Memorial Day is called the unofficial start of summer, but it’s also the kickoff to the cabin shopping season. Bloomington-based brokers Dave Gooden and Cameron Henkel have a pretty good perspective on what’s happening with lakefront properties in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They met in Mrs. Braski’s kindergarten class in Eveleth, Minn., in 1976 and have been friends ever since. They are founders and owners of LakePlace.com, which started as an online real estate brokerage. Today, the company has an expanded brick-and-mortar presence with several offices and dozens of agents in the most popular getaway markets in the state. We asked Gooden and Henkel to share their thoughts about what’s happening now in the lakeshore market beyond the Twin Cities. Here’s an edited version of the interview:
Q: What does your gut tell you about what kind of year it will be for lake home sellers?
Gooden: Absolutely incredible. Our first-quarter 2015 sales are 2.5 times sales during the first quarter of 2014. You can attribute some of the increase to the late ice-out in 2014 and to fewer lake properties on the market. In many cases, my gut follows the numbers.
Q: So what do you expect this summer?
Gooden: Our website traffic has been growing every year. We are not sure if our traffic will necessarily coincide with what kind of year it will be, but we are excited about 2015. Our Web traffic is up about 20 percent year to date.
Q: Any bargains out there?
Henkel: There are always bargains out there for lake home buyers. You may have to tough it out through a few offers, counteroffers and rejections, but there is always an opportunity to find that bargain.
Q: Where are the best bargains?
Gooden: It depends on what you are looking for. I guess the best answer would be everywhere. The opportunity to own your piece of paradise is there for the taking. But if we had to choose one, you can still find a cozy little lake place on the Iron Range and Chetek, Wis., in the $100,000 to $150,000 range.
Q: What areas are hottest this year?
Henkel: We can normally pinpoint an area, but we have seen growth in all of our Minnesota and Wisconsin markets. If I had to nail a couple down, I would say western Wisconsin, Hayward to Siren, as well as the Detroit Lakes and Alexandria markets in Minnesota. It kind of goes without saying that the Brainerd Lakes area is always hot.
Q: Home prices in the Twin Cities are nearing peak levels, is that true for lakeshore prices outside the metro?
Gooden: The lakeshore markets have always followed the metro markets, but with a minor delay. The trends seem to follow suit, but the lakeshore market is about a year or two behind the metro.
Q: If you were buying a lake home right now, what areas would you be scouting?
Henkel: You know, Dave and I keep talking about this every time we enter a new market — we can see ourselves bringing our family there. For instance, Big Detroit Lake [in Detroit Lakes] gives you the sensation of being on vacation with its massive sand beaches. There are so many different characteristics in every lake market, it honestly depends on what you are looking for. If you need to stay close to the Twin Cities, I would say Siren, Wis., on over to Birchwood, Wis., as well as Alexandria, Minn., are great destinations.
If distance is not a concern, I would say somewhere on the Iron Range or in the Arrowhead is a great deal and beautiful country. And last, but not least, if price is not a concern, the Crosslake chain of lakes would be number one on my list. I’m not saying that there are not bargains there, but overall you are looking at some pretty amazing properties, and as with most anything, you get what you pay for.
Q: In the Twin Cities there’s a shortage of listings, especially for first-time buyers. Are you seeing the same for lakeshore properties?
Gooden: There are fewer lakeshore listings this year, and they seem to be priced right, as seller expectations have aligned with the market. The correlation with a starter house in the Twin Cities and a starter cabin in the North Woods is actually spot on. There is a shortage at the lower end of the market.
Q: Seems like everyone wants the same thing: A cozy cottage on a level lot with a sandy beach and nice clear water within a couple hours of town. How much am I going to have to pay to get that?
Henkel: You forgot great fishing! Again, distance from the metro area will help in answering this question. You are going to pay a premium for the above-mentioned requests no matter where you go. We can throw out numbers that may surprise you, but probably not — you get what you pay for. Our average sale price for a lake property during the first quarter was $206,578. This includes cabins and lots.
Q: Your website lets you keep track of what things are important to buyers. What’s the most requested feature?
Henkel: Water. On a serious note, a sandy beach is still the most sought-after feature.