Cabin-style homes are one of the types of homes that those looking for property in northern Michigan might find.

Cabin-style homes are one of the types of homes that those looking for property in northern Michigan might find.

Photo provided by Chrissy Ingersoll, Re/MAX Bayshore


Northern Michigan real estate becomes red-hot during pandemic

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published October 27, 2020

 Northern Michigan homes offer lush greenery, open yard plans and plenty of space for homeowners to relax.

Northern Michigan homes offer lush greenery, open yard plans and plenty of space for homeowners to relax.

Photo provided by Chrissy Ingersoll, Re/MAX Bayshore

NORTHERN MICHIGAN — For many Michiganders living downstate, going up north means getting away for a vacation, for an escape to greener, quieter pastures, but some families are beginning to stay past the three-day weekend and starting to call the state’s northern counties home.

Whether it’s the newfound freedom of working from home, wanting to relocate closer to family or simply moving back to where they were raised, real estate agents in northern Michigan have seen the market explode with potential buyers this year.

“This year has definitely been an increasing market in terms of people moving to the area from different locations. People are finding they can work remotely and live anywhere, so they’re choosing to live in northern Michigan,” RE/MAX Bayshore real estate agent Chrissy Ingersoll said, adding that her sales have increased 12% year to date.

RE/MAX Bayshore serves several Northwest Michigan counties.

Northeast Michigan Real Estate One Broker Lori Stephan has seen a roughly $7 million increase in sales from this point last year.

“As long as we can get (buyers) good Wi-Fi and good internet, because that’s not available everywhere up here, then we are seeing an influx of people from downstate buying up here,” Stephan said.

The real estate market has been trending upward in northern Michigan for a few years now, said Ingersoll, who’s been in the market for 25 years, but the big difference she’s seen is how quickly waterfront and vacant properties have sold.

“We’ve been staying pretty stagnant as far as our vacant land purchases over the past few years, but this year, everything seems to be selling. Even vacant land and parcels that have been sitting there for years on the market have sold this year,” she said.

“We’re even seeing people who want a vacation spot, where it’s a remote piece of property that maybe zoning allows them to have a camper on so they can come up for certain times of the year and camp on their own property, then go back south,” she continued, adding that those sales have contributed to about 35% of her sales this year.

Ingersoll and Stephan are both still seeing a mix of properties being sold for year-round and vacation use, but they have noted the tides have turned and many travelers seem to be sticking around.

Why people have decided to travel north from places like metro Detroit, Cincinnati and Chicago and buy property could be driven by a number of factors, but Ingersoll and Stephan both agree the booming market has everything to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lower COVID-19 case numbers in northern Michigan is one factor Stephan believes has contributed to relocating. Ingersoll said some of her clients have chosen to migrate closer to family in case of another possible stay-at-home order. For both, however, the newfound ability to work from home has cast a new light on the places that people are choosing to call home.

“Different things are important to people in a house than maybe they were in 2019, as far as marketing the house for having a home office or a flex space,” Stephan said. “It’s a very nice place to live out here. You’ve got the woods and the water, and if you can have all that and still keep your same job, I think that’s what a lot of people have been looking for.”

Differences in living environments may also be a contributing factor, as families and individuals are bound to find less of a rush up north than in metro Detroit.

“I think we offer a really great environment here in terms of feeling like you’re a little more spaced out than you are in a city,” Ingersoll said, adding that despite this, there are still aspects of a thriving downtown in places like Traverse City and quaint, wooded suburbs in places like Leelanau, Benzie, Antrim, Kalkaska (and) Wexford counties.

“I think, because of the smaller community, you get to know people on a more personal level, where probably downstate it’s a little more rush-rush and you don’t get to know your neighbors as much,” Stephan added. “Up here, because of the smaller community, I think it’s more community oriented.”

Whatever the reason, both believe the red-hot real estate market they’re seeing isn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon.

“I think it’s going to be a trend,” Ingersoll said. “More and more people are going to want to have their own little piece of privacy and remoteness. If that brings them to northern Michigan, I think that this is going to continue.”