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Crazy Home Markets. New Direct Flights. Everyone, It Seems, Wants to Come North.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Realtor Lisa Alsteen shows off the features of a century-old four-bedroom house near the courthouse in Rhinelander.

Painted blue on the outside, it has wood floors, a sunny living room, and an inviting porch in front.

Alsteen listed the home, located at 133 North Oneida Avenue, on Monday.

By midday Tuesday, several potential buyers had already been though for showings. She expected an offer wouldn’t take long.

That’s typical these days.

Last spring, the demand for Northwoods homes shot skyward, like nothing Alsteen has seen in her 18 years in realty.

“All of a sudden, it was just like, everyone wanted to be up here. That’s when our market started to really take off,” she said.

Demand for Northwoods homes has only increased from there.

Without a doubt, she said, the pandemic has been a driving motivator for people looking to move north.

“They don’t have the hustle and bustle of their town, whether it’s Milwaukee or Illinois or Madison,” Alsteen said. “Here you can go out on the lakes. You can go out walking in the woods. You can social distance a lot better because there are a lot less people.”

It’s now a constant race, said Dan Huhnstock, a realtor at First Weber’s Rhinelander office.

Credit First Weber
Rhinelander realtor Dan Huhnstock.

Demand is through the roof and home inventory is severely limited.

“It is not uncommon to have a house that gets listed on a Thursday have 25 showings over the weekend and sit down with the seller and have several offers to go over [on Monday],” he said.

At one point last week, Huhnstock ran the numbers.

Rhinelander had just five single-family homes for sale without an accepted offer.

There were only 48 available in all of Oneida County.

“So we are seeing lots of offers, cash offers, above asking price offers, no inspections, no appraisals,” Huhnstock said.

Seemingly, he said, everyone wants to come to the Northwoods, no matter the cost.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
A Delta flight loads passengers at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.

Last week, agents sorted through yet another overbooked flight at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport.

If everyone wants to come to the Northwoods, many are doing so by air.

That helped compel United Airlines to add a daily flight from Chicago to Rhinelander this summer, the first in about 20 years, said Airport Director Matthew Leitner.

“This airport has kind of been an anomaly throughout the pandemic, which is to say that, while a lot of other commercial service airports experienced a precipitous drop in passengers, we really hung in there,” Leitner said.

In convincing United to add the new flight, Leitner pointed to research that showed people were coming from Illinois, of course. But they were coming from unexpected places, too.

“The Southeast,” he said. “Arguably, we really hadn’t seen a lot of tourists from Charlotte, Atlanta, Greenville-Spartanburg, Knoxville, that area, Richmond, Virginia. Whereas, in the last year or two, all kinds of tourists, travelers, vacationers have been coming up from that area.”

Of course, the new Chicago flight provides more connections from more places, funneling people to an increasingly popular place.

Is the new flight a symbol of the Northwoods’ progress the last few years?

“I think so, without a doubt,” Leitner said. “I really, truly think so.”

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
A passenger flight takes off from the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport last week.

The interest in the Northwoods means realtor Dan Huhnstock just wishes he had more homes to sell to accommodate that demand.

“Right now, listings are so golden for all of us,” he said. “We are turning over stones to find them.”

If everyone is coming here, that’s a good sign for the Northwoods.

But at the same time, sky-high home demand and few houses on the market can make things hard on realtors like Lisa Alsteen.

“We’re getting frustrated by the fact that we can’t provide and take care of our customers, finding them houses, because there’s not the inventory,” she said.

How long will the bump last? No one can say for sure.

But Alsteen figures, if the pandemic helped start it, controlling the pandemic might lead to a future shift.

“I think once COVID gets taken care of and we get everyone vaccinated and things start to die down, and our interest rates start to creep up, that’s going to change the way people look at where they want to live and what they want to do,” she said.

Until then, though, we might expect homes and flights to stay in demand, as long as everyone wants to come to the Northwoods.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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