Although the cost of buying in a rural area can be significantly lower than in the city, the pandemic buying spree has meant competition has been fierce. Last year, first-time buyers Anna Lewkowska and Alex McKean bought a second home in Yucca Valley, Calif., near Joshua Tree National Park. They put in offers on three different houses before landing the winning bid on a two-bedroom, one- and-a-half bathroom house with about 2,000 square feet and panoramic views. They paid $517,000 — more than $120,000 over the list price.

That’s still a fraction of what it would have cost them to own a home in Santa Monica, where the median price today is $1.9 million, according to Realtor.com. Ms. Lewkowska, 31, who owns a talent management business, and Mr. McKean, 32, who works in product management for a pipe manufacturing company, said they love where they live near the beach in Santa Monica, but they knew homeownership was not affordable there. “We know that real estate is a great investment,” said Ms. Lewkowska. “But here in Los Angeles, it’s extremely expensive.”

They’ve spent the past year going back and forth between the two places while renovating the Yucca Valley property, doing some of the work themselves. They’ve dubbed the house the Mandarin Escape and describe the design style as “modern retro” with gold fixtures and a sunset, ‘70s color theme. The plan is to rent it out on Airbnb, starting later this spring. Ms. Lewkowska said they think they can charge between $250 and $1,000 a night, depending on the season. “It was the basic economics of it, for us,” Mr. McKean said.

Other first-timers are buying second homes now with the idea of moving into them later on. Jackie Puerta, a 48-year-old ultrasound technician who lives in North Bergen, N.J., said she became enamored with Miami in the ’80s watching “Miami Vice,” the TV show. Earlier this year, she bought a 16th-floor condo in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood for $310,000. She spent the first few weeks staying at the condo on an air mattress. “Just to wake up to that view, it was all worth it,” she said.



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