Dreaming of a getaway ... If investing in a holiday home, one should look long-term. Photo: Louise Kennerley
About this time of year, many people are tempted by the lure of a holiday home.
Real estate agents in coastal towns tend to see a rise in sales over the summer months - hardly surprising given the number of city dwellers flocking to the beach.
But how do these idyllic retreats stack up as investments?
To an economist, holiday homes are the ultimate ''discretionary'' asset. They can be good investments, without question. But when house prices fall, they fall particularly hard in holiday hot spots. This means people who buy in these regions should have a long-term time frame.
Areas with a high share of holiday homes - which are overwhelmingly on the coast - have struggled in recent years.
If you compare today's prices with all-time peaks, the worst-performing region for units in Australia has been the northern coast of NSW, which includes Byron Bay and Tweed Heads.
Figures from RP Data show unit prices are down 22.7 per cent from their peaks in this region, while freestanding homes are down a more moderate 7.4 per cent.
The results are similar, if less dramatic, in many other favourite holiday destinations.
The Surf Coast of Victoria, which includes Lorne and Torquay, has suffered an 11.5 per cent slump in unit prices, although freestanding homes are only 0.7 per cent off their peaks.
Queensland's Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast are also in a funk.
Why are holiday home markets struggling? For the same reasons the prestige property market suffers when the economy is weak.
First, holiday homes are luxuries, not necessities.
When consumers are lacking in confidence - as they are now - they are much less likely to bid up the price of things they don't really need. Just like yacht sales slump during weaker economic periods, so it is for holiday homes. Levels of wealth in the economy, especially among richer households, are also important.
Wealthier people tend to have more of their assets tied up in shares, so how the sharemarket is faring can influence decisions about splashing out on things such as a holiday home.
So when the sharemarket is struggling, premium holiday home markets often tend to perform poorly.
All up, this means demand for beachside getaways can be erratic.
Prices in many key holiday markets are still much further off their peaks than prices in capital cities.
Several coastal areas also have a higher share of people who are behind on their mortgages.
So what does it mean for people who are thinking about buying a holiday home?
First, you need to be in it for the long term.
Holiday homes usually produce much weaker rental yields than other investment properties, because people want to use the home for themselves for at least some of the year.
Therefore, most of the pay-off for investors comes from capital gain.
The chief economist at Fairfax-owned Australian Property Monitors, Dr Andrew Wilson, says beachside markets tend to follow the national trend in terms of prices, but only over the long term.
With official interest rates at record lows and tipped by some to fall further, prices could recover as buyers who have always wanted to get into the market make their move. But the risks are clear.
So if you are thinking of buying a coastal retreat this summer, the experts say there are a few things to bear in mind.
You should be confident enough in your financial situation so that you won't need to sell suddenly.
And perhaps most importantly, make sure you value a holiday home as a place to get away, as well as seeing it as a financial asset.