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When Americans dream of a vacation home, they picture something near the water - the ocean, a lake or a river - with a porch or patio, lots of bedrooms for family and friends and easy upkeep.

Reality check: Only 7 percent actually own a vacation house, according to a new survey by a Chase Manhattan subsidiary. But that number, which doesn't include time shares or vacant land, is nevertheless substantially higher than previous surveys on second homes.For example, a 1989 survey of 55,000 people by the American Housing Survey found only 5 percent owned vacation homes of any type. Other surveys reported even lower percentages.

If the Chase findings hold up, they may help confirm predictions made in the '80s that aging baby boomers would fuel an increase in second home ownership as the century neared its end.

"Our vacation home business is quite successful right now despite the volatility in the marketplace," said Thomas Garvey, president of Chase Manhattan Personal Financial Services. "In fact, many offices are experiencing a significant increase in this type of purchase."

The survey found that while 41 percent of those who don't actually own a vacation house said they would buy in the South, a substantial minority - 31 percent - prefer the West.

The most popular location is Florida, as it has been for years, with 18 percent saying they would buy along the coast or on Key West.

But 4 percent said they would prefer the Aspen-Denver area, popular for skiing, hiking and other outdoor sports, and another 4 percent like the scenic Blue Ridge and Ozark mountains regions.

Other popular sites are Southern California, Cape Hatteras, N.C., Hilton Head, S.C., Phoenix, the state of Montana, San Francisco and Cape Cod, Mass.

Here's what the 1,000 adults responding to the Chase Manhattan national survey on vacation homes between May 5-8 said they wanted:

- 59 percent want to be near water (37 percent beach, 22 percent lake)

- 22 percent prefer the mountains

- 51 percent see the house primarily as a getaway

- 6 percent are looking for a cheaper place to go for vacation

- 19 percent say a porch or patio is the most important feature

- 15 percent want an easy-care condo or co-op

- 14 percent would like a private beach

- 12 percent want a house with many bedrooms

The survey found that 46 percent thought they would rent out the house part of the time. But among the actual owners of second homes, only 15 percent rent their homes to others, receiving an average weekly rent of $783.