Benzie County at a glance

BENZIE CO. – As the third fastest-growing county in Michigan, Benzie's beaches, rivers and inland lakes have traditionally made it prime hunting ground for second homeowners. That meant good news for sellers in the years preceding 2005, according to Suzy Voltz, associate broker and co-owner of Sleeping Bear Realty.

"It was definitely a seller's market before we began to see a slowdown in mid-2005," Voltz said. "Previous real estate activity encouraged high expectations on the part of sellers. Now we're seeing more price adjustments, which are creating good opportunities for buyers."

Last year, waterfront homes in the $500,000 price range were the norm, but now many of those properties are still on the market.

"There are plenty of high-end properties looking for a buyer, but unless the interest rates remain low and the state's economy and municipal real estate tax situation stabilizes, we're not going to see an influx of buyers for those properties," Voltz observed.

Condominiums, commercial properties and vacant lot sales (excluding Crystal Mountain sites) are also sluggish. Yet since late March, Voltz said her firm's offices (in Beulah, Frankfort, Empire and at Crystal Mountain) have witnessed a noticeable increase in traffic, with activity centered on property in the $50,000- $200,000 price range. Buyers making inquiries are much more educated than in the past, using the Internet as an information source, she noted.

At Crystal Mountain, demand for single-family home building sites and fractional ownership is strong, says associate broker Nancy Call.

So what's the overall prognosis for Benzie? Bob McCall, a Realtor in Benzie County since 1969, says a cyclical real estate market is nothing new.

"I've been through at least three cycles similar to this one," he observed. "Right now, it's a great time to be a buyer for northern Michigan property." BN