Remember that warm-weather place you cherished as a winter getaway back in those hazy, crazy, pre-pandemic days of, say, 2019? What would it be like to live there year-round?
For more Americans, this alluring fantasy has become a reality, especially during this particularly bleak COVID-19 winter. As office and home, work and play blend together in this pandemic age, areas that once served as sunny vacation respites from chillier climes are emerging as desirable long-term locations for remote workers—and that’s been a game changer for real estate markets across the country.
“Traditionally, winter is a season when many residents of northern, colder states move south to enjoy the warmer weather in states nearer the Gulf Coast,” says George Ratiu, senior economist for realtor.com®. “This year, the migration is compounded by the COVID pandemic, leading lots of residents from the Northeast and Midwest to seek not only a seasonal escape but a permanent home.”
One driving force: These are often much cheaper places to buy a home, in an era when working remotely is becoming a viable long-term option. While expensive cities have long held a monopoly on great jobs, it now turns out that you don’t actually have to pay for an overpriced, undersized urban apartment to make a great salary. And housing data shows that house hunters from snowy states have been bidding on homes in warmer and more affordable markets in Southern markets for a change of lifestyle, weather, and cost of living.
To find the most affordable warm-weather destinations where folks can ride out the rest of the pandemic—and well beyond—the realtor.com data team scoured the United States for counties with high median temperatures for January and February, lower cost of living with median home prices below $350,000, actual inventory, access to cultural and outdoor amenities, and high-speed internet so it’s possible to get work done. We also factored in the number of vacation rentals in each county just in case there’s a need to rent the place out.
So why not escape that tiny, overpriced apartment amid the polar vortex gales to somewhere you can actually thaw out this winter—and possibly every winter? Spring and summer, too! Let’s take a tour of your potential new WFH headquarters.
Median home price: $275,000
Tampa Bay residents are still celebrating their Super Bowl win, but the area has a lot more going for it than Tom Brady. The metro boasts 246 days of sunshine per year, average February temperatures in the 70s, and some of the softest sand in the continental U.S. along the Gulf Coast beaches in Pinellas County.
The county, which sits along the Gulf of Mexico, across the bay from Tampa, has seen an influx of home buyers from colder, more expensive places like Illinois, Minnesota, and even New York, who have been snatching up real estate.
“We are having New Yorkers come to the Gulf Coast,” says Terry Tillung, real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Realty. “There used to be separation where East Coast people would come to the east coast of Florida and Midwesterners would come here. We’re seeing a shift now.”
Those Northeasterners and others from cold climes have been trading out their cramped apartments for homes near the water, including this two-bedroom condo with killer views of Clearwater Beach listed for $250,000 and this two-bedroom house in St. Petersburg Beach on the market for $245,000.
Median listing price: $339,900
As winter approached, remote workers from New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Chicago, and pricey California began flocking to Broward County’s beaches in droves. The area, home to Fort Lauderdale, is just north of Miami-Dade and all of its world-class cultural offerings, but boasts a more chill vibe.
Its beachfront strip, once infamous for spring break shenanigans, now boasts high-end restaurants. Walkable and sophisticated Las Olas Boulevard attracts visitors from across the region who want to eat, shop, and drink.
Plus, the area boasts a wide range of housing at a wide range of prices. For just $269,000, buyers can get into this two-bedroom condo right next to one of the nicest beaches in Fort Lauderdale. And those who want newer homes with more space and better public schools can drive 20 minutes west to find places like this three-bedroom townhouse in desirable Cooper City listed at $299,900. But these days, buyers need to move fast.
“It’s been a complete frenzy,” says Samantha DeBianchi, estate agent for DeBianchi Real Estate. “If I put a home on the market and it’s priced right, I’ll get five calls within the first 30 minutes.”
Median listing price: $225,000
According to the San Diego Audubon Society, Corpus Christi is “America’s birdiest place.” The large, shallow bay on which it lies attracts diverse flocks of water birds, songbirds, and raptors that bring in avian aficionados from across the U.S. But it’s not just amateur ornithologists who have been migrating here.
The family-friendly metro is protected from the Gulf of Mexico by the gorgeous Padre and Mustang islands, which offer outdoor activities ranging from beach combing and watching sea turtles hatch to camping and paddling trails—along with plenty of tourists looking to rent vacation homes during season.
Those homes are a steal. Starting in the mid-$100,000 range, buyers can get into condos with a view, including this two-bedroom on the water listed at $144,500 or a single-family nearby for a couple of hundred thousand more, including this three-bedroom house listed for $279,900.
