Northwoods Real Estate Boom During Pandemic

Sep 11, 2020

A logical result of the pandemic and a weakened economy would be a sluggish real estate market in the Northwoods and elsewhere. Instead, real estate purchases are booming in many parts of the country including the Northwoods. Ironically, the pandemic and stay at home orders may be behind a recent surge in local real estate purchases.

When people stay at home they are getting online and looking for houses. According to Lakeland real estate agent Cecily Dawson, “The major real estate sites--Zillow, Trulia and Realter.com--have had more hits than ever.”

There has also been a surge in house buying to the extent that the inventory of available properties is very low. Besides the very low interest rates on home mortgages, Dawson describes what she has learned from some of her clients buying during the pandemic.

“Almost without fail, they are people who vacationed here as kids. They say, ‘I love the Northwoods, I always have and I wanted to get back up here.’  So they always wanted to be here--it has always been longtime dream.” 

If you live up here you will recall that early in the pandemic, some communities and tourism bureaus discouraged summer visitors. Ironically, this policy may have stimulated the surge in buying. The Director of the Minocqua Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Bureau, Krystal Westfahl, explains.

“That is when we really started seeing that increase in traffic through our web site, traffic through our phone network.”

Long-time summer tourists who may have stayed at resorts or campgrounds became buyers. Westfahl and her group recently made five-year home sale goals for the region, but the timeline has been accelerated.

“We expected this type of growth for the next five years and it is happening right now.”

The difference this year is that the pandemic has pushed buyers to act now. And it is not just lakeside vacation properties that are selling according to Dawson.

One of the places where we see the hottest market, interestingly, is in the city of Rhinelander. Right now, there is only 14 single family homes available.”

It is more typical to see over a hundred houses for sale at any one time in Rhinelander. Dawson attributes this run on sales to a change in personal values as a result of the pandemic.

“What is different this year is that we had time to think about what we value. And why wait. This is the time to do it. Let’s go for it. We are not getting any younger. Not putting dreams on hold is I think part of the impetus.”

Westfahl shares the view that there has been a shift in values by those moving to the Northwoods.

“A lot of it has to do with getting back to their family, grounding themselves in nature. All of these pieces that we may be overlooking because we are stuck in the rat race. I really do think that people are becoming more grounded about who they are what they need and what their necessities are in life. A lot of that can be found here and that is propelling people to move north.”

Both Dawson and Westfahl note, however, that one of the problems about moving to areas in the rural parts of the Northwoods, is our lack of broadband internet coverage. Dawson explains.

“Having really good internet connectivity is more important for most of my buyers than it was a year ago.”

People were once looking for a place to get off the grid and get the whole family off their devices. Now, they are looking for a property with high speed internet where they can work or shop, and the kids can do online learning. Thankfully, many communities are racing to increase broadband availability.

And our home-buying behaviors have had to change during these times as well. Although there has long been the capability for virtual showings, e-signings and even buying a home without meeting in person with the agent, lender or title company, these practices are now much more common. Recent Minocqua area home buyer, Earl Smith, described the process.

“It was really strange. Down in West Bend they had a couple banks that were turned into title companies, where the paperwork was transferred out a side window sort of like you were in a bank, in a drive through line in a bank. They saw your face and you sent back your driver’s license with your picture on it. You signed your documents and they witness the signing that way.”

Despite revised ways of closing a deal because of the virus, Smith found that the process went smoothly, and it led to the purchase of a retirement home that he has been dreaming about for years.

“I found this place and it was just perfect.”