NORTHPORT — Erika Humphrey and her husband, Corey, drove by their dream house several times.
The young couple had been all over the world after they graduated from the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, but never considered living anywhere other than Leelanau County after their son was born.
"It’s a wonderful place to raise kids," Erika Humphrey, 28, said. "I grew up here and I’m so happy that I did. The people are so kind that we love the small town vibe."
They spent almost a year looking at houses in the Northport area — from fixer-uppers at the low end of their price range to expensive homes with million dollar views — but eventually closed on the home Erika had always commented on when they cruised by. The four-bedroom Northport home they selected turned out to be "perfect," and needed just enough cosmetic work to let them style it exactly to their taste.
"We actually didn't want a big home," Humphrey said. "The layout of it has enough storage, bedrooms and bathrooms without being overwhelming."
The Humphreys are far from the only interested home buyers drawn to the Grand Traverse area. Local real estate agents say housing demand is bouncing back after years of sluggish sales during the economic downturn. It may even lead to new home construction, if demand outpaces supply.
Housing sales increased 22 percent last year and totaling $553 million, according to Traverse Area Association of Realtors statistics. The association covers Grand Traverse, Antrim, Benzie, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties.
Kimberly Pontius, TAAR executive vice president, said sales look to stay strong this year; 142 sales totaling $26 million closed in February.
Home prices this year thus far averaged $192,000, still less than $225,000 in 2007, before the economic downturn.
"We could have a very active year in 2013 if the economy continues to improve," Pontius said.