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Boreal Community Media

COUNTY CONNECTIONS: America’s Coolest Small Zoom-Town!

Feb 19, 2021 09:06AM ● By Editor

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By Cook County Assessor Bob Thompson from Cook County MN - February 19, 2021


The Cook County real estate market entered 2020 strong: inventory was declining, asking prices were increasing and the time a new listing spent on the market was typically low. 

Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, increasing the demand for rural living across America. In the early stages of the April lockdown, the market was in a holding pattern while logistics for virtual showings were organized and business restrictions were defined. Not surprisingly, an uncertainty loomed over what would come of our economy. Property showings resumed once pandemic protocols were implemented, and by July it became quite clear that there was a new buyer in town. 

How has the pandemic affected Cook County real estate?

Grand Marais and Cook County have long been a tourist destination. In 2021 a national travel publication named Grand Marais in an article titled “11 of the Best Small Towns in America,” along with cities such as St. Augustine, Florida, and Telluride, Colorado. Grand Marais was also named The Coolest Small Town by a national travel publication in 2015, attributing the award to the vibrant music and art scene.

Over the past several months, Grand Marais and a number of other rural communities have been anecdotally referred to as  “zoom-towns.” The term “zoom-town” describes a proliferating trend of urban and suburban residents relocating to small rural towns, often in vacation destinations which offer high-speed internet for teleworking.


The widely available high-speed internet throughout Cook County makes it a perfect option for workers who have shifted to working remotely. Given the number of appraiser interactions while inspecting homes and cabins, there were more occupied dwellings in Cook County last summer. Some indicated they recently purchased, some were renting and some were using their vacation home, but several indicated that they were teleworking and/or quarantining as a precaution, often explaining they felt safer in Cook County than in their homes in the Twin Cities. These responses support the nationwide “zoom-town” trend.

What does the real estate market look like in America’s Coolest Small Zoom Town?

The Minnesota Association of Realtors recently released numbers that grouped the entire Arrowhead Region together, indicating a 34 percent increase in the number of real estate sales in 2020 over 2019. North-central Minnesota (Brainerd-lakes area) saw a 63 percent increase in the number of sales, the highest in the state. Cook County saw a 45 percent increase in the number of real estate transactions. This cannot fully be attributed to an exodus of urban and suburban residents; the Twin Cities also saw a 32 percent increase in the number of sales last year, according to the data. 

In Cook County, there are around 160 active property listings that are not under contract for purchase on the website (non-commercial listings). Interestingly, less than 35 of the active real estate listings available in Cook County are for improved properties: the rest are vacant land. (These numbers do not include properties listed through a resort or for-sale-by-owner listings.)

What can taxpayers expect on their 2021 Valuation Notices?

In Minnesota, the assessor is tasked with valuing property at market value (Ad Valorem). This means your property should be valued consistent with the sale prices of comparable properties that have recently sold. The Assessor’s Office is currently finalizing data entry and performing our area sales studies. Some properties can expect to see changes that are made on a broad basis, while others will see a change that resulted from an individual review of their property record that occurs at least once every five years.

We are asking all homeowners to pay close attention to the 2021 Valuation Notice you receive in late-March/early-April. Please review the value and classification information for accuracy and contact the Assessor’s Office at 218-387-3650 as soon as possible if you feel something is incorrect. We are happy to review the property record and will consider any information you provide to us related to the property’s valuation. 

If we cannot come to an agreement on the proposed valuation of your property, you may appeal at either the local town board meetings in May (Lutsen, Tofte, Schroeder), and/or the County Board of Appeals and Equalization Meeting in June. 

  • All meetings will offer virtual options via video or telephone.
  • The details of the meetings will be included on the valuation notice you will receive with your tax statement. 
  • Meeting details will be posted on the county and/or township websites.

Participation in this  process is crucial for anyone with a valuation concern: once the above meetings have adjourned, the 2021 valuation cannot be appealed at the county level. Additional information regarding the assessment process is available under the Cook County Assessor tab at

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.