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Whether you are buying a vacation home for fun or profit, knowing where to buy is key.

If you choose to use it primarily as an investment property, you may want it near a popular travel destination. If you need a playhouse during your down times, you may want an easy-to-access retreat that comes with nearby activities, events and attractions you enjoy.

And there are always a of host of personal considerations and decisions to make when choosing your vacation home.

Helping remove some of that initial legwork, Woonsocket, RI-based NeighborhoodScout is the latest online service to come up with some top spots that could narrow your list of locations.

The Net-based neighborhood matching service's "2004 Top Towns To Buy A Vacation Home" whittled down 23,000 coastal and Rocky Mountain locations to find emerging vacation home locales and came up with a set of 30 towns -- 10 in each of three regions.

"People often want to buy a vacation home, but finding a top-quality area that's still affordable, yet promises to be a good investment years from now, can take tremendous effort," said Andrew Schiller, a geographer and president of Location Inc., NeighborhoodScout's parent company.

The finds are based on a host of factors, including peace and quiet, safety from crime, educated neighbors, excellent public schools, affordability and an enviable mix of rental properties and owner-occupied homes.

"These are the hidden gems. They are towns that combine beautiful settings with affordability and community attributes that, historically, translate into long-term investment value for homeowners," Schiller said.

Keep in mind, the list was compiled without your specific needs in mind and the list is missing many attractive locations in the nation's interior.

Because of that, some or all of these towns may not be for you.

Experts suggest buying vacation homes located within a comfortable travel time or distance. Ideally it's best to limit yourself to a few hours traveling time -- either by car or plane.

Vacation homes too far away become too expensive to reach and may not get enough use to justify the cost of an owner-occupied home. Investors looking to rent vacation homes may find properties too far away troublesome to manage and end up spending as much as half the rent on local management.

Before you buy, rent in the area for a season or travel there often to get a feel for both the task of traveling and the town. While there, check with the locals to see what they like and dislike about the area and don't forget to contact a real estate professional who lives in the area, is familiar with it and can be another set of eyes and ears.

Also check the location for the activities you personally enjoy -- shopping, night life, recreation, culture, and others. The more activities the better for you when you stay there, the better the potential for renting the property at a decent rate, and the better possibility you'll be able to sell it at a profitable price later if your plans including selling.

Finally, be sure to check the area for the type of neighborhood or community you desire. A gated community, a planned development of single-family homes or an resale urban condo, are just a few types you may want to consider.

To get you started, here are NeighborhoodScout's picks:

2004 Top Towns To Buy A Vacation Home

Atlantic/Gulf
Bristol, ME
Narragansett, RI
Clinton, CT
Somers Point, NJ
Leonardtown, MD
Blufton, SC
Englewood, FL
Cape Coral, FL
Daphne, AL
Ocean Springs, MS
Rockies
Phillipsburg, MT
McLeod, MT
Craigmont, ID
Wallace, ID
Ten Sleep, WY
Saratoga, WY
Hanksville, UT
Woodland Park, CO
Bailey, CO
Pena Blanca, NM
Pacific
Juneau, AK
Oak Harbor, WA
Gold Beach, OR
Ferndale, CA
Gualala, CA
Los Osos, CA
Aliso Viejo, CA
Cambria, CA
Kaunakakai, HI
Captain Cook, HI
Source: NeighborhoodScout.Com/Location Inc.

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