Rural homebuyers in Maine, Oklahoma and New York, among other states, have been flocking to rustic off-the-grid camps — many without electricity — as residents seek to distance themselves from neighbors amid the pandemic.
In September, demand for such sparse living sent sales of off-grid cabins in northern Maine soaring 30 percent year over year, according to the Maine Association of Realtors.
“I have had some buyers like that for sure,” Jim LeClair, a sales agent with Whittemore’s Real Estate in New Portland, Maine, told Inman. “Certainly some of it is spurred by the pandemic.”
A camp is generally considered a very basic cabin that might be located near a lake. Some are quite remote, and as a result, may either be set up for off-the-grid sufficiency or may not have electricity or other public utilities. Those factors, however, haven’t deterred buyers.
“We do have a lot of influx of people from out of state coming to Maine and they are okay with not necessarily living full-time in these rustic cabins, but spending some time in them and possibly living off-grid,” LeClair said. “More often than not, they would prefer electricity … but I have had several people totally fine with being off-grid.”
LeClair added that many camp buyers don’t even seem much concerned about whether or not the property has reliable internet access, an anomaly in today’s age.
“Some of them are [concerned about internet], but again, some people are just looking to totally get out of the office, basically,” LeClair said. “The further off in the woods, the better.”
While Maine has seen a noticeable trend toward these bare-bones properties off in the wilderness, agents across the country — including in Oklahoma, New York and Wyoming — reported similar phenomena to Inman.
“I think it’s pretty widespread and pretty common right now,” Shane Vogel, real estate salesperson with Timberland Realty in Allegany County, New York, told Inman.
“I think most agents that I know have experienced [it],” he added. “I’ve never seen as many buyers looking for these properties as I have in the last few months.”
Vogel echoed LeClair’s statement that most of his buyers didn’t express a specific need for a strong internet bandwidth, but did require a good cell phone signal.
The New York State Association of Realtors told Inman it doesn’t track data specific to sales of rustic camps. Requests for data from the Oklahoma Association of Realtors and various MLS’s in Wyoming were not immediately responded to.
Still, Skye Coleman-Weisz, a broker with RE/MAX in Riverton, Wyoming, explained the increased demand he’s seen in off-the-grid properties this year by highlighting what happened with one of his listings that recently went under contract.
“I’m the second Realtor on that one,” Coleman-Weisz told Inman. “We had it last year, it never sold, with maybe two showings. [This year] we’ve had it [listed] just about one month, had three showings, and went under contract shortly after that. And I’ve got a list of people who have said, ‘If that [house] ever comes back, I’m interested.'”
Granted, at $749K, Coleman-Weisz’s listing isn’t exactly basic — it has a 360-degree wrap around deck and plenty of modern finishes throughout the home. However, it would require significant upkeep with 44 acres of land, as well as solar panels, a well, and wood furnaces and wood cooking stoves to maintain.
Although some buyers may see those features as a lot to worry about, Coleman-Weisz said it actually gives many buyers peace of mind, especially in uncertain times like these when some people are planning for breakdowns in supply chains and the potential for utility service outages in the event of mass outbreaks of COVID-19 and shortages of workers.
“It gives people security,” Coleman-Weisz said. “They’re comforted by the fact that if there was anything to happen, they’ll be fine.”
Of the several buyers she’s had look for off-grid properties, southeastern Oklahoma-based agent Kam Harden with United Country Altaterra Realty and Auction LLC said most of these types of buyers are just looking to escape their city to a second home and simpler way of life. And, if it helps reduce their chances of contracting coronavirus by being in a more rural area, all the better.
“It’s been mostly just vacation homes,” Harden said. “Just to get away, get out of the big city and just get away for a little while, enjoy some peace and quiet — and to get away from all the COVID.”