There were more vacation home purchases in 2014 nationwide than in any year since the National Association of Realtors began tracking the data in 2003. The survey’s small sample size (1,971 home buyers) raised some eyebrows, reports the Wall Street Journal, but the year-over-year percentage growth is staggering: 57.4 percent more vacation homes sold in 2014 than in 2013. Twenty-one percent of all home sales were of the vacation variety. These buyers had a median household income of $94,380, up from $85,600 in 2013.

The Midwest is no Mecca for leisure seekers, and number of sales here were flat from 2013 to 2014. Still, with the South’s share growing to almost half of all vacation home sales, flat isn’t a bad thing. Another trend sighting is a shakeup in housing preference—more people are buying vacation homes, but the overall amount of money spent in this real estate sector is down slightly because smaller homes, and some condos, are driving demand. The newest construction in Chicago’s traditional and non-traditional vacationland is catering to this buyer. Here are some examples:

The Peninsula at New Buffalo

New Buffalo, Mich.


New Buffalo is among the most popular Lake Michigan retreats with exquisite dune landscape running north and south. Real estate is expensive even though it the local market has soured over the last several years. The average list price in late March was around $575,000, and prices really spike within a block of the water.

The new Peninsula development in New Buffalo offers build-to-suit lots that hug the mouth of New Buffalo Harbor on a spit of land now dubbed, of course, the Peninsula. Eight lots have sold, one is under contract, and three are still available. Three houses have been completed

An idyllic setting for boaters, these harbor lots are engulfed by marina and as accessible by water as by road. The site plan calls for driveways on one side and boat slips on the other. Buyers have the option to design and build their own house with their own contractors or work with the models laid out by UpperCross Development Group for three-story homes of up to 3,900 square feet. The developer has run underground utilities to each lot. An association manages landscaping, security, and a heated waterfront pool.

The Turn at Geneva National

Lake Geneva, Wisc.


On land acquired from the estate of Crane Co., five miles outside downtown Lake Geneva, is this 1,800-acre, 1,100-home gated community built around three 18-hole golf courses. Developed in phases going back to the early 1990s, one of the newest additions to the site is a 10-unit cluster of freestanding condos—single-family layouts with association fees of $464/month that pay for extravagant amenities such as tennis courts, pools, a gym, and a clubhouse. Golf is everywhere but requires a separate membership.

Eight of the 10 homes by local developer The Choyce Group are available, including one spec model that displays the semi-custom finishes included with each 2,340-square-foot single-story house—hardwood floors, granite counters, a fireplace, pocket doors, and stainless steel appliances. Each has an open layout with three bedrooms, three full bathrooms, vaulted ceilings, and an attached two-car garage.

Geneva Lake gets all the attention, but lake country is vast in southern Wisconsin. Several are a quick drive from Geneva National, and relaxed towns like Williams Bay and Fontana are a draw. 

Heritage Harbor Ottawa Resort

Ottawa, Ill.

$499,000 for a modernist town house

Several miles east of Starved Rock State Park and a couple miles outside downtown Ottawa, Illinois, is a new resort development on the banks of the Illinois River—a rarity in this neck of the woods. Beautiful as “Starved Rock Country” is, with four state parks within 15 miles of riverfront, it has never been a vacation home destination. “Our buyers look to New Buffalo and Lake Geneva for comparables,” says Tammy Barry, Director of Sales and Marketing for Heritage Harbor Ottawa. Your buck goes a lot further here, though, with a range of coach houses, cottages, condos, single-families, and modernist town houses priced between $160,000 and $499,000. The latter are the newest arrivals on site—four 2,400 to 3,000 square footers by Chicago–based Nicholas Design Collaborative. Each has a double-height light box protrusion that would be at home in Bucktown, fused with classic coastal architecture (muted colors, lightweight materials). Unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a hit.

The development broke ground in 2008 with marina construction and a few houses. Despite a recessionary slowdown, residents now number 80 on 142 acres. Many more boat slips are planned and a second swimming pool is on the way. Heritage Harbor saw their biggest sales surge in 2014, with 47 percent more closings than in 2013. Single-families priced from $375,000 to $450,000 proved the sweet spot. The development attracts three types of buyers, according to Barry: strict vacationers; people five to ten years from retirement with this as their eventual full-time residence; and a handful of full-timers. Want to give it a dry run? One- and two-bed cottages can be rented by the night for $159 to $259.