Explorations

A few weeks ago we saw a lovely little house on a few acres of land on Zillow advertised at $212,000. The house was located in Michigan – over 2,300 miles away from our current home in LA. We loved the look of it, and last week I spent a day touring several homes in a beautiful town beside Lake Michigan.

I met a realtor who set up showings of five properties ranging from $175,000-$250,000 along a 20-mile stretch of the Great Lake.

A road and a Great Lake
A road and a Great Lake

That was the first time I’d ever done viewings with a realtor and I learned a lot. I kept being told it was a sellers market, but given the inventory and prices available, I didn’t really believe it. What I did believe is that we are spot on in our plans.

We are slowly planning our exit from Los Angeles over the coming years. We love LA and the climate and and and… But, it’s just too damned expensive. Three to five years is our timeframe. Neither of us want to have to sustain our current levels of income, and we desperately want a more peaceful and simpler way of life. This is not necessarily early retirement. It is about buying a property or a piece of land close to a large body of fresh water that we can pay off in a few years then live on a greatly reduced income (if we so chose).

Back to my trip… I viewed four houses and immediately began to realize what I was and was not looking for in a home. I also learned of the unique considerations for a property in that part of the world. The property that sparked all this was the last viewing of the day,

although I confess I made several drive-bys at different times of day to check on the light and location depending on the sun’s position. I liked what I saw, but was not without a few reservations. Perhaps the property was too tucked away? How would I feel alone there at night if my husband was away? Would it be too dark and dank in the winter?

Buy land. They're not making it anymore. - Mark Twain
Buy land. They’re not making it anymore.
– Mark Twain

Just about an hour before the viewing I got a call from my husband telling me to escape the realtor for a half hour and find time to go check out a piece of land that was for sale for $90,000. I managed to do so and quickly drove the beautiful lakeside road to the land. I was irritated if I am completely honest. I liked the house plan and was annoyed at the distraction.

That irritation quickly evaporated as I navigated my rented Jeep up the hillside “drive” (dirt road) to a cleared berm amongst a light forest of tall trees with nothing except greenery and a wooden swing in the corner. A couple of acres and plenty of room for a simple house. I got out of the car and walked the clearing, disappointed to find there wasn’t a view of the bay. A few steps further, and there was my beloved view. I remembered a previous visit to that same land. on the wooden bench in the corner (the only structure currently on the land) looking out onto Lake Michigan. It was December, very cold, with a good amount of snow on the ground. I remembered the peace that I felt then, and the peace that came over me again in that magnificent location. It felt like home, even without a house, a septic system, or a even a drilled well!

An interesting option
An interesting option

Time to meet the realtor again, and I drove the five minutes to see our original house. It was lovely. Without seeing the land, I would have made an offer right there. I felt it was overpriced, but I saw the potential and enjoyed the spirit of the place. The land that that house sat on was equally quiet and peaceful, but it was on flat land at the bottom of the hill.  This house was closer to the lake, but there was no view except for a thick fringe of trees.

I left feeling confused. Upon returning to LA and sharing detailed photos and descriptions of both house and land with my husband, we decided to take a trip together in the summer. There was no sense jumping in.

 

We called the realtor and the owner of the land, deciding our offers would be $180,000 for the house and $75,000 for the land. But, we wouldn’t act on anything until the summer, IF we acted on anything at all.

PeaceThe owner of the house just dropped the price to below $190,000, and the discussion is on again. The house would be a steal but I can’t ignore my gut feeling about the land.

What is it like to buy land and build a house? Is it going to cost twice as much? Is it better than buying a property that we’re not ready to occupy that’s 2,300 miles from LA?

 

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