Surf’s Up! America’s Most Affordable Beach Towns, 2018 Edition

On the great master list of American dreams, owning a home on an ocean beach tends to be near the top, wedged somewhere between “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and finishing “Moby Dick.” But to most folks, the beachy lifestyle can seem like a distant goal. After all, words such as “oceanfront real estate” and “affordable” aren’t often paired together.

That’s where the sunburned realtor.com® data team comes in. As we do each summer, we crunched the numbers and donned our water wings to calculate the nation’s most affordable beach towns—places that offer sweet, sandy waterfronts, plenty of fun things to do, bargain-priced housing, and those coveted ocean breezes.

Surfing under a rainbow in Virginia Beach Surfing under a rainbow in Virginia Beach

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These aren’t the country’s best known and rarified ocean towns (sorry, Hamptons and Malibu!), but each one has a great beach and a cool and distinct vibe, from ruminative to rowdy, serene to (sorta) swanky.

So what floats your boat?

“You want a beach that’s a fit for you,” says James H. Boykin, author of “Investing in a Vacation Home for Pleasure and Profit.” Would-be home buyers should find out how long the high seasons last, which will affect real estate values and the rental potential of the homes.

“If you have a reserved or laid-back lifestyle, you may not be too keen on being somewhere rambunctious—or with beaches that are so crowded you can barely move,” he explains.

Buyers on tight budgets also shouldn’t forget to consider flood insurance rates, which can be high on the coasts, and if the beach has a history of erosion and storms, Boykin says. Who wants to lose a few feet of beach overnight—or worse?

To find the country’s top beach bargains for home buyers, we scoured the home listings on realtor.com that mentioned the word “ocean” in the nation’s more than 900 largest housing markets. (This weeded out the beachfront communities along lakes and rivers.) Then we found the towns with the lowest median list prices from April 2017 through May 2018. Finally, we talked to locals to ensure these were places that folks would want to spend a summer vacation—or a lifetime—in.

So grab your Havaianas, your econo-size bottles of SPF 120, and your checkbook! It’s time to scope out the most affordable U.S. beach towns.

Most affordable beach towns Most affordable beach towns

Tony Frenzel

Median home list price: $184,100

Gulfport, MS Gulfport, MS

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This town on the Gulf Coast, about an hour and a half northeast of New Orleans, was smacked hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm destroyed local properties and increased flood insurance premiums. Then the housing bubble and economic downturn walloped the region yet again. But here’s the thing: Those series of unfortunate events gave local home buyers a big discount.

And now the quiet community is on the upswing. In many parts of the Gulf Coast, buying a beachfront home is still out of reach for most ordinary mortals. Not here, though.

Homes right on the water start around $300,000 in the region, says Kelly Moses, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Alfonso Realty, and prices drop the farther inland buyers go. For example, this three-bedroom, three-bath home with wood beam ceilings and a five-minute walk to the ocean is just $285,000.

“Gulfport is one of the best kept secrets of all the coastal towns,” says Moses. “Gulfport has beautiful, man-made beaches, more than 20 miles of clean, white, soft sand.” Some pretty fine Louisiana cuisine, too.

Median home list price: $184,600

The Pelletier house, the oldest standing structure in Jacksonville, NC The Pelletier house, the oldest standing structure in Jacksonville, NC

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Jacksonville is a military town, with several small islands just off the coast known for terrific beaches and lots of activities. Home to the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast, the town offers sun worshippers many fun options, including Topsail Island beaches, a 20-mile stretch of sandy goodness that’s south of the city center and is great for surfing, fishing, or extreme tanning.

Not far is Emerald Isle, an island with 12 miles of beautiful shoreline and some killer views of the Atlantic from the Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier.

The real estate prices here vary. Buyers near Topsail Beach, who tend to be current or former military members, can find one- and two-story beachfront houses starting around $300,000, while on Emerald Isle such homes will run from $500,000 to over $1 million. 

Jacksonville’s Fourth of July Freedom Festival brings 20,000 people into town for the festivities.

And because it’s a military community, rentals are always in demand. So savvy buyers don’t have to put their homes on the market if they get shipped off.

