Some of the most spectacular Michigan real estate was built during the heyday of lumber barons in towns like Traverse City, Petoskey, Mackinac Island and Manistee. Porch swings that creak, screen doors that bang, gingerbread trim in myriad colors, turrets, widow’s walks, all wrapped in a picket fence and just blocks from the big water. These Main Street–style grande dames were home to the well-to-do and timber barons of the late 1800’s, and are some of Up North’s finest architectural gems. Here's what you should know, including insight from Traverse City contractor Paul Maurer.
Architectural detail. It’s not uncommon to find treasures such as bird’s-eye maple floors, marble fireplaces, walnut woodwork, 13-foot-high ceilings, stained glass, exquisite exterior detail and trim. Solid construction: Most older homes are well built, with cast-iron plumbing and drain lines, good copper supply lines, and good “bones,” such as rafters and floor joists. The neighborhood: These homes are generally situated in old enclaves (such as Bay View) and in the hearts of Northern downtowns, which means saying hello to neighbors over a picket fence, strolling to the beach or local boat ramp, walking for an ice cream cone, and streets lined with ancient maples and lilacs.
Maintenance. And more maintenance: From tree roots in the plumbing to dry rot, you’ll need to keep a constant eye for problems. Wood siding needs regular painting—a lack of vapor barriers in old plaster walls means moisture migrates to the backside of the wood siding, which makes paint flake off. Cost to remodel: Labor needed to refurbish old woodwork can be pricier than replacement cost, and old plaster walls are harder and more expensive to repair or alter. Floorplans: Layouts (think tiny closets, small kitchens) can also be unappealing to modern buyers.
“Buy for love, but know this is not a cheap date. It’s like buying a wooden boat. You’ll be scraping, cleaning and fixing pretty constantly. If you do it on a regular basis, however, you won’t have big problems.”
In the heart of towns rich in history and wealth. Manistee, Traverse City, Petoskey, and Mackinac Island are home to the grandest, but find sweet deals in Bellaire, Onekama, Elberta, Northport, and Frankfort.
Manistee stunner from the 1880’s—5 bedroom, 3.5-bath home with prominent local history and 2 fireplaces, original leaded glass, widow’s watch, deck. Professional landscaping and sprinkler system $349,900. INFO: BILL IRWIN, 866- 448-2100. MLS 154120.
Sixth Street beauty in Traverse City—4-bedrooms, 3,205 square feet, hardwood floors and elaborate woodwork; pantry, breakfast nook, skylights, shady yard, all on cobblestone street. $489,000. INFO: RE/MAX BAYSHORE-LEELANAU, 231-941-4500. MLS 1709739.
1898 Elberta Victorian—on tree-lined street, has original woodwork with new roof, electrical, windows. Home has four bedrooms, two-car garage, and is less than a mile to lakes Betsie and Michigan. $169,500. INFO: RANDY DYE, RE/MAX BAYSHORE PROPERTIES, 231-920-6208. MLS 1708406.