Real Estate Market News

America’s Most—and Least—Affordable Beach Towns, 2017 Edition

| May 31, 2017

It’s the American summertime real estate fantasy.

When the mercury starts rising again from coast to coast, we start dreaming about having a home right by the beach—close enough to enjoy a morning walk by the water and to hear the waves crashing at night. Epic sandcastles. Cookouts on the beach. Second-degree sunburn. What’s not to love?

Well, the down payment, for one. And the mortgage, for another. But let’s keep the dream alive! Even if you have trouble swinging the cost of a beachfront home in the Hamptons, South Beach, or Malibu, it doesn’t mean owning a place with a soul-soothing view of clear, blue waters is off the table.

The United States’ 95,471 miles of shoreline offer a diverse array of sun-and-sand options, many of which might be well within financial reach. So to help you turn your sun-baked dreams into reality, we’re revisiting our ranking of America’s top 10 budget-friendly beach towns.

To narrow the selection, the® data team donned water wings and took a dip into median home prices in beach towns with 1,000 to 100,000 residents and that have at least 30 properties on the market. We limited the list to two towns per state, separated by at least 30 miles, to provide some geographic diversity.

Some of our top picks won’t ring a bell, but that’s a good thing—they’re less likely to be clogged with tourists, hoity-toity neighbors, and overpriced artisanal ice cream cones. In other words, you’re practically guaranteed a peaceful seaside getaway. Possibly one with lots of upside potential on the resale side.

Let’s dive in! And if envy is your thing, keep reading after our most affordable beach town list—for the least affordable list.

1. Atlantic City, NJ

Median home price: $117,500

The Atlantic City boardwalk
The Atlantic City boardwalkr_drewek/iStock

With towering resort hotels, beaches, and a beloved boardwalk, Atlantic City is among the most famous beach towns in America. Surprise: It’s also one of the most affordable.

The low prices are, in part, due to the shuttered casinos and high local unemployment, as the city has yet to fully recover from the recession. That’s resulted in a number of short sales and foreclosures, driving home prices way down. The already-hurting city was also walloped by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a devastating one-two punch.

On the bright side, it has opened up a chance for people to snatch up summer houses at cheaper prices. The waterfront now has a slew of condos starting at $100,000. Plus, fewer tourists means more beach space to yourself. Low real estate prices have also attracted investors who are betting on the city’s comeback.

“People aren’t coming [to Atlantic City] for the gambling; they are coming for the beach,” says real estate agent Deborah Gegeckas of Boardwalk Realty. “You’ve got the boardwalk, amusement parks, shows, a hundred five-star restaurants.” (A hundred is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

2. Keansburg, NJ

Median home price: $125,000

A quieter beach of Keansburg, NJ
A quieter beach of Keansburg, NJandykazie/iStock

For a lower-key Jersey Shore experience, try Keansburg. The public beach doesn’t have lifeguards on duty, but the sand is powdery white and the sunsets are stunning. So blast some early-period Springsteen (headphones, please) and chill.

Not everything here is sleepy. Thrill-seekers and families regularly flock to the Keansburg Amusement Park for dozens of waterslides, including the notorious and frankly stomach-churning Super Slide. There are also family arcade centers and an abundance of tasty boardwalk treats—funnel cake, anyone? (Just not after the Super Slide.)

Like Atlantic City, Keansburg is also slowly recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Today, home prices are among the cheapest on the Jersey Shore—you could find a decent home a stone’s throw away from the beach for around $150,000.

And things are looking up for developments. Last year, a $65 million, mixed-use project broke ground on the waterfront. Expected to be completed by summer 2018, the complex will feature two stories of retail space, together with a collection of market-rate and affordable apartments.

3. Gulfport, MS

Median home price: $154,700

Downtown Gulfport, MS
Downtown Gulfport, MSDenisTangneyJr/iStock

On the Gulf of Mexico, the shore gives way to marshlands, gnarled oak trees, and lush palmetto groves. The 26 miles of manmade beach in Gulfport welcomes sunbathers, horseback riders, and bocce ballers. Because of the barrier islands, the waters off Gulfport are tranquil and smooth for swimmers.

Visitors and residents alike can hop on a ferry to nearby Ship Island, which has even more beaches and water activities like paddleboarding and snorkeling. Alcohol and food are allowed on the beach, so bring a picnic and a thermos full of ice-cold mojitos.

