NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- City people have the culture and sights, beach people have the sand and surf but woodsy people have peace and quiet, as everyone else leaves them alone.
With housing prices plummeting, temperatures following closely behind and summer settling into its last days, there are few better opportunities than the present to buy a house in the woods. The National Association of Realtors says existing home sales in July were down 3.5% from June, but still up 21% from the same time last year. A combination of average existing home prices that fell another 4.4%, to $174,000, in July on the way down from $198,100 in 2008 and a 4.15% 30-year fixed mortgage rate that's the lowest it's been since hitting 4.17% last November are building a solid foundation for homebuyers with the means and the credit.
A place in the woods, meanwhile, provides some of its own incentive. The Appraisal Institute generally looks at any green space as "positive externalities" for surrounding properties but doesn't slap a premium on the adjacent arbor. The homebuyers tend to do that all by themselves; the National Association of Realtors found that 17% of homebuyers have made parks, forests and other green space a priority. The draw is somewhat less for single women (14%) and unmarried couples (15%), but jumps to 20% for married couples and homes with families.
That's all assuming the folks who buy a tiny cabin or sprawling estate in the sticks want to live there full time. Vacation rental site HomeAway (AWAY) found that, in certain densely wooded areas, that backwoods dream house can be a popular and profitable vacation home. In Lake Geneva, Wis., and Grand Haven, Mich., for example, there's about 55% more demand to rent a place in the woods than there was last year.
Demand for a vacation spot under the trees in Lake Lanier, Ga., has grown 44%, while vacation-homeowners in Mount Pocono, Pa., and the entire Pocono Mountain region are 66% more popular than they were a year ago. That makes for a huge potential windfall in a Pocono hot spot like Lake Harmony, where demand has more than doubled availability at 118%, but still falls short of the market in Yosemite, Calif., that has 152% more inquiries than it did last year.
(AWAY) According to HomeAway's most recent Vacation Rental Marketplace Report, 48% of vacation-homeowners are able to cover 75% of their mortgage by renting to travelers, up from 38% last year. Even those who shun the city and shore for shade and silence make out on the deal. The National Association of Realtors research found that median sales prices for vacation properties dropped 11.2% in 2010 from the previous year, spurring 38% of vacation-homebuyers to make their move.
(AWAY) With help from the folks at real estate site Zillow (Z) , we found seven locations where cabins in the wilderness can still be had with the kind of costs and amenities that will make owners want to stay lost in the woods for a while:
While it's possible to get that woodsy aesthetic in neighborhoods on Portland's outskirts, taking a few more steps into the Cascades and the areas surrounding Mount Hood is worth it.
While the median price of a new home in Portland lingers around $233,000 after falling 4.3% within the past year, according to the NAR, a two-bedroom mountain cabin within Mount Hood National forest on leased land in Rhododendron has an asking price of $125,000. That figure or something slightly south of it includes 844 square feet, a bathroom, fireplace, vaulted ceilings in the living room, a multibed loft, a utility room with washer and dryer and a location near the slopes.
If you're seeking just slightly more space, a 1,040-square-foot two-bedroom cabin along the ZigZag River in nearby Government Camp can be had for $130,000. Still in the Mount Hood National Forest, the cabin has a stone fireplace on the first floor, a spiral staircase leading up to a large bedroom with multiple sleeping areas on the second floor and a sliding glass door that leads out to a deck overlooking the river. The house is only seven minutes from ski areas, only an hour from Portland and still deep enough in the wilderness to keep out the noise of either place.
Leave it to Seattle to one-up Portland by offering a bit of the simple life right within city limits.
In the Seaview neighborhood just south of Alki Beach, there's a one-bedroom, one-bathroom cabin in a wooded area by the Puget Sound with a stone fireplace, wraparound eating bar in the kitchen area, claw-foot bathtub, vintage windows, wraparound deck and parking for two vehicles. The good news is that it's steps away from 126 feet of private beach and has 8,755 square feet of property should you ever want to build out. The bad news is that the cabin itself is less than 500 square feet and sells for nearly $300,000, which seems reasonable only when compared with a sprawling $4.1 million property two houses down.
Just beyond the cookie-cutter subdivisions of nearby Scarborough, for example, sits a 3,400-square-foot custom log cabin on 7.5 acres. While it's suggested that a potential owner subdivide the property to make plots just as bland as the neighbors' places, it doesn't hurt to consider the 2002-built cabin's wall of windows lighting the main room's grand stone fireplace, kitchen with wraparound eating bar and prep area and upstairs recreation room. The sprawling cabin already has a two-car garage, four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms for its $480,000 asking price, but gives potential buyers a lot of room to expand without decreasing the space between themselves and the neighbors.
For the same amount of seclusion at a fraction of the size, a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom cottage in Boothbay Harbor just up the coast from Portland offers a ton of amenities on its relatively scant 0.83 acres. Built in 1988, the year-round cabin keeps the rustic aesthetic with its log-cabin interior, deep-basin kitchen sink, vintage fridge, wood stove, second-story porch, flower-box-laden shed, art-glass windows and basement rec area. The grounds are dotted with stone paths and perennial plantings, while the home itself has dock access to Linekin Bay.
Smoky Mountains, Va.
