Snowbirds flock toward ski towns

Breckenridge, Colorado, USA downtown streets at night in the winter with holiday lighting.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Searches of home listings in ski communities jumped about 36% during the final three months of 2020, versus a year earlier, a Realtor.com study shows. Much of that demand was coming from residents of frosty northern states.

"Historically, residents of the Midwest and Northeast have shown a preference for warmer cities, and contributed to much of the out-of-state demand in homes in sunny states, such as Florida," says Realtor.com chief economist Danielle Hale.

"This year, we found that snowbirds' interest in ski towns increased more than interest from other areas across the country," Hale adds, in a news release.

The analysis zeroed in on home searches made by people in "snowbird markets" — including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, among others. Most of those markets showed record interest in nearly 200 towns linked to ski resorts.

That's not surprising, says Hale.

"Skiing is done outdoors and generally at a distance from others, making it a relatively safe sport during the pandemic," she says. "Many of these areas offer year-round outdoor activities, making them summer destinations as well."

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The 'Zoom town' trend

Young man having video call via computer in the home office. Stay at home and work from home concept during Coronavirus pandemic. Virtual house party
Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock

The term "snowbirds" often is associated with retirees who own second homes in resort areas where they spend part of the year. But seniors may not be the only ones turning ski towns into sizzling real estate markets.

Experts say workers who are getting used to working remotely are considering relocating to places where they'd normally vacation. If you can do your job from virtually anywhere, why not buy a home somewhere fun — right?

So, areas around ski resorts aren't just becoming boom towns. They're also becoming "Zoom towns."

These three ski towns saw the greatest increases in home searches during the fourth quarter, Realtor.com says:

Union Dale, Pennsylvania ( 225% increase). Union Dale, an alternative to the nearby touristy Pocono Mountains, is home to Elk Mountain Ski Resort, which offers 180 acres and 27 trails. The town is less than a three-hour drive from both Philadelphia and New York.

Choteau, Montana (143% increase). Choteau, along the route between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, is a small town offering an array of recreational activities, ranging from golfing and boating in the summer, to skiing in the hills of the Teton Pass resort in the winter.

North Creek, New York (132% increase). If the coronavirus has turned you against urban living, North Creek offers some relief. A four-hour drive from New York, it's a town offering skiing and snowshoeing at Gore Mt. Ski Center in the winter, and whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, fishing and camping during warmer months.

Ready for a vacation home?

Real estate sign in front of new house for sale
Africa Studio / Shutterstock

If you're retired or have become a remote worker thanks to COVID, mortgage rates that remain near record lows help make this an excellent time to buy a house in a ski town. Cheap rates will offset any increases in home prices caused by rising demand in ski resort communities.

Shopping around is essential to finding the lowest mortgage rate available. Research from mortgage giant Freddie Mac has found borrowers can save thousands of dollars by comparing at least five rate quotes, instead of saying yes to the first offer.

But prepare yourself for a few potential hurdles on your way to buying your own little chalet. For example, if your ski town place will be your second home, a lender may require a larger down payment and a higher credit score.

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About the Author

Ethan Rotberg

Ethan Rotberg

Former Reporter

Ethan Rotberg was formerly a staff reporter at MoneyWise. His background includes nearly 15 years as a writer, editor, designer and communications professional. He loves storytelling, from feature writing to narrative podcasts. His work has appeared in the Toronto Star, CPA Canada and Metro, among others.

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