Buyers can score a place on the cheap—or splurge for the beach home of their dreams. A lovely cottage within walking distance to the beach costs less than $170,000 and boasts a raised foundation to guard against flood damage. For buyers with deeper pockets, a magazine-worthy home with a chef’s kitchen can be yours for just $600,000.

4. Deerfield Beach, FL

Median home price: $157,900

Deerfield Beach, FL
Deerfield Beach, FLicholakov/iStock

This lazy, understated town in southern Florida is blissfully free of partiers and velvet-rope VIP rooms. Flip-flops and sundresses are the dress code of choice, and domestic beers are preferred over $20 cocktails. It other words, this place is all about the casual beach vibe.

But when it comes time to get adrenalized, you can head to the Quiet Waters Park, one of the best places to experience “cable skiing,” a form of boat-free water skiing in which you’re pulled quickly along a 2,700-foot oval course while clutching a cable. It’s more fun than it sounds.

Deerfield has a variety of waterfront homes, including estates with direct beach access and canal-front homes that come with boating docks. While those homes often command a premium, there are many affordable choices in the low $100,000 range for those willing to go a few blocks inland.

5. La Porte, TX

Median home price: $193,600

The battleship Texas, permanently docked in La Porte, TX
The battleship Texas, permanently docked in La Porte, TXRobertMayne/iStock

This picturesque small town is a real slice of old Texas—and in case you have doubts, check out the battleship Texas, which is permanently anchored here. La Porte was a roaring beach resort in the 1940s, before being hit by a series of hurricanes. Over the years it transformed into a port-based bedroom community of nearby Houston. The tourists flocked elsewhere, but lately the beaches have reopened and the town is showing signs of summer life yet again.

Sylvan Beach Park is home to two sandy beaches, perfect for building sandcastles and playing beach volleyball. Its 1,100-foot fishing pier is the longest in Texas. Plus, it’s home to the 61-year-old Sylvan Beach Festival, an annual event that kicks off with a parade, followed by a carnival, cook-off, and beauty pageant. And Texas knows beauty pageants.

Within one or two blocks of the water, there is an abundance of ranch- and bungalow-style single-family homes for less than $300,000.

“La Porte is affordable, and quiet,” says Realtor® Jeanette Haas, with Keller Williams Realty. “For less than half a million, you get something really amazing that’s right on the water. You don’t get that in other places.”

6. Myrtle Beach, SC

Median home price: $199,000

Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach, SCSeanPavonePhoto/iStock

Called the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of pristine beach is the most precious asset of Myrtle Beach, drawing millions of visitors every summer. Early-morning beach walkers enjoy the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. Late-night strollers marvel at the spectacular moonrise. Water activities abound, ranging from Jet Ski rentals to parasailing.

There’s never a dull moment on Myrtle Beach, from live entertainment, to theme parks, to—wait for it—an upside-down house called WonderWorks. Scores of restaurants and golf courses ensure that your moments of quiet reflection are kept to a bare minimum.

So why is this famous beach community so affordable? Because the city has a dark side as well. The violent crime rate in Myrtle Beach is more than four times the national average, according to the most recent FBI data. That’s brought home prices down. So do your research on the neighborhood before buying a home. There are still plenty of safe neighborhoods, including the Coventry area, Queensway Boulevard, and Holmestown Road.

7. Port Lavaca, TX

Median home price: $199,700

Located on the bay, Port Lavaca might not have posh surf shops or fancy oceanfront bars, but those on the prowl for an uncrowded getaway could find everything they’re looking for. Beach bums love spending an afternoon of leisure on the Lighthouse Beach, lying under thatch-covered cabanas.

The bay’s long coastline presents many opportunities for bargain homes. If you’re lucky, you might find beachfront homes for as low as $170,000 on Alamo Beach, which is a 17-minute drive from downtown Port Lavaca. The popular strip of beach near downtown Port Lavaca is more expensive, where a waterfront home starts around $300,000.

8. Daytona Beach, FL

Median home price: $199,900

Famed for randy spring breakers and NASCAR, Daytona Beach is otherwise wonderfully idle. It’s a great place for people watching, and giant reptile gazing. From May to October, sea turtles emerge from the surf at night to lay eggs in the dry sand. Two months later, baby turtles will crawl back to the ocean. Fun!

There are plenty of reasons Daytona Beach gets away with calling itself the “World’s Most Famous Beach.” The 23 miles of wide, hard-packed sand enables an unconventional tradition—beach driving. Cruising and parking on the beach is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset for $10 a day. A myriad of water activities can quickly fill up your to-do list, from scuba diving to view the artificial reefs to doing paddleboard yoga on the calm waters.

