Catch a Wave! America's Most Affordable Beach Towns, 2019 Edition
Think you can't afford to live in a beach town? Think again. These are the most affordable beach towns where buyers can find plenty of bargains.
For many Americans the ultimate summertime fantasy has less to do with washboard abs and a killer tan than owning their own piece of beachfront real estate—aka bliss. From Memorial Day through Labor Day (and beyond), beach lovers across the U.S. find themselves dreaming of escaping the hellish deadlines, soul-sucking commutes, and humdrum daily grind—and trading it all in for salty ocean breezes, caipirinhas on the sand, and fresh lobster rolls from a seafood joint around the corner.
Now just imagine doing it from your very own place.
There's just one problem: Conventional wisdom suggests that only the seriously loaded can afford to own prime beach–area real estate. But we're here to tell you that you don't need seven-figure bank balances to make this sunny reverie into a reality. You just have to find the right beach town, one serving up a magical combo of home affordability and surfy satisfaction.
That's where the sunburned data team at realtor.com® comes in. As we do every summer, we scoured the United States’ 95,471 miles of shoreline to locate the most affordable beach towns in the nation. What we discovered were a sometimes surprising selection of sun-and-sand options that are a lot more financially feasible than a “country cottage” in the Hamptons or Malibu, CA.
And we never lose sight of a very important fact: A beach home is more than a dream, it's an investment.
So, what’s the key to avoiding a financial belly-flop of a beach house?
“At the outset, you should have some exit strategy,” says James H. Boykin, author of "Investing in a Vacation Home for Pleasure and Profit."
In other words, getting into a sweet place with plenty of peace and quiet might be easy. But if you buy in a place that’s not desirable to other beachgoers, you might have a hard time selling or renting it out.
To find America's most affordable beach towns, our number-crunching ninjas located the country’s biggest metropolitan areas with the highest share of listings with keywords such as "beach," "beachfront," and "ocean." (Metros include an area's main city and its surrounding suburbs, exurbs, and urban areas.) Then we made sure these markets had lots of fun water-based activities, narrowing our list to the places that boast the highest percentage of things like rafting, kayaking, surfing, boating, and fishing on Yelp.com. We then ranked these metros based on their median prices for the 12-month period of May 2018 to April 2019.
It's important to note that not all of the cities that anchor these metros are actually on the shore. But they all include at least one sweet beach area within their confines. We limited our ranking to just two metros per state to ensure some geographic diversity. And, as in previous years, you'll be hard-pressed to find many affordable beach options on the ever-pricey West Coast. (Sorry.)
Ready to dive in? Strap on the water wings, and let's paddle through the most affordable beach towns of 2019.
Median list price: $198,846
Topsail and Surf City, both part of the Jacksonville metro area, have been attracting second-home owners from all over the country. They come from as far away as Boston, Ohio, and even California to Jacksonville, which rose from second place last year to nab the top spot in 2019. There's an especially long beach season here, stretching from late March through October, and excellent boating with large docks and deep channels.
The area is particularly popular with military families, who have been stationed nearby at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Nature lovers are fond of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, in Surf City, a fun attraction for children and adults.
“It’s nice and quiet here,” says Heather Smith, the real estate broker at Coastal Compass Agency at Keller Williams. “It’s become a real hot spot for second homes, retirees, and snowbirds.”
And it can be fairly cheap, too. It’s possible to find a four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom townhome with ocean views, right on the sand starting around $300,000. Or folks can go inland a block or two and save big bucks on a beach cottage.
2. Aberdeen, WA
Median list price: $229,564
Known as the “Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula," Aberdeen is nearly two hours southwest of Seattle and just a short drive from Olympic National Park. It’s where Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain hailed from. It is not, however, a beach town itself. But the city leads to two nice oceanfront areas nearby. The ocean waters are clear but chilly, best for surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding in the area's freshwater canals.
“The most affordable beach homes are in Greyland and Westport,” says local broker Harley Greninger of Premier Realty Grays Harbor. “You’re looking at about $150,000 to $200,000 for a single-family home.” For that price, a home may not be on the sand, but it'll be close.
The area is full of two- and three-bedroom 1940s Cape Codders and bungalows. Most are occupied by year-round residents.
Ocean Shores, WA, on the north side, is just the opposite: Most of the homes there are owned by folks who live in Seattle and Tacoma, WA, and even Vancouver, Canada, who come in for long weekends or vacations. Buyers can get deals on condos for around the same price as a free-standing house in Westport. And the resort town offers a wide range of restaurants, breweries, and family-friendly activities like entertainment parks or horseback rides on the sand.
“Affordability is the first reason people buy here,” says Greninger. “But the ocean beaches are the nicest in the state.”
Median list price: $241,655
Long known for shuttered casinos, high unemployment, and broken dreams, Atlantic City has been making a comeback lately. These days it's more known for something else: killer real estate deals near some of the northeast's widest, sandiest beaches.
Devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the boardwalk has been mostly restored to its former glory, and there are even new casinos opening on the strip.
Proximity is key here: It's just an hour and a half from Philadelphia and two-and-a-half hours from New York City. So it's closer than the Hamptons during traffic, and just a fraction of the price. It’s possible to feel the breeze coming off the ocean in your one-bedroom condo in a midcentury, beachfront building with a pool for under $100,000. A 1,395-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in an oceanfront luxury high-rise with direct access to the boardwalk and beach can be found in the mid-$200,000s.
Median list price: $245,233
Retirees have been descending on Myrtle Beach’s 60-mile stretch of continuous sand like seagulls on sandwiches. The coastal city is the fastest-growing metro in the entire United States—and that's probably because you can buy a home for less than the cost of a decent Italian sports car.
The city boasts more than 3,000 listings under $200,000, the bulk of which are townhomes and condos that are popular among second-home buyers. Many of those out-of-towners rent out their oceanfront high-rise "condotels"—condos in a building that operates like a hotel.
“You can rent it or use it yourself, as you choose," says local real estate broker Radha Herring of the Watermark Real Estate Group. "So you can actually enjoy your investment.”
The median price for these hotel-like condos is a cool $140,000. But buyers who don’t want to hear their neighbors blasting cable news through the walls can find three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes with fenced backyards in Surfside Beach, SC, for $190,000 to $200,000. They're within walking—or golf cart—distance of the shore.
Just be wary of pickpockets, or worse: Myrtle Beach has a higher-than-average crime rate, according to NeighborhoodScout.