Aug 16, 2017

Buying Our Mountain Cabin (With Before Pictures)

I've been sitting here trying to think back to what I've been doing all summer. It seems like just yesterday my daughter was getting married and I was busy entertaining out of town guests. But that was way back in early June, and here it is mid-August. A quick look at my calendar tells me I've been spending almost every weekend up at our new cabin in McCall, Idaho, and my in-between days have been spent back in Boise preparing for those weekends. So, since I seem to be living on mountain time these days, I'm thinking it would be fun to start sharing our cabin adventures before too many more of them fly by.

Last April I wrote a blog post about how we came to find and buy our little cabin in the fall of 2016, including a bit of our family's history with the little mountain town of McCall, Idaho. You can catch up on that post by clicking here if you missed it.

Today, I'll take you back to the first time we saw our little cabin, what it looked like then, and what it was like to buy a vacation home in a dream destination in the mountains on a small budget. You may wonder, as you look at these unedited pictures mostly from the real estate listing, what on earth we saw in our run down and neglected little cabin. I hope you'll trust me when I say that we loved our little cabin from the first time we set eyes on it. From that first moment we had a vision of what it could be, and I'm excited to take you with us on our renovation journey of this tiny cabin in the woods.

First, we had to buy it! 

Though our realtor is now a broker and partner in a very large Boise Real Estate Company, he lived and worked in the small central Idaho mountain town of McCall for many years and still spends summer weekends here. He is an expert on all things to do with mountain living and the local real estate scene, and I can't begin to tell you how important that expertise was for us when purchasing our McCall vacation home. From recommendations for local inspectors, surveyors, and building specialists, to what kind of roof is required for heavy mountain snow loads, to how to cope with "mountain time" during the high pressure stress of purchasing property, our realtor expertly and calmly guided us through it all.

We made the two hour drive to McCall and met our realtor at our cabin to see it for the first time on August 20, 2016, and our sale recorded on October 11, 2016, fifty-four days later. Our little cabin had already gone through two offers from other buyers, but both failed the inspection requirements for the financing that had been applied for. Specifically, our little cabin had a leaking roof, peeling paint, and needed a new electrical panel, none of which the seller would fix. FHA and VA financing requires a move-in ready home, so both of those offers fell through. We didn't realize it at the time, but we were extremely lucky to make our offer with conventional financing and have it be accepted almost immediately after the financing from the other buyers fell through and before anyone else could make another offer.

We've been told many times since, how lucky we were to find a cabin at a price we could even come close to affording anywhere in the McCall area, where lakefront homes sell for millions of dollars; especially one so close to the lake and state park. Cash sales of vacation homes are a large percentage of real estate sales in this area, and our 470 square foot cabin was perfect for a cash investor looking to flip it for a quick profit. My husband and I say it to each other every time we come up to our little cabin that we were so incredibly lucky to have found the only fixer upper cabin in all of McCall we could afford when we did, and that we were able to make our offer before someone else did. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! 

I think all real estate dealings are stressful, and ours was no different. In addition, we had some stressful issues (for us) that were unique to the purchase of a vacation home. First, we found out that second homes have different financing requirements than principal residences do. We hadn't figured on having to come up with a down payment of twenty percent of the purchase price. It could have been a deal breaker, but we decided to use all the money we were saving for our new car for the cabin instead. We would just have to start over saving for a new car, but it was worth it to us. 

After we figured out our financing, we worried that our old cabin might need more repairs than we could afford. We held our breath during the two hour inspection until our home inspector summarized our cabin as "needing a few repairs and updates due to neglect and age, but it's a pretty nice little cabin for seventy years old in McCall, Idaho."


We chose as positive an interpretation of that summary as we could. Later, after the written inspection report was emailed to us and we pored over all of it, we got an additional inspection of the electrical system by a licensed electrician and made an inspection contingency counter offer for the seller to cover part of the cost of the new roof. Then, we felt fairly confident of what repairs needed doing and that we would eventually be able to afford them; mostly because the cabin is just so tiny and we are experienced do it yourselfers.

