Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How a High Rise Couple Ended up Living in an Alaskan Log Cabin - The Purchase

(I welcome your comments and questions through the "comments" option below any entry. --Laura)

In 2002, my husband and I took the Inside Passage cruise where he fell in love with Alaska.  Soon he was reading blogs about the state, and engaging in conversation any folks who had lived there.  He even invested in a business near Juneau.  I bought him a subscription to Alaska Magazine so he could coo over its gorgeous photos.  Soon, he started reviewing real estate listings for remote properties, none of which looked particularly realistic to me, given that we lived in a high-rise in Houston, TX and lacked the funds for the attractive or even the ramshackle log cabins featured in the listings. Still, if he was enjoying internet real estate “porn” instead of other websites, it seemed like a harmless enough diversion. 
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Four years later, when he was particularly missing the state, he decided to return to Alaska with his dad for some fishing and good father/son time.  I immediately called my dear father-in-law and prevailed upon him to ensure that Bryan would NOT buy any property without my seeing it first.  This was an ironic request since this is exactly what my father-in-law had done to my incensed mother-in-law decades before, when he returned to their suburban Chicago home after a weekend of hunting with the announcement that he had just bought a 140 acre tree farm in the middle of Wisconsin!  After their fishing trip, Bryan was ecstatic.  He regaled me with delightful stories of their flying into a different fishing camp every day or so, of the lovely scenery they had seen, and the down-to-earth people they had met.  He returned with the thrill of the hunt to his remote real estate websites, trying to entice serious enthusiasm from me for what I still regarded as his version of a fantasy football game.  

“Honey, he asked conversationally one night a few weeks later while I was busy making a particularly labor intensive risotto based dinner, “If I could buy a little undeveloped land in Alaska, under market value, would you be OK with that?”  To this seemingly vague and hypothetical query, and seduced by the verbiage “under market value,” I said, “Sure,” and returned to the multiple pots that demanded my immediate attention.  Little did I know that next to an overpriced ex-lodge we had both determined we couldn’t afford and didn’t want, was an undeveloped five acre parcel that very seriously appealed to him.  It was less than an hour’s flight from Anchorage (by float plane).  The hilly property sat on a lake about 1.5 long x 1 mile wide, with southern views of the close mountains and western views of remote ones. 

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Unbeknownst to me, Bryan had researched ownership of the parcel through the borough’s tax records and tracked down the owner, by figuring he probably lived in Anchorage, since half the state does.  This man didn’t, but a man with the same last name knew that the one we wanted was a fireman on the North Slope for BP!.  Bryan called the HR department of that company and, with charm or luck or the small town orientation of Alaska’s “everyone knows everyone” attitude, secured the man’s phone number.  When the man returned his call, from somewhere north of the Arctic Circle, he chortled that he had just listed the property for sale that very morning.  What serendipity! The two of them concluded that this transaction was meant to be.  By the time I served dinner, Bryan was licking shut the Fed Ex envelope with the deposit check for half the agreed amount, or $10,000.  Our pioneer adventure had begun.   We were now the proud (he) and bewildered (me) owners of an undeveloped, under market value property in the middle of nowhere, about 5000 miles from home.   

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