Thursday, February 21, 2008

Part 4 of Series..."What to Think About When Buying Lakeshore"

Part 4: What's Your Radius?
Today I'll talk about the most important topic for nearly all cabin far will they go? We're not as concerned here about second home buyers or those that are thinking about getting a place for retirement. Instead, we'll focus on the true weekenders who need to get from their home or place of employment on Friday and be back there by Monday morning most of the time.

Obviously, the largest crowd of cabin buyers spends the majority of their time around the Twin Cities. With a metro population of over 3 million people, you can't blame them for wanting to get away. If fact, the amount of residents throughout the 13 county metro area is about the same as the rest of Minnesota...combined with North and South Dakota.

When Twin Cities residents start the process of searching for a lake cabin, they generally think in terms of how many hours away from "The Cities" they are comfortable driving. The real problem begins when they look at a map to see how far 2 hours...or 3 hours...will take them. On a good day, two hours can get you to Mille Lacs Lake or Alexandria, depending on which part of the metro area you are beginning your trip from. But on a Friday afternoon, it might only get you from Eagan to Maple Grove! That will definitely cut into your play time at the lake.

Many of the buyers I talk with tell me that they want an "up north feel." Of course, many of the residents around Minneapolis and St. Paul came from up north because there was not a lot of opportunity for jobs in their home towns - or they were hired by a Twin Cities company out of college. Now they have young kids, and they are hoping to give them some of the same experiences they had from growing up around those northern lakes.

But many of these younger families live in the suburbs on the south side of The Cities, which makes it a little tougher to get "up north." Although, if you live on the north side of The Cities, some of the suburbs there seem to keep growing, and are almost up north already!

The other thing I hear most often is that they want to stay within a 2 hour radius of their home. Combining a 2 hour radius with an up north feel is really hard if you live in Lakeville. And if you work typical weekday hours, it won't be much easier at 3 hours. So......what does a person do?

Well, first of all decide what you really want out of a lake place. I find that most people who say they want a certain type of property, or a particular area, only do it because that is what they are most familiar with. Decide on the size lake you want for the type of recreational activities you enjoy the most, and other factors such as proximity to nearby towns for shopping or restaurants. And decide how far you can realistically drive without giving up precious family time at your new cabin.

The next thing you need to do is define several of the potential areas that might work for you. Just by looking at a state map you can see groupings of lakes that will fit into your desired drive time. If you live in Apple Valley and want to stay within about two hours of home, check out the lakes around Mankato and New Ulm to the south, and then look at areas like Litchfield and Willmar to the west for the most waterfront opportunities. You may also find some good offerings near Amery or Siren, Wisconsin. But by going directly north from the southern suburbs, you may only end up in the outskirts of the ever-expanding metro area, and you may not find the type of surroundings that will feel as much like you are "away from it all." Also, because you will not be much further out than commuting range, many of the lake places will be year-round residents and the prices will tend to be higher.

Here is another important thing go keep in mind as you scan the maps for possible lakes to choose from: there will be many other water bodies spread throughout your chosen drive time that might not be as easy to find, but they could be very good candidates for your perfect lake place. In fact, sometimes these smaller and less-known lakes are hidden gems that offer more privacy and solitude the their busier and more popular counterparts. You can often find these by doing some searches on various real estate websites for the general geographic area you have in mind.

After you figure out what is most important in these aspects, then you need to be honest with yourself (and your real estate agent) on how much you are willing to spend. If you have a price of $300,000 in the back of your mind, you will probably not be happy with what you see at $225,000. And if you are going to be driving 2-3 hours to look at these properties, you will be wasting a lot of your time in the process.

It is much better to tell your agent that you want to spend between $200,000 and $300,000, and that you would like to see properties throughout this range to get a good feel for value. As far as I know, it is still illegal for real estate agents to force someone to pay a higher price than that person wants to for property...and if they aren't able or willing to educate you on a wide range of possible values, find a new agent!

One more thing you should know about real estate agents is that most of them tend to work quite geographically, and may not be familiar with lake properties over a wide ranging area unless that is their true specialty. It is not a bad idea to ask them about lake property values in some neighboring market areas to see if you have a good feel for their ability to represent you properly in your search. A good agent will refer you to another real estate professional who can provide the best service for your needs, unless they personally have a strong comfort level in assisting you.

Owning a weekend lake cabin can be one of the most enjoyable experiences for you and your family. If you like having friends and relatives around, you will have no shortage of them coming to visit, and you'll gain a boatload of good memories to carry with you through the years. If you would rather just get away from everyone and spend your free time reading and recharging your mental batteries, that works too.

But make sure to be open-minded in your hunt for your perfect cabin. Minnesota and Wisconsin have good lakes everywhere, and you just have to be a little more adventurous to find them. "Up North" might actually be a couple hours south...and you are going to have a lot more time to enjoy it!

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