The appraisal was our next hurdle and set us back when the appraiser just never bothered showing up at the cabin and the loan officer didn't know until the last day it was due. That left them scrambling to find a new appraiser who was willing to make the four hour round trip drive to McCall. 

With the appraisal finally done, our Title Insurance Company at the last minute made a survey of the land a requirement of the title policy we wanted. As so many small mountain town professionals do, our surveyor was out of town working on another job, so we just had to wait for his return. Luckily, our seller agreed to delay our closing date. Since the title company was located in the same county as the cabin, our realtor had set up a courtesy closing in our home county with another title company he uses here so we wouldn't all need to drive up to McCall. Unfortunately, we found out, again at the last minute, that their office was closing for Columbus Day! Who on earth closes for Columbus Day?! Luckily, he knew of another title company that would be open and, finally, it was closing day!

I was told at our closing meeting that I'm what they call a "reader." I read every single word of every single one of our closing documents. I was surprised to hear that's unusual, especially when I found that the description of our property had been transcribed wrong by the computer on the property deed, which is the most important legal document of ownership. And I was the only one who caught it! Happily, the title officer was able to type up an attachment to correct the description that allowed us to continue with our closing without delay. It was still two more days before we could pick up our keys and take occupancy of our little cabin because the documents had to be sent overnight by fed ex to the title company in the county of the cabin for recording the following day.

So, you can see, buying a vacation home that's in a different location from where you live can add a little stress to the already stressful real estate transaction, simply because it's out of town. Our realtor expected delays and was experienced with, and ready, to handle them. After the first few hurdles and problems were surmounted, we learned to trust him and his understanding of our small mountain town real estate transaction. 

We were so excited when we drove up to McCall on that first fall day and stopped by the seller's real estate office to pick up our keys. My husband's pickup was full of cleaning and painting supplies and an air mattress to sleep on. We kept pinching ourselves to see if it was all real. Were we really realizing our dream to become the owners of our own
vacation cabin?!

When we got to our little cabin that first day and walked around our property taking in all the dead and dying trees that needed to be cut down and the peeling, flaking paint on the cracked siding, then opened the front door into the living room and gazed up at the new water stains on the ceiling from the leaking roof and the seventy year-old electrical panel with glass knob fuses hanging in the living room, we slowly realized, oh yes, we're wide awake, and it's all very real... 

Stay tuned as we roll up our sleeves and get to work on our tiny cabin in the woods!


  1. I am so excited for you, Laurel. We are in the process of selling our big house and will be downsizing in the spring. I have lived in/redone 15 fixer-uppers over the years...and I guess I am up for one more. I can't wait to see what you do to your sweet little place. xo Diana

  2. I can't wait to see what you do with your sweet little cabin ~ when can I come up for a visit?! ;)
    And aren't you glad all our smoke is gone? Perfect for eclipse viewing! Are you going to drive up for it?

  3. Wow, quite a suspenseful story. It's a darling cabin and the setting is wonderful. Lucky you despite all the problems.

  4. Good for you catching that description! Can't wait to see your transformation of this fabulous cabin!

  5. What a beautiful setting and cabin.... lots of possibilities there.... What a fun project. :)

  6. Oh, what a sweet sweet little are going to have so much fun fixing it up and making it a dream come true. I sure am happy for you.

  7. I love McCall and that cabin is pretty cute...I know it will be absolutely adorable when you are done with it! I can't wait to see!


  8. This is wonderful Laurel!! This cabin will be very loved and many memories are going to be made there by the whole family!! It is a very cute place! Congratulations!

  9. Such a wonderful opportunity for you. I think it's great. Can't wait to hear more.

  10. Oh wow, that would have had me on pins and needles! Congratulations on the purchase of your cabin. I'm looking forward to seeing the transformation!


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