gruszka says people buying second homes in L.A. hasn’t been historically popular, it has been occurring more often. If you’re on the hunt for beachfront property in L.A. now, Gruszka recommends looking toward Venice. “It’s still a good time to buy in Venice because prices are still on the lower side compared to everything else.”

Beachfront property always comes with a hefty value. The average price of buying a home in a beachfront town in L.A. is usually in the millions of dollars. “Beachfront property in Southern California … you’re always going to be paying a premium.” But, she added, the properties tend to hold their value.

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