Buy a House in Cook County They Said...It’ll be Fun They Said
by Traci Crotteau
Once upon a time a young lady, I mean, a very young lady (very young) moved to Cook County Minnesota. One night as she lay sleeping she was awakened from her sleep by the soft padding of some sort of critter’s feet running over her bare arm, onto her chest, never to be seen again.
Oh, she must have “sleep” imagined it. Hhhmmm. She quickly dozed back to slumber. Minutes later was awakened by thumping noises...oh, I guess the cat wants in the house. She walked downstairs to let the cat in the house. No cat. Hhhmmm, I wonder what that noise was?
Must be the heater kicking in. She went to turn the heater down. Thumping noises, now accompanied by little clicking claws on the hardwood floors. She freezes (while panicking inside). She slowly turns her phone flashlight on, peers around the corner and aims the light at the floor. SQUIRREL!!!
The very young lady screamed. The squirrel screamed (this might be an exaggeration). The squirrel ran towards the lady. The lady screamed some more. The squirrel ran up the
wrought-iron stair railings all the way to the top level. At this point, the lady is breathing quite heavy.
She tries to calm herself down. Think Traci, think.
She decides to open wide, the sliding glass patio door in hopes that the great outdoors will coax its creature back to where it belongs.
Thirty seconds later, a scurrying squirrel chooses the open patio door. Smart squirrel. I, on the other hand, slept with one eye open the rest of the night. Of course, my husband was conveniently out-of-town during this turn of events. Of course.
I can still feel where that little critter crawled across my bare arm.
The very, very young lady in the story is me. Wink! And I consider this entire scenario a hearty Cook County welcome!
For the record, there has never been a squirrel in that house before this incident, or after. It was completely a fluke. A hearty Cook County welcome!
Okay, so the above story has nothing to do with my family’s Cook County home buying experience. But, it is often a bubble thought of this Cook County Cheechako. Plus, I thought you’d get a kick out of it.
Now, back to the task at hand. “Buy a House in Cook County They Said...It’ll be Fun They Said.” I want to preface that I am being silly with this title. We love Cook County and are here to stay, as long as you will have us. But you have to agree, there are some challenges here. And one of the challenges is buying a house.
Rewind to June of 2017. The Crotteaus feel the rumblings of a move to Cook County Minnesota. Specifically Grand Marais, MN. I promptly start checking for houses to buy in Grand Marais. Zillow here I come!
Wait. A. Second. How can there only be seven houses for sale under $250,000? A number that was already pushing The Crotteau budget strings. I must be doing my search incorrectly.
Fast forward to August 2017. My husband lands the job in Grand Marais, MN. We’re moving! I rapidly start searching zillow.com, realtor.com, anything.com to find a house that will fit four people in Grand Marais for under $250,000. Whoa. It’s true. We have seven houses, no, less than seven houses, to chose from and four don’t have running water, electricity or septic. No. No. No. Not ready for THAT kind of living yet.
It’s okay. We’ve got time. We won’t be there until October. We’ll look around for a bit. Something in our price range will open.
Secretly, for all those months in Oregon, I had been stalking one zillow.com house the entire time leading up to our move. I thought of it as my secret crush. I chanted many-a-time, “I hope it’s still there. I hope it’s still there. Please. Please. Please.”
The Crotteaus finally land in Grand Marais. Settle in. Then hit the ground running on buying a house. Beep. Beep. Boop. Beep. Boop. Beep... <------------- that’s me calling Chad-The-Realtor to start setting up house tours, so if you would kindly use the noise your phone makes when you dial phone numbers it will make those beeps and boops easier to read.
First house stop, my “secret crush.” I love it. Husband loves it. Kids love it. Chad-The-Realtor does NOT love it. LOTS of work to do. We better look at more...you know, just in case. Chad-The-Realtor shows us ‘Up North’ style homes. The kind with the cabin feel, but not The Crotteau family home feel. He tries to show us more shapes and sizes. No, Chad-The-Realtor not this one. Nope, Chad-The-Realtor not that one. No. Sigh, no. Sorry, no. Mostly we were hoping to find a house with the potential to fit a family of four.
Poor Chad-The-Realtor we can’t get the “secret crush” out of our minds. Once, we thought there was a contender. A cute little white house, with a picket fence. We set up the house tour date. The next day Chad-The-Realtor calls and says...well, the house has already been sold. What??? It just got on the market yesterday! Yep. Welcome to house buying in Grand Marais. You people move quickly!
I am told it has taken three years for some families to find an affordable home in the Grand Marais area. As I visit with you all, I hear of all the factors that make it so challenging. In part, it’s the lack of land available to build homes on. In part, it’s the solid rock that hides below the ground’s surface of Cook County. Hard to build on top of that. In part, there is a lack of black dirt and gravel, which drives up building costs. In part, it’s the people who have lived in the Twin Cities, they’ve come to live a quieter life in Cook County, but have sold their Twin Cities’ homes for a lot of money and were able to afford to build beautiful homes here. Inevitably, those beautiful homes drive up area home costs.
We chatted for a bit with a local contractor. He mentioned that, if we were to build it could cost around $100,000 just to lay the infrastructure of the building lot (electric, septic, well etc.). This does not include the cost of building the actual house. Because of the lack of building materials here, some of it needs to be hauled in from long distances (remember the black dirt?). This is turn, pushes up building material costs in Cook County even higher than another small town might see.
We may never be able to see affordable housing offered in Cook County, because it seems the challenge has layers of complexities. I do hope that one day the leaders of Cook County will be able to solve the problem, as I think many young families would enjoy living here. I also know there are fine people working on housing solutions as I type.
Just in case you haven’t looked into buying a house in Cook County for a long time, or ever, I decided to do a quick zillow.com search to see what kind of family homes are currently available in the Grand Marais area for under $250,000, which would roughly be a $1,500/$1,600 house payment each month including insurance and taxes.
There were three pages to look through in my search. FYI - I did not enter any house details for my search, meaning I didn’t enter bedroom or bathroom counts.
On those three pages there were:
• 13 “houses” under 1,000 square feet. They were cabins or structures on pieces of property.
• Two houses in between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet
- $176,000 for 1,548 square feet. Two bedroom, two bath.
- $160,000 for 1,046 square feet. Two bedroom, two bath.
• Two houses over 2,000 square feet
- $219,000 for 2,028 square feet. Three bedroom, two bath.
- $168,000 for 3,764 square feet. Five bedroom, three bath.
NOTE: This 3,764 square foot house is an apartment building located in Grand Marais.
• Ninety-percent of the three pages was land for sale.
In the end, we bought my “secret crush” that I had been admiring for all those months and from all those miles away. It took us two and a half months to seal the deal.
When I tell people that we already bought a house, they are immediately in shock at how fast we found something. This is how I know some families have waited three years to find a permanent place. The rental situation in Cook County isn’t much better. It’s just as hard to find a place to rent as it is to find a place to permanently live.
I’m sure our “secret crush” house did not sell for all that time because it is A LOT of work and most folks weren’t interested in doing so much work. We’re up for the task and can’t wait for all the adventures that lie ahead. At night as I lay falling asleep, my mind wanders to how I’m going to decorate that room or rearrange this room, ever so thankful to have found “thee” place in Cook County to lay my head. Ever so thankful to have a place to form my bubble thoughts.