There are few places as lovely, lush and laid back as Virginia's portion of the Smoky Mountains, which make them awfully alluring for city mice scampering away from Washington, D.C., sprawl and $351,000 average home prices or Charlottesville's college kids and keggers.
For those escaping Washington for the woods, the savings and sizable acreage can be overwhelming. The same $263,000 that buys a parking space near DuPont Circle is enough to buy a 1,344-square-foot cabin in Goshen with a view of Calf Pasture River, links to the hiking trails in adjacent George Washington National Forest and more than 16 (yes, 16) wooded acres. The cabin itself is admittedly spare -- a wood stove, vaulted ceilings and a walkout basement being the key amenities -- but the plot it sits on allows a buyer to build something much more creative out of view of what should be a humble guest home.
Still, even 16 acres can seem a bit stifling if city life has made you want to put as much tree and terrain as possible between you and the nearest person. Why not double it by checking out a 1,400-square-foot "hunting cabin" on 32 mountain acres in Newport? Judging by the trophies on the walls, there's plenty of good hunting to be done on the surrounding land. The panoramic views, wood-stove heat (don't worry, there's electric baseboard as backup) and cozy corners, however, make it just as inviting for buyers whose most involved hunt required choosing between the ostrich and buffalo meat in the Whole Foods butcher section.
Regardless of what University of Vermont grads tell you, there are far more trees in Burlington than the ones seniors covertly smoke in Church Street Marketplace or guys in vans sell during jam band shows.
The center of Burlington closer to Lake Champlain is definitely college town, craft beer and occasional Jazz Mandolin Project concert country. The fringes, however, provide a semblance of the perks normally reserved for properties deeper in the Green Mountains.
A cabin-style condo with two bedrooms, three baths, hardwood floors, fireplace and deck with a view of Burlington Harbor isn't exactly secluded; neighbors are within stone-skipping distance. But the wall of windows, master bathroom with two walk-in closets and balcony and nothing in the distance but water and lighthouses can convince even the most jaded buyer to consider those small stands of trees outside "woods" for $530,000.
If they're looking for something a bit more convincing, however, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom Victorian on a quarter-acre in the Hill Section has a secluded yard, peeks of the lake and lots of lush greenery just a short walk from downtown. The $375,000 price tag won't get you waterfront or mountain views, but at least it keeps the neighbors at bay.
The area surrounding the largest metro area in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is home to several times that many lake homes.
Though the average home price in the greater metro area has dropped nearly 9% in the past year, to $163,000, restricting your neighbors to bodies of water or leafy and needly plant life still fetches a premium. A 2,284-square-foot cabin home and former resort in Spring Lake has four bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms and two guest cabins to go with its $550,000 asking price. That may seem a bit steep for a spread well north of the city, but the more than 18 wooded acres, 200-foot dock and 209 feet of shoreline make a strong argument for splurging.
The simple fact is that much of the more secluded, wooded property in Minnesota sits well north of the Twin Cities and would require a bit of a commute. That daily crawl gets a lot more comfortable when there's a three-bedroom, four-bathroom, 1,900-square-foot cabin on nearly 2 acres in Aitkin waiting at the other end. Vaulted ceilings and curved windows in the great room look out onto the 265 feet of Cedar Lake shoreline, while amenities such as porches, jetted tub and shower, granite countertops and a screened porch sweeten the pot. There's also a detached garage with a two-floor studio featuring a kitchenette, bath and screened porch for the $560,000 asking price and an option to buy an extra 1.5 acres.
If all of that space and the half-million-dollar price tags are a bit off-putting, there's a perfectly serviceable three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2.2-square-foot cabin sitting three-quarters of an acre away in Crosslake that provides similar bang for less buck. The $375,000 asking price gives a buyer only three-quarters of an acre, but property right on Goodrich Lake with a freestanding fireplace, three-car garage with workshop and wood stove and utility room with washer and dryer. The best view of the lake, however, comes from a permanent gazebo with power and TV that looks out onto the lakeside fire pit and private dock.
Traverse City, Mich.
Sure, you can go out into the woods and rough it, but why bother?
Traverse City offers some secluded spots for those with enough scratch to afford them, but also provides local wineries, museums, a film festival and the annual cherry festival to keep well-heeled residents satisfied. A secluded waterfront home less than 10 minutes from downtown looks like it's sitting in a park, but its four bedrooms, two-bathrooms, 2,500-square-feet and $500,000 starting price are anything but spare. Its funky modern cabin architecture, waterside deck and 125 feet of private waterfront are what's considered a steal in this area.
For a bit more than double the price at $1.2 million, a 1,040-square-foot A-frame cottage 15 feet above the lake has only two bedrooms and one bathroom but 255 feet of sandy beach with a private swimming area. The "until you build" clause of the home's listing assumes a tear-down, but its open wood stove, beautiful views and nearly 2 acres would make a cozy little refuge for anyone who keeps the 1969-vintage cabin intact.
Those who feel they should get a little more than a cabin for their investment can drop $3 million on half the acreage but get a 5,200-square foot, five-bedroom, five-bathroom home 150 feet above West Bay. A complete guest suite, gourmet kitchen, spa, sauna, theater, rec room and three-car garage are nice little throw-ins, but the wet bar, fireplaces, walls of windows and skylit indoor swimming pool make this big spread in the woods a private resort only two miles from downtown.