Median listing price: $175,000
One county south of Nueces, Cameron County, home to Padre Island National Seashore and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, has the same warm winter weather (average highs are in the 60s) with even more nature access and cheaper real estate. For $159,000, house hunters can get into this three-bedroom home in Laguna Vista, right near the waterfront and the wildlife refuge. Folks seeking a beach lifestyle can find a two-bedroom condo in the hub of South Padre Island for $172,500.
Median listing price: $179,800
There’s a reason Yuma County is called “America’s salad bowl.” The border region produces much of the lettuce, broccoli, and other leafy greens that Americans eat during the winter months. That’s because with highs in the mid-70s come February, plants can get all the sun they need to thrive when much of the rest of the country is frozen over.
The idyllic weather is reason enough to pack your bags and head south, but the landscape is just as impressive. It’s home to Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, a 665,400-acre preserve with one of the largest herds of desert bighorn sheep in the Southwest, deer, foxes, and a wide variety of plants, some found only in this small slice of the Grand Canyon state.
Yuma County has plenty of affordable options for those seeking to thaw out through the winter, from relaxing retreats in the desert, such as this two-bedroom on an acre of land in Wellton for $139,900, to nice spreads in town with a pool, like this three-bedroom listed at $174,900.
Median listing price: $179,000
Terrebonne Parish is known as a paradise for outdoor activities, where locals spend their free time hiking through nature preserves and hunting and fishing in the freshwater bayous and the Gulf of Mexico. Because everyone is outside so much anyway, the pandemic hasn’t changed that much in terms of everyday life.
“My house is on the water, so COVID times did not even affect me,” says Melanie Rogers Bruce, real estate agent with Keller Williams Bayou Partners. “I sit out on my little dock, and any stress I have goes away.”
While the area does boast multimillion-dollar waterfront homes, the $250,000 to $400,000 range gets the most action. At that price, buyers can get their own little “camp,” a waterfront house raised on stilts with a dock, including this cute three-bedroom with a boat lift for $259,900.
Median listing price: $175,000
One parish over from Terrebonne and just a hop, skip, and a jump from all the action and music of New Orleans, Lafourche Parish offers a similarly outdoorsy lifestyle to its outlying neighbor with the same mild winter climate. But the area also gives Nueces County (see above) a run for its money in birding.
From fall through spring, a diverse array of migratory birds including herons, egrets, and hummingbirds spends time in the county’s idyllic pockets of salt marsh, shallow bays, grassy meadows, and shady live oak forests.
“It is one of the biggest bird-watching communities in the nation, and there’s monarch butterfly migration,” says Rogers Bruce. “Really it’s great for any kind of outdoor animal watching.”
Nature lovers can get into their own base near Grand Isle at prices starting around $200,000, including this $225,000 four-bedroom.
Median listing price: $254,900
Savannah’s oak-covered squares and historic homes have been drawing new residents seeking a calmer (and warmer) pace of life for the past decade or so, but the city has offered yet another carrot to lure remote workers since COVID-19 roiled big tech centers: a $2,000 reimbursement for relocaters.
With its great restaurants, quaint streets, and gorgeous nearby beaches, it’s no surprise that this year has seen a massive influx of Northerners.
Buyers who want to be right near the historic core—and take advantage of the city’s moving incentive—can find small houses with compact yards starting in the $200,000s, including this two-bedroom cottage listed for $239,000.
Median listing price: $260,000
Tucson and greater Pima County have been growing steadily over the past decade. This Sun Belt city’s population has grown by a healthy 6.8% in the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Even more people have been coming in since COVID-19 hit. Remote workers from California, Nevada, and beyond have been snatching up fully contained spreads with room for entertaining (outdoors, obviously) and private pools, including this $260,000 four-bedroom and this $260,000 three-bedroom on an acre just outside Tucson Mountain Park.
“Everyone wants amenities now,” says Jen Anderson of the Jen Anderson Team, Long Realty.
Median listing price: $177,900
Want to know where you can buy a single-family house just steps from the beach for less than $200,000? Look to Mississippi, specifically Harrison County. The popular second-home and retirement area offers mild winter temperatures (highs in the 60s), a plethora of outdoor activities, frequent events (in normal times), and incredibly affordable housing, including this four-bedroom ranch right near the sand in Pass Christian listed for $185,000.
Mississippi’s beaches, which have been dubbed the Secret Coast, traditionally haven’t drawn as much attention as Florida, Alabama, and other coastal states, but that’s started to change as more buyers from cold places like Michigan and Colorado have been buying up homes and land.
“Many people don’t realize what a gem we have here, but I think the word is getting out,” says Wendy Hope Boyd, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Alfonso Realty.