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Boreal Community Media

Exclusive: Moving to Cook County. Part 2: The Housing Question?

Nov 16, 2021 06:33AM ● By Editor

Photo: Coldwell Banker

Editor's Note: This is the second story in a three part series chronicling the reasons people are drawn to and have decided to move to Cook County and the benefits, opportunities and challenges they face.

By Rae Poynter, Exclusive to Boreal Community Media - November 10, 2021

As most people who have wanted to move to Cook County in recent years would attest, wanting to live here is one thing--finding a place to live is quite another.

Kris and Jill Barber moved to the area in the spring of 2018 and found a cabin to rent while looking for a permanent home.

 Jill and Kris Barber.  Photo: The Barbers

“Winter rentals are common here, so we could only find a place to rent through May,” Jill said. “We told the woman who owned the cabin we were renting that we were looking for a house to buy, and once our lease was up we had nowhere to go. She said that she was actually planning to sell the house she was living in, which we ended up buying from her.”

Stories like the Barbers’ are not uncommon in a small community with such a high demand for housing, both for rentals and for homes to buy. 

Bob Thompson, Cook County Assessor.  Photo: Cook County MN

According to Bob Thompson, the Cook County Assessor, there have been 595 sales in Cook County during the 2021 reporting year, an 85% increase over the 2020 sales numbers. A recent assessment of properties for sale with no pending purchases showed 22 properties for sale with a structure on them, six of which were condos within resorts. Of the 16 non-resort homes for sale, only three were priced below $300,000--and none of those had running water.

Bob Carter, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker North Shore, said that the pandemic brought not only a widespread adoption of online working, but also a renewed interest in outdoor recreation. Cook County--with its exceptional wilderness and great internet--became even more of a destination than it was before. 

Bob Carter, Real Estate Agent from Coldwell Banker North Shore of Grand Marais:  Photo: CBNS

“I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and it’s created a market unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” Carter said. “We have a listing drawer with all of our listing folders, and I’ve never seen so few folders. We hardly have anything to sell. Anything that’s priced even close to ‘right’ is gone within a week.”

Particularly in demand are affordable, on-grid homes in or near Grand Marais. Carter said this has made it difficult for people who have had job offers within the community to be able to find a place to live, and for employers like the county or the school district to be able to fill open positions.

“It’s challenging because people who want to move here, live here full-time, send their kids to school here, and contribute to the economy are competing with people from the Twin Cities where wages are higher, and who may not plan to live here full-time,” Carter said. 

Despite the striking numbers, Bob Thompson said the county noted a significant number of word-of-mouth sales this year: homes that were never put on the market and were sold to others in the community, and for more affordable prices than the current market rates. Although it doesn’t solve the problem of finding housing, it certainly helps to be connected within the community when finding a place to live.

But for those moving to Cook County from outside the area, and who hope to rent first while making connections and finding a home to buy, the rental market is similarly challenging. Alex Blust and her partner have each lived in different places since moving to Cook County in April. Alex initially lived at North House while her partner lived in Finland, MN. More recently, her partner found a cabin that they have been renting while Alex is renting part of a house of someone she met through church.

“You have to be creative and flexible to make it work for housing. And there’s a sense to which if you have community, it’s easier to find rentals,” she said. “I think it would be very difficult to find a place if you had no connections.”

Blust is currently putting her building skills to good use by building a yurt, which could be another option for housing in the future. Part of the North House internship involves completing a final craft-related project. She said the project was great opportunity to build something as versatile as a yurt, and to connect with others in the community who have experience with non-traditional or off-grid living.

“I’ll be happy to have this structure--it can be packed up and moved, and I could live in it or use it for storage. Whatever I decide, it will be an asset,” she said. 

Editor's Note: In the next article in our series 'Moving to Cook County', we explore the question 'To Move Or Not?"