“The prices just haven’t come back from the crash,” says Rose Roberts, president of Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors. “But the market is definitely improving. So far this year, we’ve been very busy.”

Daytona Beach’s waterfront is dotted by high-rise condos overlooking the beach and the boardwalk. A premium ocean-view unit with direct beach access could cost about a half-million dollars—still way cheaper than Miami Beach. But once you go across the A1A, the main drag, prices drop dramatically. For less than $200,000, you could get a spacious single-family home that’s still within walking distance to the beach.

9. Ocean Shores, WA

Median home price: $232,500

Ocean Shores, WA
Ocean Shores, WAcarterdayne/iStock

Ocean Shores is popular with Seattleites, who make the three-hour drive for quiet weekend sojourns. And despite its northern location, the quaint beach town has something to offer year-round.

In the summertime, whale-watching cruises are a hot ticket, while winter is fine for strolling through the gallery-filled downtown or digging for clams on the beach. Every March, the Razor Clam Festival sets off a competition among local chefs for the best chowder in the Northwest. Clamtastic!

In 1960, developers started selling lots to individuals for as low as $595. Within a few years, Ocean Shores had hundreds of homes with canal frontage. The latest wave of construction started in the 1990s, and home prices have since stayed reasonable. Buyers have a good selection of beach homes from $300,000 and inland homes from $150,000.

10. North Bend, OR

Median home price: $239,000

The Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge in North Bend, Oregon
The Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge in North Bend, OregonPanoramic Images/Getty Images

Surrounded by thick forests, North Bend is called “Oregon’s Adventure Coast” for a reason. Along a 42-mile stretch of coast, wind-sculpted sand dunes provide numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking and horseback riding. The waves by Horsfall Beach are perfect for some serious surfing. Craving seafood? Catch a Dungeness crab, and let the folks at Fishermen’s Wharf cook it for you.

What began as a fishing village has blossomed into a vibrant community of almost 10,000 people. North Bend is accessible by highway and the Oregon coast’s only airport, which is a five-minute drive from downtown.

Perched on an ocean bay, the town boasts a variety of affordable hillside homes overlooking the bay or scenic golf courses for around $200,000. The area is particularly popular with Californians looking for vacation homes.

“Because the price of Californian beach towns is so high, they come to us for affordable second homes,” says Realtor Joann Hansen with Joann Hansen Realty. “Also because summer weather in California is hot, and Oregon is temperate—probably in the 70s at the top.”


The beach towns you probably can’t afford

Now it’s time to look at the other side of the cabana—the fabulously expensive towns reserved for the fabulously rich.

Southern California claims America’s poshest beach postal codes in 2017. Topping the list is Malibu, where the median home price is a hefty $3.95 million. The city’s Carbon Beach, also known as “Billionaire’s Beach,” is home to A-list actors, rock stars, and power players in the entertainment biz. Just a few weeks ago, media mogul David Geffen reportedly sold his massive compound there for $85 million, setting a record as the most expensive real estate transaction in Malibu.

Beach houses in Malibu
Beach houses in Maliburaisbeckfoto/iStock

The coastal Northeast also makes the list: The Hamptons in New York and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts are still considered the country’s premium waterfront communities.

In Water Mill, NY, the chic heart of the chic Hamptons, you’ll drop about $3.75 million for the privilege of living on the beach near folks like Jennifer Lopez. Part of the Town of Southampton, Water Mill has strict land use regulations that limit many new houses to 5-acre lots.

Some less familiar names also pop up on the list: Tiny Sullivan’s Island, SC, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, where the median home price is about $2.45 million. A pristine shoreline, paired with the exclusive location but easy access to the cultural wealth of Charleston, makes this island popular among the 1% of the low country.

The small town of Haleiwa lies in the middle of Hawaii’s world-famous North Shore. It’s not just surfers who are coming for the 40-foot-high waves—it’s also a social and artistic hub. Nowhere else on Oahu will you find quaint shops and cafes housed in plantation-era buildings right by the beach.

Housing options include cute bungalows starting at around $1 million and custom oceanfront mansions running as high as $15 million.

“There’s so little land available for development on the waterfront, that’s what makes them so expensive and desirable,” says Realtor Michael Gardner with Sotheby’s International Realty, in Malibu. Places like Malibu and the Hamptons are also “a quick drive away from the city’s epicenter of wealth, where the top 1% earners have their primary residences.”

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