Northern Michigan Real Estate Guide: Find Your Dream Home Up North

Northern Michgan Real Estate: A vision of a life for you and yours probably begins with a house in a certain place, a certain place in Northern Michigan if you happen to be reading this magazine. We understand, because we all ended up staying here or moving here by following a similar path of reverie. To help color in the reality, we’ve arranged this year’s real estate feature story into five home categories, each of which shapes a different kind of day-to-day. For quick comparisons, we’ve chosen houses of similar prices in burgs scattered around the northwest Lower P. See something you like? Go ahead, try it on. If it’s already been scooped up, no worries … there’s much more where that came from.

In a harbor town neighborhood …

Your life vision: Find a cute home in a small northern harbor town where you can walk to, well, pretty much everything. To the bay, to a favorite cafe downtown, to your kids’ school, to your job …

Traverse City   

The harbor town life plays out right here on Traverse City’s 9th Street. A handsome and sturdy 1,554 square feet that delivers the refuge of a tree-shrouded neighborhood yet still puts you within an easy stroll (and even easier roll on your two-wheeler) of that shimmery GT Bay, festivals, shops and cafes downtown. Oak trim, mix of hardwood floor and carpet. Even a sweet two-car garage. Three bedrooms, $169,900. Linda Schaub, 231.933.9581. Find more information.


Two hundred yards north, that delicious Little Traverse Bay. Two hundred yards southwest, that delectable Petoskey downtown (as in … Crooked Tree Arts Council … Roast and Toast … Mclean & Eakin…). Super bonus: a 25-mile bike/hike path, the Little Traverse Wheelway, is a block away—Sweet! Tap it all from this smartly kept Victorian with 1,949 square feet and four bedrooms; mix of hardwood floors and carpet, $199,900. Patrick Leavy, 231.439.2800. Find more information.


Classic Charlevoix full on. It starts with that gracious and inviting wraparound porch and continues with the real-deal resorter look right on through to the two second-story sleeping porches (summer guests coming, doncha know). Walk just a couple quick blocks to that cute Charlevoix downtown and accompanying spectacular Lake Michigan beach. Summertime, stroll the Round Lake marina to catch an outdoor concert. Four bedrooms, 2,250 square feet, $173,900. Joe Vogelheim, 231.330.3434. Find more information.

In the fresh countryside …

Your life vision: Wake to countryside quietude, walk a country mile, breathe in the fresh country air, invite friends over to cook big and tasty meals in your country kitchen, maybe raise a crop or even a cow.

Benzie County

Burrow into that countryside dream with 25 of your own acres among the hills of Benzie County. Classic old-time look—with the gracious porch and natural wood siding—but built in 2005, so is solid stem to stern. Smart and stylish balance of wood-contemporary inside. Lovely kitchen says, Make something fun and good, now—with friends. Spacious outbuilding for the workshop inclined. Bonus: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore just five minutes away. Three bedrooms, 1,925 square feet, $299,000. Denise Marek Moody, 866.340.9010. Find more information.

Charlevoix County

The geologically renowned and just plain enchanting rolling glacial drumlins near Norwood (south of Charlevoix) provides the setting for you, your spacious 28.5 acres of farmland and a classic-styled home just born in 2005. Inviting spaces throughout and especially snappy kitchen. Cook up something tasty from your own farm garden, then kick back on the porch with pals. Super bonus: The border of Fisherman’s Island State Park, which runs for seven miles of Lake Michigan shore, is just 1,000 feet from your door. Three bedrooms, 2,793 square feet, $238,500. Tom Wiltse, 231.264.4500. Find more information.

Cheboygan County

Ready to take that local foods movement seriously and jump in with a farm of your own? Check this classic setup. Redone farmhouse (nicely redone, might add), 40-by-40-foot barn and and—count ’em—30 acres to get busy on. Park your farm workers (your kids) in the four bedrooms and feed them in the handsome kitchen. All for just $200,000. Bonus: Spend spare time fishing the productive and nearby Burt Lake (partial view from your ridge top) and skiing Boyne Highlands and Nub’s Nob, just 15 minutes away. Wally Kidd, 231-838-2700.

Leelanau County   

With 15 acres, a 5-bedroom farmhouse and barns, this classic piece of Leelanau County stands ready to serve your lifestyle dreams. Give farming a shot (hobby or for real), or just live amid the orderly richness of Leelanau orchard country. Head down the hill to Suttons Bay for a summer cool-down. Cross-country ski those marvelous hills in winter, $289,900. Elizabeth Schaub and Pam Mork, 231.271.6161. Find more information.

On a quiet inland lake …

Your life vision: Wake to a mirror-calm little lake out your picture window, hop into a boat any time you please, invite friends and fam to your place on glorious summer days to share just how good H2O can be when sloshing around in large quantity.

Spider Lake   

Outside you got your big ole deck (hello microbrew and Tiger game on the radio), sweet dock and sandy beach—and that crazy puzzling shoreline of Spider Lake. Inside is your sunshine flooding in through big windows, roomy kitchen for that entertaining thing, a hip little loft, fireplace, more. All of it just 10 miles from Traverse City’s new-urbanist vibe. Pretty dang tasty. Three bedrooms, 1,500 square feet, $297,000. Matt Geib, 231.357.3265, [email protected]. Find more information.

Douglas Lake 

First to know about Douglas Lake: the University of Michigan Biological Station owns 40% of the shoreline, so it will never be developed. Second to know: It’s an alluring 3,395 acres of water that will capture your heart. This cute pine-paneled classic cabin seals the deal. Four bedrooms, 1,207 square feet and, most important, those big windows looking out at the lake, $289,000. Steve Witte, 231.526.1100. Find more information.

