BOSTON Here's a list of some of the most popular and promising places for vacation-home shopping, with recent median list prices from real estate shopping site Zillow.com.
Median list price: $1,725,000
Sales were brisk in winter playground Aspen during the last year as motivated sellers accepted prices 25 percent off their 2007 peak, says local real estate agent Steven Shane.
The Hamptons, New York
Median list price: $2,100,000
Bidding wars these days aren't uncommon for well-priced homes in this group of upscale enclaves on eastern Long Island, says Cia Comnas of brokerage Brown Harris Stevens, especially for properties close to the water. Home prices surged 22 percent in the third quarter of 2011, but smaller Wall Street bonuses could slow sales in 2012.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Median list price: $475,000
Home sales in Hilton Head, known for ocean breezes and world-class golf, were up 13 percent last year over 2010, says local agent Andy Twisdale. Prices on this South Carolina island benefit from a limited supply of land.
Santa Barbara, California
Median list price: $799,000
Temperate climate and easy access to the ocean and mountains draw buyers to this posh community about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The high-end market especially is heating up, with half of all deals in cash, says broker Bridget Murphy.
Avalon, New Jersey
Median list price: $1,350,000
A barrier island near the southern tip of New Jersey, this seashore community has long been one of America's most expensive zip codes. Beachfront homes range in price from $4 million to $12 million, according to local broker Paul Leiser. "As of February, there's been a stampede of buyers," Leiser says. "From modest condominiums to beachfront, we've seen an incredible run."
Miami Beach, Florida
Median list price: $447,000
International jet-setters have descended on Miami Beach in recent years, with buyers from South America and Russia in particular gobbling up high-end properties. "It's a seller's market," says agent Allison Turk.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Median list price: $649,000
Prices are down 25 percent to 30 percent from their 2007 peak in this year-round resort, but realtor Dan Gorham has already seen 17 properties over $2 million close this year — three times more than all of 2011, he says.
Median list price: $120,000
In 2006, Phoenix, a popular destination for Midwestern snowbirds, became the epicenter of the mortgage crisis as home prices tumbled. Prices ultimately dropped more than 60 percent on average, but the market seems to be back on its feet. New-home sales in the hottest areas are up 35 percent over the past month, say Jim Belifore, a local real estate consultant.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Median list price: $299,000
Inventories are still rising at this lakeside resort town two hours from Chicago, but local brokers say prices have hit bottom after falling more than 25 percent since 2006. Sales are climbing. "The market last year was impressive, with a full volume recovery evident by year's end," wrote local real estate blogger David Curry. "Yet this year, Geneva Lake is on track to absolutely obliterate recent sales results."
South Lake Tahoe, California
Median list price: $265,000
In South Lake Tahoe, tucked in the Sierra Nevada mountains, home prices are down 50 percent in the last five years, according to local real estate agents Gary and Richard Bolen, but demand was up 7 percent in 2011 and sales of properties under $300,000 grew by nearly 20 percent. Bargains are still available: Homes in the $600,000 to $650,000 price range are nearly two-thirds larger than they were in 2005.
(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)