“It allows military members who want to buy to also make it an investment [property] when they leave,” says Jon Myers, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage Realty, who often sells to current and former military personnel.

Median home list price: $208,400

Could Aberdeen, WA, be your own personal beach nirvana? Could Aberdeen, WA, be your own personal beach nirvana?

Ingo Dörenberg

News flash: Swimming isn’t all that shore living has to offer. In the Aberdeen region, where the waves lean chilly, there are lots of water-related activities that don’t involve taking a dip. There’s great surfing (don’t forget the dry suit) as well as kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding in the region’s freshwater canals. Plus, it’s only about a 45-minute drive to the Olympic National Forest, which is popular with hikers and campers.

The local attractions—and unbeatable prices—are why lots of second-home buyers and retirees from Portland, OR, and Seattle are snapping up area properties.

Buyers looking to live near the water should be prepared to shell out $300,000 to $400,000 for a single-family home, says Kelsey Brazeau, a real estate broker at Keller Williams South Sound. But there are also oceanfront condos going for about $200,000 that boast great views.

“Ocean Shores has been sleepy for a while, but right now it’s experiencing some new growth,” says Brazeau, who sells in Ocean Shores, about a half-hour outside of Aberdeen, where homes are flying off the market. “It’s very affordable, and you’re right on the Pacific.”

Median home list price: $229,800

The Atlantic City Boardwalk The Atlantic City Boardwalk

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Atlantic City has ensured more than its share of rough patches. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy swept through, damaging homes near the city’s famed boardwalk. A few years later, a slew of Atlantic City casinos began closing, including the Showboat Casino, Trump Plaza, and Trump Taj Mahal.

“People lost their jobs, and a lot of people relocated out of town,” says Todd Gordon, a real estate agent at Hartman Home Team. “People walked away from their properties, [and] foreclosures and short sales went up.”

But over the past year, the region has seen a surge in development. Look no farther than the $500 million renovation of the former Trump Taj Mahal, which will reopen later this month as the new ‘n’ improved Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. New projects such as this have helped to give oceanfront condo buying a lift. The rock-bottom prices are a big draw for buyers from Philadelphia and New York City .

Did we mention that there’s a beach here? It’s a really nice one, actually, with plenty of big, beautiful homes lining its long coastline.

One-bedroom condos with ocean views range from $125,000 to $300,000, says Gordon. Single-family homes start around $150,000 and can top $500,000.

“It is a great town with wonderful beaches and entertainment,” Gordon says. “The price point to be on the water here is far lower than [many other] beach towns nearby.”

Median home list price: $234,800

Aerial view of Myrtle Beach, SC Aerial view of Myrtle Beach, SC

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Myrtle Beach isn’t your run-of-the-mill beach town. This place is a tourist mecca during the summer months, when families across the East Coast and Midwest pile their kids into the SUV and take off for a weekend of fun. This place had more than 18.6 million visitors in 2016, according to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. That’s more than double the size of America’s largest city, New York City, and its 8.5 million residents.

All those vacationers mean there are lots and lots of fun activities in the area, everything from deep-sea fishing to golf, to the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel (a 187-foot Ferris wheel).

And it turns out it’s a pretty nice place to own a home, too. With around 60 miles of beaches, the region has a ton of oceanfront-buying opportunities. Many of these places are raised to avoid flooding. This four-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot beach home is in the Oceanside Village, which has multiple pools and a fitness center on site. The best part of this $264,000 abode: The ocean is just a short walk away. Nice!

Median home list price: $237,600

Corpus Christi, TX, marina Corpus Christi, TX, marina

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When planning a coastal vacation, Corpus Christi isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind. But this historical oil town is packed with great shore areas, like the white-sand North Beach, located downtown, or Malaquite Beach, around 40 minutes away, which has great beachside campsites.

And unlike some of the spots on our list, Corpus Christi is a great year-round destination for younger workers who aren’t thinking about retirement just yet. The Port of Corpus Christi is a major driver of oil and gas employment in the region.

Prices are low here partly due to the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Harvey last August. The storm caused millions of dollars in home damage, which is why Corpus Christi is one of just 27 of the 350 largest metros where home prices fell over the past 12 months.

