We are fortunate to have extended family who own a vacation home in Rome, WI, and we avail ourselves of their graciousness 2-3 times per year.
Rome has three lakes, Arrowhead, Camelot, and Sherwood, all of which were created by damming rivers around 1970. The lakes were planned out to maximize the number of lakefront homes.
We just got back from a long weekend there, and what struck my wife and me were the dozens .. hundreds of homes for sale on those lakes. Literally every 3rd house had a "For Sale" sign in their front yard.
I checked a couple of real estate websites for that area .. Shorewest lists 196 waterfront homes for sale, Zillow maps about 200 of them .. There are a boatload of houses that are not on either website, perhaps indicating they are for-sale-by-owner only.. With this in mind, the number may be far higher, perhaps in the 300s.
Whitefish Bay has 124 listings, for comparison. Rome's housing stock is probably 1/5th the size of WFB.
So, we all know about the tough times for home sales, and for our economy in general. While my observations are clearly anecdotal, it would indicate a tremendous drop in second/vacation home ownership.
Besides the general malaise in the market, I think one big reason this may be happening to Rome is high gas prices. Rome is 160 miles away, a very manageable 2 hour trip from Milwaukee. That fuel cost, as we all know, has doubled in the past couple years. Going up there 2-3 times each month in the summer has become a costly adventure.
I'm a pessimist on gas prices .. I think the cycles we've had over the past 3-5 years will continue, where prices will dip in the winter, rocket in the spring and summer. I'll predict $4.75 gas prices for the summer of 2009, $5.50 for 2010. Imagine what that will do to the (secondary) real estate market and tourism.