Last year was a strong one for purchases of vacation homes, which jumped by nearly one-third over their 2012 levels, according to figures released today by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

There were an estimated 717,000 vacation homes sold in 2013, a 30 percent increase over the 553,000 figure in 2012. Vacation homes accounted for 13 percent of all home sales, their biggest share since 2006.

Rising stock prices in 2013 seemed to be a key factor in driving vacation home purchases, according to NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, giving a financial boost to high net-worth families that allowed them to make such purchases.

Although up sharply from last year's levels, vacation home purchases still remained about one-third below their peak reached in 2006.

Many are foreclosures, all-cash purchases

Many vacation home buyers took advantage of bargains available through foreclosures, as distressed properties made up 42 percent of all vacation home purchases.

Vacation home buyers who used a mortgage to make their purchase made an average down payment of 30 percent, according to NAR figures. All-cash purchases accounted for 38 percent of vacation homes sold.

The typical vacation home purchaser was 43 years old with a median household income of $85,600 and bought a vacation property a median distance of 180 miles from his or her primary residence. Just over one-third of buyers purchased vacation homes 500 miles or more from their regular home.

The Southern region of the country was the most popular place to buy a vacation home, with 41 percent of all vacation homes purchased there. The West was the next most popular with 28 percent, followed by the Midwest with 18 percent and the Northeast with 13 percent.

According to the NAR's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, there are 8.0 million vacation homes in the United States, compared to 74.7 million owner-occupied properties.

Published on April 2, 2014