On a recent Sunday afternoon, Lake Lansings shoreline was alive with the promise of spring and summer pleasure.
Tender new leaves tinted the willows at the waters edge a bright chartreuse. Daffodills bobbed their yellow heads on patches of brilliant green grass.
The water, smooth as glass near shore, rippled in the distance as a few early boaters pressed the season.
In the middle of this scene, Chad Dutcher had no problem drawing prospective buyers to a late-afternoon real estate open house on West Reynolds Drive.
Dutcher admits the house a 1970s split-level with a geometric exterior and 1,680 square feet on four levels is not to everyones taste.
But the panoramic window in the third-level living room clearly shows what is: The serene expanse of water.
Thats the whole reason people buy these, said Dutcher, a Realtor with the Birchen Group at Tomie Raines Inc. Its not the floor plan, its not the design or appeal. Ninety-nine percent of the time, its the view.
Bank foreclosures aside, lakefront prices didnt dip as much as other residential properties, experts say. Nevertheless: I think there are still deals to be found out there, said Jeff Smith, editor of Traverse magazine, which recently published its annual real estate issue highlighting properties in all price ranges in the northwest Lower Peninsula.
The A-list lakes, they maintained their value pretty well throughout the whole crash, he said. But, especially if you were to go to, say, the east side of the state over by Alpena, Gaylord or smaller lakes that are not on everybodys radar, there are still deals to be found.
A handful of homes on Lake Lansing listed for sale recently ranged in price from just under $200,000 for that 3-bedroom, 2-bath split level Dutcher was showing to $849,000 for a 6,224-square-foot home with four bedrooms, four baths and more than 100 feet of lake frontage.
Tim and Bridget McCarthy moved to their Lake Lansing home 20 years ago after raising their kids in East Lansing.
It was just a thought we had, to move to the lake, said Tim McCarthy, who now is the president of the Lake Lansing Property Owners Association.
It includes nearly 240 people who own homes ranging from old, converted cottages to 9,000-square-foot show-stoppers.
Tim McCarthy said he enjoys having neighbors with a common interest: the quality and the longevity of the lake.
But theres more to it than that.
From their 2,800-square-foot home on Columbia Street, the McCarthys get a sunrise view each morning. Evenings hold their own charm.
When you sit down here on the shoreline and the moon is out and the stars are out, you dont have any recollection that you are only a mile off of Marsh Road, he said.
Setting realistic expectations for your lakefront home is important, said Bill Wheadon, a real estate agent and blogger who works out of Century 21 Northlands Suttons Bay office.
Are you looking for private frontage, shared frontage? If youre looking for private frontage, where do you want to be? Because that will affect the price.
For example, he has a cottage listed for $115,000 with a view of Grand Traverse Bay, but theres a busy road between the house and the water.
A four-bedroom home with Lake Michigan frontage could cost $500,000 or $5 million, but older cottages on inland lakes are listed for $75,000 to $140,000.
Are you willing to do some fixups? Are you willing to put up with some traffic noise? he asked.
On Lake Cadillac in northern Michigan, an unwinterized cottage that would best be torn down and replaced might cost less than $50,000, while a four-bedroom, four-bath house on a nice part of the lake is listed at $440,000, said Sheila Richardson, president of the Paul Bunyan Board of Realtors in Cadillac.
It depends on the lake, it also is going to depend on what type of house, Richardson said. Stick built, trailer, run-down cabin?
She said some families put a premium on the launching or docking of a boat; others want a shallow swimming area with a sandy bottom so kids can play.
Lakefront property seems to turn over a little less often than other homes, Wheadon said.
A family that buys a cottage may often want to hold onto it and hope to pass it on to children and grandchildren. But: We are seeing some properties listing in areas where it was strictly word-of-mouth before, Wheadon said. Youre getting to a point where families are getting a little more scattered and arent able to use the family cottage.
Tim Robinson bought a house in Livingston Countys Genoa Township near Howell last fall. The three-bedroom, two-bath ranch with with access to and up-close views of Lake Chemung had been a summer cottage for two generations of a suburban Detroit family.
Robinson wasnt necessarily looking for a waterfront place, but when he saw a lake home property listed for around $100,000, he couldnt resist looking.
He bid on that property like many in the area, a small cottage dating to the 1930s and didnt get it. He decided to look at another home in the same area listed in the $130,000 to $140,000 range.
It cost a little bit more, but it needed less work, he said. Nothing obstructs the view from his deck to the lake, but part of the lawn is a greenbelt owned by his subdivisons association, so technically its not waterfront. Still, the waters edge is just a few feet away.
Robinson bid on the house last summer, but the deal formed slowly and he didnt get into the three-bedroom, two-bath ranch until September.
He recently bought a pontoon boat and is looking forward to his first summer on the water.
I paid a little extra compared to other houses I was looking at, but its an aesthetic thing. Theres an excitement to being able to get up and look at the lake, he said.