Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Grand Traverse Business magazine, www.record-eagle.com/news/gt_business.

ELK RAPIDS — Two cities on the opposite sides of Grand Traverse Bay tell slightly different stories regarding their real estate markets in the last year, but both Northport and Elk Rapids report robust sales with quick turnover.

Real estate agents in Northport had their best year yet, while agents in Elk Rapids came out equal, or slightly over, in sales this year compared to last year.

Both cities have more demand than inventory, and sellers are getting well above asking prices.

Three real estate agents have office space in Northport, and all of them agree that 2018 was far superior than 2017 in terms of properties sold.

Sheri Sutherland, a Century 21 broker in Northport, had twice as many sales in the last year than she did the year before.

In 2017, she sold 11 properties, and in 2018 she sold 22, which included anything from a vacant lot priced at $15,000 up to a $1.1 million waterfront home.

“It’s been unbelievably fantastic,” she said. “It’s so active. It was just so nice to see all the way around.”

In fact, she had a waiting list on properties throughout the year, and buyers are paying more to get what they want, when they want it.

A few months ago, she bought a property on

the market for $575,000 and it sold for $585,000.

The low inventory has created bidding wars between anxious buyers who seem willing to do anything to snatch up a home for sale. Those who hit financial snags in the buying process usually lose their bid first.

Sutherland credits the successful market to a number of factors.

“Ninety percent of people buying told me they got better jobs or had gotten tax money from incentives,” she said. “The stock market is doing so much better that they want to invest in real estate.”

A good majority of buyers are paying cash, said Northport Realtor Denise Branch, who operates as an independent broker.

“It’s crazy that the majority of my sales were cash transactions,” Branch said.

She was cautious to quantify how much sales were up this year compared to last, but she did offer a little insight.

“This year has been one of the best in a long time,” Branch said. “We had low inventory and strong sales.”

Branch credits the success to the desirable area that Northport has to offer.

Home prices in Northport range from $200,000 for a small home in the village up to $2 million for a waterfront property. The average house price, she said, is around $500,000.

Branch and her husband are snowbirds and move away for the winter, so she closes shop. But Sutherland and her real estate partner, Jane Darling, are open year-round.

“It’s very quiet (in the winter), and slower, but people are always happy to see that we’re open,” Sutherland said. “A lot of people will talk to us in the winter about listing in the spring.”

The same goes for Realtors in Elk Rapids during the off season — they’re always busy with inquiries or setting up sales, said Don Fedrigon, the broker and owner of RE/MAX of Elk Rapids.

“It’s good. There’re certainly a number of people who put off decision-making during the holidays,” he said. “(Sales) can be somewhat seasonal. There’s no question that there’s always a pent up demand in the springtime.”

Fedrigon agrees that 2018 was a strong year for sales in and around Elk Rapids. Waterfront property values range from $600,000 to $1 million. Strong sales have been a trend for the last four or five years now, he said.

“Average home prices have been going up, and water levels in Lake Michigan have helped property values in Grand Traverse Bay,” Fedrigon said. “In general, Lake Michigan is up almost two feet from where it was three years ago. It’s made the beaches nicer and helped property values.”

Kathy Wittbrodt is owner, and a broker, at Wittbrodt Waterside Properties in Elk Rapids. She feels activity is on track with last year.

“We’re lacking enough inventory to satisfy the demand,” she said. “Elk Rapids is small, and we’re surrounded by the lake. There’s not a lot of turnover in the village proper. A lot of our sales come from (outside) of Elk Rapids.”

Her daughter, Alice Wittbrodt Rubert, also is a real estate agent at Wittbrodt’s office. She often sells homes for above asking price.

Wittbrodt was on the board of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors (TAAR) for six years. In 2012, when the economy was recovering from the recession, TAAR had roughly 400 board members. It now has 900.

“We see a lot of people who want to return to Michigan when they left because of the ‘07, ‘08 and ‘09 crash,” Wittbrodt said.

The entire real estate market is trying to catch up with the new demand,” she said. “For the builders, they’re busy and booked out two years. I don’t think the builders can keep up with the demand.”

A total of 72 vacant or residential sales with an Elk Rapids mailing address took place in 2017. That’s a combined total for all the agents’ sales in Elk Rapids, Wittbrodt said. Nineteen of those sales were waterfront properties.

During the first 11 months in 2018, a total of 73 sales took place, including 22 waterfront.

The problem that both Northport and Elk Rapids now face is finding affordable housing, both for those returning to Northern Michigan and for those seeking a first home.

Wittbrodt feels that Elk Rapids needs more newly constructed smaller homes.

“I think there’s going to be a real trend to some small, cool houses. People coming out of dorm rooms don’t need 1,600 square feet,” she said.

Perhaps small communities like Elk Rapids and Northport should consider building more duplexes or four-plexes, she said.

“We certainly could use a lot more homes in the $200,000 price range,” Wittbrodt said.