Tales from the Cabin
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Finding the Perfect Cabin

One man’s quest to find his dream place in the mountains

By Elliott Brack
Published: April 1, 2006
Our river view.
Photo by Elliott Brack
Our 960 Square feet of idyllic bliss.
Photo by Elliott Brack
Do you feel that tug to have a cabin of your own?                 

Good for you. Once you get this yen, either you do it soon, or you may regret it forever. And the way recreational property is increasing in value all around the country, buying could be a solid investment anyway if for some reason you had to sell your place later.
When we first bought, we had a little luck in finding just the right place.
We got the cabin bug about 10 years ago, when spending a weekend with close friends at a state park. We had stayed there a couple times before, but on this trip we sat back and wondered: Why should we have to unpack a suitcase every time we get away?  Why not have a place in the mountains (near Atlanta) where we could easily get away on short notice and
not have to worry about reservations?
So we began our quest. Early on a Friday we were in a real estate office, describing what we wanted: “Small cabin, at least two bedrooms and two baths, tranquil setting, not too much land, nice porch, away from congestion.”
The real estate agent had some ideas immediately. She took us to three properties – and all were bad, not at all what we had in mind! Somehow, we had either miscommunicated, or the agent didn’t want to hear us. We ran fast from that person.
In an adjacent town, we asked another real estate agent to “guide us” (not accompany us) to possible properties. This Realtor circled about 10 properties in the area and we set off. 
At the end of the day, we had seen 13 properties over about a 30-mile radius. But nothing caught our fancy.
That night, discussing our quest, Miss Barbara (my wife) and I realized something. After seeing property up on mountains, cabins on water and those by the side of the road, we decided we wanted to be near water. This was a major decision, for it cut by about 80 percent the properties under consideration.
The following Sunday, after checking out brochures, newspapers, etc., we visited three places. We liked the first place best, but we wanted to mull it over before making such a big move.
On Tuesday I happened to call a friend in my line of work. After we finished our business discussion, he asked: “What did you think of that cabin you saw on Sunday up on Edwards Parkway?” (That “parkway” is a one-lane, though blacktopped, road.)
I was surprised: “How did you know I was there?”   
Turns out it’s a small world, indeed. He had looked at the same place a couple of hours after we did. “Best property on water we’ve seen up this way,” he said.
Being the Southerner I am, I asked: “You gonna buy it?” Being the Southern gentleman he is, he said: “You take it. You were there first.”
We bought it the next day. We have 960 square feet of space, a bedroom and bath on each side of a great room, all with cathedral ceilings. The porch is 480 square feet, 20 feet from a rushing river that’s about 20 feet wide. The place is idyllic.
One good turn deserves another. We told our friend about a property on water that we had seen that same day. He ended up buying that place.

Elliott Brack is a former newspaper publisher in Gwinnett County, Ga. These days, he has taken his business online at www.georgiaclips.com.

Deciding you want a cabin is the first step. Next, think through how you will use the place and what type of experience you want.
From my 10 years of cabin living, here’s a checklist I’ve put together. Deciding these things will help narrow your focus as you begin your search.
  • How often will you visit? If you plan to visit often, you may want your cabin 2-3 hours away. If you will visit less frequently, the distance from your house can be greater.
  • Overall location. What interests you most: a certain community or region, or just wanting to be on water or high on a mountain? What activities do you seek nearby: golf, skiing, boating, fishing, mountain climbing? Do you want remoteness or something near a town?
  • The neighbors. In effect, you’ll want neighbors who share your values. Some lake communities revolve around quiet sports while others revel in the roar of boat engines. If you’re looking at a mountainside cabin, understand that the place will be quiet – mighty quiet. Do you want that?
  • Number of guests. The number of people in your overall family and circle of friends will determine how much cabin you need. And be sure the place has enough bathrooms!
  • Number of bedrooms. How many people do you need to sleep? Will a loft fill your needs? Many people love lofts, but they limit privacy if someone is sleeping there. Lofts are especially problematic with small children and babies; do you want to “hush” your guests all evening?
  • Technology. Is television a necessity, or do you want to get away from such modern conveniences? What about a telephone? Will you install a satellite dish for the Internet?
  • Utilities. First, how will you get water? Is there a community water system, or will you have to drill your own well? Secondly, many cabins are on septic systems. If you anticipate heavy use of the cabin, or want to have a washer and dishwasher, that will impact the size of the septic system needed.
  • Seasonal. Will you use it year-round, or just part of the year? If seasonal, will you winterize it eventually?
  • Style. Do you want a rustic cabin? Country chic? Hunter’s paradise? Or perhaps you want it finished like home, even with an attached garage? Or do you need a garage at all?  
  • Financing. Will you pay cash, use a bank, or get owner-financing?
  • Price. Figure out how much cabin you can afford (if necessary, get pre-qualified for a second mortgage. This will speed your search.) Another factor: Will you use your getaway exclusively yourself, allow others to use it, or even rent it out? (Be aware that there are limits on how frequently you can rent it out before it gets classified as investment property.)                        
Determine these answers – and go find your dream cabin!
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