Condos for $100,000 or less and single-family homes under $250,000 come with an expansive back yard -- the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest -- in the White Mountain, AZ area. At an altitude of 6,000 to 8,000 feet, the community boasts the tallest Ponderosa stands in the nation, weather and traffic that's cooler than arid Tucson and Phoenix and plenty of skiing, fishing, hiking, golf, equestrian trails and open spaces.

In the shadows of the Pacific Northwest's Cascade Mountains, the little known central Oregon town of Sisters is also surrounded by national forests, wilderness, and other public lands that make it an outdoor recreational dream location where a couple of raw acres will set you back only $100,000 and homes start at only $80,000 more. As a "bonus" Sisters schools are among the best in the state.

Ely, MN, the late Charles Kuralt's ("On The Road") favorite vacation spot, exudes much of the same mysticism found around the mythical Lake Wobegon dreamed up by author Garrison Keillor. On the Continental Divide at the Canadian border, rustic Ely yields 1.5 acre lots with 850 feet of shore line for less than $200,000 and log cabins with stone fireplaces. The nearest neighbors are moose, black bear, wolves and deer along the extensive historic Iron Range Trail for snowmobiles, hiking, all terrain vehicles and cross country and downhill skiing.

"This is the end of the road, man," says native Mike Jershe, with Kangas Realty, in Ely.

Jershe took the words right out of the mouths of a growing number of second home buyers who've discovered areas like White Mountain, Sisters, Ely and a host of others listed on a new second-home hit list -- "EscapeHomes' Top 10 Emerging Second Home Markets."

Capitalizing on the growth in the baby boomer population and its demand for second homes, San Francisco (CA) Bay Area-based EscapeHomes matches second home buyers and sellers with vacation home agents called Resort Specialists and affiliated segments of the second home industry -- vacation, resort and rental homes and time shares in more than 300 showcased cities nationwide and 20 countries.

Visitors can search for properties by city, by town type -- beach, mountain, golf, island or lake -- or by category -- homes, rentals and timeshares.

EscapeHomes also offers travel-related information on town pages, where they describe the unique flavor, climate, local attractions, amenities and events for each of showcased communities.

With the maturing of the second home market, and those who buy into it, online vacation home portal EscapeHomes recently compiled a unique group of up-and-coming second home markets based on the interests of second home buyers.

In alphabetical order, EscapeHomes' Top 10 Emerging Second Home Markets and, for each, the nearest metropolitan areas are:

  1. Burnside, KY -- Lexington, Frankfurt, KY; Nashville, Knoxville, TN
  2. Caribou, ME -- Quebec, Canada
  3. Ely, MN -- Duluth, Grand Rapids, MN
  4. Island Park, ID -- Bozeman, MT; Jackson, WY
  5. Ketchikan, AK -- Juneau, AK; Seattle, WA
  6. Lake Martin (Alexander City), AL -- Birmingham, Montgomery, AL; Atlanta, GA
  7. St. George, UT -- Las Vegas, NV; Salt Lake City, UT
  8. Sisters, OR -- Portland, Eugene, OR
  9. Waterville Valley, NH -- Concord, NH; Montpelier, VT; Augusta, ME
  10. White Mountain, AZ -- Phoenix, AZ

Showing up more and more often on the radar of second home buyers, the emerging second home areas all offer several common denominators second home buyers seek, according to EscapeHomes.

  • Affordable Investments.

    EscapeHomes says emerging second home markets are more affordable than homes of nearby big-city neighbors.

    Also, the homes and land in these emerging markets have always enjoyed steady appreciation or have seen recent spurt in price growth -- or both.

    "Home prices here have gone up steadily and land prices have quadrupled in the last five years. When folks come from California, they are still very surprised how much they can get for the money," said Melinda Lewis with GMAC/Tenney and Associates in the White Mountain, AZ area.

    That's good news to the nearly one in three, or 31 percent of second home owners who say they use their properties as an investment or income-producing vehicle, according to "The 2002 National 2002 National Association Of Realtors (NAR) Profile of Second-Home Owners." The report offers findings based on the responses of 3,101 surveys in the joint study conducted in late 2002 by NAR and EscapeHomes.

    Second home investors enjoyed an average 27 percent increase in the median price of second homes from 1999 and 2001, according to the survey.

    "There is a notable change going on. People don't want to play the volatility of the stock market. They want to play more of a role in where their money is going," said Clark Thompson, CEO of San Francisco (CA) Bay Area-based EscapeHomes.

    Even without the investment return, a valuable tangible asset that's fun to use is, well, invaluable.

    "I think people are saying: 'I can use it and see it and have some influence on it.' And the other aspect is 'I do want to have access to this piece of property and I want to know I can get to my second home fairly quickly by driving or by flying.' " Thompson added.

  • Location, Location, Location.

    Only a few hours by car or an hour or so by plane from the nearest metropolitan area, emerging second home markets remain relatively secluded, and are brimming with fresh-air activities like camping, golfing, boating, hiking, fishing, snow sports and equestrian activities. Small-town U.S.A. every one, these emerging areas also offers a menu of local fairs, seasonal festivals and other community events for the growing number of more active second home buyers. What's more, many of the tucked-away second home markets offer mild weather.

    "We are in a transition zone between the mountains and the desert. Fifteen miles from here the average annual precipitation is 100 inches. We get 12 inches. If you go five miles east you are in the desert" said Mike Mansker, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent in Sisters, which is 20 miles from Bend and about 100 miles from either Eugene and Portland.

    That makes emerging markets' locations ideal for the 51 percent of second home owners who told the survey they use their second home as a vacation getaway and 18 percent who said they plan to retire in their second home.

  • Security.

    Real estate agents in the emerging towns say buyers are discovering emerging second home markets during a personal search for solace, off the beaten path and away from a world of worry and fear.

    "I think since Sept. 11 (2001) more people are inclined to want to escape or they just want to move," said Darlene Jennings, of King Realty in Campton, NH, which is in the emerging second home market of Waterville Valley Area, NH.

    To ferret out the emerging markets, EscapeHomes examined its Web site's traffic to a variety of lesser known markets. Similarly it examined traffic on other travel sites, retirement sites and real estate sites. EscapeHomes also studied related magazines to learn what areas appear to be gaining interest.

    "Whether the second home is intended solely as an investment, a vacation home or a combination of both, it is evident that buyers of second homes choose their second home based on location and its access to recreational areas and activities. Thus it is not surprising that the majority of second homes are located in rural or resort areas that satisfy these requirements," said Thompson.

    EscapeHomes developed the Top 10 Emerging Second Home Markets list to help keep its visitors abreast of the burgeoning second home market as these types of submarkets emerge.

    "The emerging town category is in the emerging second home category and the whole second home-resort-vacation category still remains news. Research and surveys about this market are slim to none. We've known that these things were coming. You are not going to find this information on residential real estate sites or on chamber of commerce sites," said Thompson.

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