Portage Lake 

You got your big lake and you got your little lake. Meaning, from Portage Lake you can fire up the motor or raise the sail and head through the channel to Lake Michigan and, if inclined, around the planet. Day trip or global adventure, you’ll want to return to your cute place here on 125 feet of shore. Two bedrooms, fireplace, 729 square feet, $250,000. William Irwin, 231.723.6100. Find more information.

On the big water …

Your life vision: You have a gathering place for friends and family on the shores of one of the most expansive bodies of freshwater on the globe. Fab sunsets every night, potent storms, improbable calms too. Indulgent moments all.


Back in 1993, within the buttoned-down realm of one of the world’s most renowned golf clubs, Crystal Downs (course designed by Alister MacKenzie), a homeowner stepped out with this modern jewel. Right on the beach, the house also serves up one of the North’s hippest decks and a window-wrapped dining area that creates easy and enticing transitions from outside to in, and inside to out. Four bedrooms, 2,246 square feet, $2.2 million. Suzanne Voltz, 231.352.7123. Find more information.


Perched shoreside at the northern tippy-tip of Leelanau’s little finger, this beachy, window-bedecked manse is an architectural expression of summer, and, we suppose, an architectural invitation to summer guests. Five bedrooms, 4,584 square feet and 6.55 acres provides plenty of room, and a kitchen designed to cook big and inspired will keep everybody fueled and blissful after days of water play. Some of the world’s best bike riding on those Leelanau County roads, right out the door, $1,195,000. Judy Levin, 231. 271.6161. Find more information.

Harbor Springs  

Michigan’s most legendary resort town, Harbor Springs, serves up this classic and grand beachfront getaway. Broad, traditional geometry fronted by an elegant porch will convince even the most driven among your crew to kick back with a Woodford Reserve and share tales beside Little Traverse Bay. Seven bedrooms can fit your whole crew, 2,100 square feet, $2,300,000. Tom Graham, 231.526.6251. Find more informaiton.

In an in-town condo …

Your life vision: Well, no lawn mowing or snow shoveling, for starters. Instead, you fill your time plumbing the riches of your Up North town, cooking, gathering with pals, walking around …

Harbor Springs   

America is rediscovering the joy of walkable communities and you can too from your casa just a short stroll from downtown Harbor Springs. Catch the kids’ sailing school in summer, basketball games at the high school in winter. Window shop and sample restaurants and cafes year round. Return home to this stylish two bedroom, 1,294 square-foot condo, in immaculate condition. A fireplace and open kitchen makes socializing easy and warm, $275,000. Jill VanAlstyne, 231.526-1100. Find more information.

Traverse City  

Right on the Boardman River in the heart of town, your new urbanist lifestyle is just out the door of this Midtown condo. Walk to all of TC’s treasures: those surprisingly good restaurants, the library, the beach, the vital downtown, the State Theatre. Kick back in the roomy (1,750 square feet) two-bedroom unit. Pretty kitchen, hardwood floors in living areas, captivating view of downtown and the river. Go ahead, tie up your canoe to the boardwalk out front, $294,900. Barb Cooper, 231.218.0303. Find more information.


Come summer, sailboats rigged for big water rock shoulder to shoulder in the Round Lake marina outside your window, while two blocks from your pad, that bustling Charlevoix downtown plays host to vacationers near and far. Your quiet hideaway nearby is a spacious and carefree condo with 1,700 square feet and three bedrooms. Lofted ceiling and fireplace keeps it airy and cozy all at once, $275,000. Alicia Mosher, 231.547.9905. Find more information.

Notes from the Field

We check in with Kim Pontius, executive vice president of Traverse Area Association of Realtors to get a pulse on today’s Northern Michigan real estate market.

What is the most important trend you are seeing today?

The most noteworthy trend is we’ve reached the new normal. We saw the peak at the top of the housing bubble, in the ’05, ’06 area, then the valley of ’09 and ’10, and we’ve now kind of reached a point of equilibrium in the marketplace, a return to a sustainable level of pricing. If you look at the pricing statistics, you’d see that if you took prices in the early 2000s, before all the silliness began, and removed the outliers—the highs of the bubble and the lows of the crash—you’d see that today’s median pricing would be equal to a slow, steady growth in those pre-bubble prices.

How buffered is this market compared to others?

We are a unique market and we don’t represent the rest of the state, or other parts of country. We are witnessing a lot of activity in the marketplace.

Any sense for what we’ll see prices do in coming months?

Well, there’s a lot of interest, and we are seeing a reduction in the inventory. I don’t have a crystal ball and I generally refrain from prognosticating, but I imagine we will see prices start to increase as the inventory declines further. And I suspect we will stick to that slow steady growth pattern without a repeat of this runaway freight train thing.

What are you hearing anecdotally from Realtors?

The people in the field are telling me they are having a very good January. And that is unusual. I’m also hearing February is very busy.

Any areas stand out?

We do have micro markets. Some locales are better than others. Right now, one of the areas where we are seeing a lot of activity is Leelanau County. Leelanau and also Grand Traverse have basically been fairly resilient. Leelanau in particular is seeing some real interesting activity.

Are we seeing impact from when the viewers of Good Morning America voted Sleeping Bear Dunes the most beautiful place in America last August?

I think more than anything Good Morning America made people aware that there’s a place in Michigan so radically different from Detroit. All I heard after that happened, from people from Kentucky, Texas, Ohio, Japan, was “I had no idea.”

We keep hearing about a nationwide trend of people moving back into cities and small towns. Are we seeing that in Northern Michigan?

You are seeing kind of a division particularly in the millenials generation [born between 1980 and 2000]. Demographers tell us millenials want a safe place to live and they tend to be somewhat tribal—they like to cluster, hang with their people. Small towns offer both safety and easy ways to be with friends. By the way, there are now 80 million millennials in America and they outnumber baby boomers.