Four area developments serve up new options for second-home buyers

REGION – There’s a new generation of vacation properties in the northern Michigan offering attractive purchase options and recreational opportunities designed to meet the lifestyles of today’s affluent couples.

Opening this month, LeBear Luxury Residential Club and Spa along the shores of Sleeping Bear Bay in Glen Arbor is the ultimate in luxury getaways. It’s lavish without being flamboyant, emanating understated sophistication and elegance in the style of Leelanau’s Grand Resort Lodge era. Its character is further defined by unsurpassed personal service, luxuries, and upscale amenities.

LeBear unveils its east wing containing seven of the resort’s 14 units this summer. Each 2,500 square-foot, multi-million dollar residence is decorated in a blend of northern Michigan and rich Tuscany styles. Billed as a “boutique development,” units sell in the mid-$200,000 to $300,000 range for an eighth-share ownership, or six weeks of occupancy. Unlike time shares, the purchase program allows buyers deeded property rights.

“At LeBear you’re purchasing what you want,” said Steve Netherton, owner of Glen Arbor Real Estate, exclusive agent for the properties. “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. If you want more than six weeks, you buy two interests.”

LeBear developer, the Moceri Co. of Auburn Hills, brings its brand name and reputation as a leader in luxury construction to the Up North project. Resort features include a glass conservatory pool and spa, an outdoor pool, fitness room, lounge, billiards and a 30-seat five-star restaurant overlooking the bay. Only 14 families occupy the resort at one time, creating an intimate environment complemented by an unsurpassed level of personal service, including bellmen, valet parking, twice daily maid service, and a concierge to take care of resident needs from the moment they arrive until they leave.

“The level of service is on par with Ritz-Carlton,” Netherton said.

Units went on the market last January. Almost half of the 56 shares released to date have been sold. Netherton views Memorial Day weekend with its high-volume of tourist traffic, as the serious kick-off for marketing LeBear properties.

“I predict sales will be brisk,” he said.

According to Netherton, the units present a unique opportunity for second home ownership.

“We’ve become so expensive in this town,” he said. “It’s going to cost you over $1.5 million to buy a 1970s vintage house on the beach. A lot of people can’t afford that, but if they are a hard-working joint income family, they can buy a residence for $260,000. With 20 percent down and a $208,000 mortgage, you can occupy a residence worth $2 to $3 million. It starts to make sense then.”

LeBear is attracting well-to-do couples from the Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids metro regions.

“Buyers know Moceri quality. They know the location and like Glen Arbor,” Netherton said. Doctors and auto industry executives are among the first buyers at LeBear hoping to get into a good thing at the ground level.

In Benzie County, second homebuyers find another good thing. Last November Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville was named by Smart Money magazine as one of five ideal North American ski destinations for real estate investment. Available properties at the resort range from vacant lots to studio condos to town homes and include a variety of options in between.

“Our primary market continues to be family,” said Jay White Vice President of sales for Crystal Mountain Properties Inc. “As a resort, we are building products that fit our families’ needs in terms of their schedules and price points.”

Housing expansion projects currently underway include 11 units in the Cottages at Water’s Edge development. Units offer two- and three-bedroom cottages reminiscent of a 1900s era camp. The community is located adjacent to a one-acre park featuring a playground, pool, beach and gathering area. The Water’s Edge project is on schedule for July completion. White said 37 of 44 quarter ownerships sold by mid-May.

“It has been a very good first quarter for us in home and condominium sales,” he said. “Last year was our best year ever in real estate sales. It continues to grow for us. What we see is families investing in family activities.”

The top-of-the-line real estate at Crystal offers dramatic views of the Betsie River Valley. Mountain Top town homes are trailside units featuring three bedrooms and three baths, private decks, fireplaces and whirlpools. They offer ski in/ski out access and sell for $400,000 plus.

Flexible buying plans help make it possible for contemporary families to stake their claim on a mountain getaway home. Purchase options include a range of plans from full ownership of condo units, to fully deeded Crystal Quarter (CQ) ownerships. CQ ownership provides one-week occupancy per month and enables owners to stay at the property, rent it or trade time through the Resort Condominium International, a world vacation exchange network.

In addition to the resort’s recreational venues for active lifestyles, White said a family atmosphere and proximity to the region’s many attractions enhance the appeal and popularity of Crystal Mountain properties.

Lifestyle is also key to the appeal of True North Estates. The new 320-acre gated golf course community is located five miles north of Harbor Springs in Friendship Township. Forty-two of the 72 single family home building sites are located along the True North Golf course, slated to open in August.

Exclusive agent for the properties, Bob Hartwick of Hartwick Realty Group, ReMax of Petoskey said the new second home community draws on Harbor Springs’ long tradition as a vacation destination for affluent families.

According to Hartwick, True North’s appeal stems from several factors, including its championship golf course, which will eventually go private. The small size, safety, privacy and security the community offers, walking trails and groomed ski trails, and the surrounding state land, ideal for hiking, biking, all create value.

“The architectural theme of the project is a timber frame architectural style. That’s a nice northern Michigan style. You get a little more wood on the house,” he said. “It’s different than the Victorians prominent in Harbor Springs.”

One-acre lots at True North begin at $129,000. Developed for the upscale luxury market, home prices will start at $550,000. Hartwick said 30 of the 72 building sites which went on the market in the fall of 2002, have been sold.

“We’re way ahead of any projections we could have had,” he said. “To have almost half the sites sold before the golf course opens is far beyond our expectations.”

Local lenders support True North’s property sales with attractive financing plans. Hartwick said with just 10 percent down on a lot, a loan buyer can obtain a 30-year amortization. With 20 percent down buyers can get into an interest only payment plan.

The intimate Harbor Springs community is on a far different scale from Bay Harbor residential communities. Bay Harbor takes advantage of sweeping views and a majestic grandeur, five miles of Lake Michigan coastline and 1,200 acres along U.S. 31 south of Petoskey. While contrasting in scope, True North seems to be duplicating Bay Harbor’s phenomenal success.

“For many, many years people flocked to Bay Harbor. The speed with which the community developed was almost overwhelming,” said Lori Jodar, associate broker for Boyne Realty/Petoskey.

Jodar was the first sales agent for the development, which marks its 10th anniversary this year. Features of the award-winning development include golf, shopping, fine dining, lodging, a marina, yacht club, pool club, equestrian facilities, and a year-round schedule of events and entertainment.

Jodar said Bay Harbor’s diverse assets are one of its strongest draws.

“It’s like one-stop shopping,” she said. “It’s truly a question of lifestyle with a little something for everyone.”

The development encompasses four communities, The Fairway, The Harbor, The Preserve and The Village. Condominiums, townhouses, homes and home sites are offered. Lots begin at just under $100,000 and waterfront homes, primarily second homes for downstate residents, sell for up to $8.5 million.

“The people who buy at Bay Harbor are successful,” she said, “but there is quite a range from the wealthy to the super wealthy.”

According to the Realtor, Bay Harbor properties have appreciated at a higher rate than other area real estate.

“The market, and recent 24 months, has been a little flat in the wake of 9/11 and national economy issues. But overall, appreciation has been significant,” she said.

All but a handful of waterfront sites remain at Bay Harbor, but other site options have larger inventories, Jodar said.

From points north, evolving vacation communities keep the dream of second home ownership alive and well and demonstrate it is a tradition with enough momentum to sustain a growing market for the great Up North quality of life. BN