So where are buyers going? Beachfront communities in the area such as Rockport are packed with affordable homes within walking distance to the ocean. For instance, this two-bedroom, Colonial Revival–style townhome is located in a gated community right by the beach. The price tag seems just right at $229,000.

Median home list price: $261,600

Palm Bay, FL, residential home for sale Palm Bay, FL, residential home for sale

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Palm Bay may be perfect for aspiring beachcombers and wannabe astronauts alike. Located on Florida’s “Space Coast,” the metro is home to both the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

“We have an influx of people from California and New York, who work in tech and engineering and move here because of the base [and space industry],” says Cara Mattingly, a real estate agent at Advanta Realty, in Palm Bay. “Buyers like the fact that no matter where you are in the area, you can get to the beach in less than 25 minutes.”

Single-family homes in Palm Bay, which is only 45 minutes from Orlando, usually range from $200,000 to $250,000, she says. But living right on the water doesn’t come cheap. Beachfront condos start around $400,000. Ocean-front, single-family homes, which range from Mid-Century Modern to Mediterranean Revival styles, can easily top $1 million.

When it comes to beaches, the Indialantic Boardwalk and Seashore is among the most popular for swimmers and bodysurfers. Bonus: sea turtles!

Median home list price: $273,200

Live like a (sea) king for less in Virginia Beach, VA Live like a (sea) king for less in Virginia Beach, VA

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Every year, around 15 million people flock to Virginia Beach to swim, parasail, and buy lots and lots of tacky souvenirs.

Brick, single-story homes right on the beach go for at least $400,000. And the price heads north as the homes get bigger. But there are still some great deals to be found. In the Ocean View Beach area , buyers can find homes with beachy pastel colors that sell between $100,000 to $120,000, and they’re still within walking distance to the ocean, says Barry Jenkins, a real estate agent at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.

“People will sacrifice the [size of the] house and pay more for the location right on the water,” Jenkins says.

The cherry on top? Of the 50 largest housing markets in the country, Virginia Beach has the lowest average down payment, at 6.8%. (That may be because of all of the military buyers getting no-down-payment-required VA loans as the area is home to the Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world.) You can take those savings and go visit the stingrays at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in town.

Median home list price: $274,200

A view of Coos Bay, OR A view of Coos Bay, OR

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A beachgoer in Oregon isn’t going to get much swim time in those chilly Pacific waters. So vacationers have gotten creative. At Bastendorff Beach in Coos Bay, folks camp, collect seashells, or work aggressively on getting rid of their tan lines.

And when they’re not at the beach, folks are watching the golf pros swing the 9-iron at the Bandon Dunes Resort, which hosts the Curtis Cup; kayaking at the South Slough National Estuarine Reserve; or watching national music acts at the restored Egyptian Theatre in downtown.

Many of the homes for sale in Coos Bay are on the older side, built in the 1960s and ’70s—but they come with great views. Look no further than this two-bedroom condo just north of downtown with ocean views. The home and its bamboo flooring and Corian countertops is priced at $192,500.

Median home list price: $274,700

Port St. Lucie in the sky Port St. Lucie in the sky

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Oceanfront real estate in South Florida isn’t always on the affordable side. But that’s the draw of Port St. Lucie, about 50 minutes north of West Palm Beach, where buyers can snap up a beachfront home without breaking the bank.

“The water is beautiful, very blue. We have waves here, and it’s good for surfing and excellent for sailfishing,” says Richard L. McKinney, a real estate agent at Atlantic Shores Realty Expertise. In fact, the city of Stuart, less than 20 minutes from downtown Port St. Lucie, is known as the Sailfish Capital of the World. (Who knew?)

Beachfront property here starts around $500,000 for single-family homes and $200,000 for condos. Even property on some of the nearby isles isn’t outrageous. For example, this two-bedroom condo on Hutchinson Island is priced at $315,000. That isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s not too bad considering how much oceanfront condos and single-family homes are going for in places such as Miami. This 521-square-foot studio on the water in Miami Beach is listed for $744,000. Do the math!

Allison Underhill contributed to this report.

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