Thinking about Moving
into Your Cabin, Full-Time? 

Tips to think about before making your
cabin a year-round residency

WRITTEN BY LORI WELLE | PHOTOGRAPHED BY DAVE AND DOROTHY CASEY

ANTICIPATION BUILDS as the asphalt turns to gravel and a sliver of your Northwoods oasis peaks through the pines. It’s cabin time! And that means it’s time to relax, refresh, and retreat to your home away from home.

But first, you need to unload the car, mow the lawn, and tackle the spider webs created while you were away. So much for relaxing.

But what if you could turn your retreat into your full-time residence? You would have half the work and expense, but would you have the same feeling of getting away?

Before weekend cabin owners leap into a full-time residency, they should first think about a few things. Seasonal enjoyment such as visits from cute critters, quiet time lakeside, and abundant forests can turn into pesky raccoons living under the porch, feelings of isolation, and reasons for downed power lines during storms.

“It might be a reality check for many,” said Eric Davidge, Senior Vice President of Investments for DG Wealth Management Group in Brainerd. “Cabin owners are here for the best days of the year. What happens when they are here during the dead of winter and there’s not much to do? Although they can still head to the metro or other big cities nearby, big cultural and sporting events are no longer in their backyard.”

However, depending on where people are from, Davidge says making the cabin their primary residence can make financial sense. “They will save on maintenance, taxes, and insurance from no longer owning a second home, and they will most likely get more for their dollar here,” he said.

Thanks to improved internet access throughout Lake Country, people can now work, shop, and communicate with others from their lake home. “It has been a game-changer for many people considering the move,” said Bruce Lee, broker/owner of Larson Group Real Estate/Keller Williams in Crosslake. “They are discovering that it’s easier to work from home these days, so why not move now instead of waiting for retirement.”

When working with prospective buyers, Lee encourages them to consider how they want to use their lake home as both a weekend getaway and as a future full-time residence. Weekenders may not feel the need to have a master bath, for example, but most will want one when they live in the home year-round.

Others, such as Dave and Dorothy Casey, may want to sell their seasonal cabin and build their new forever home. “Once our cabin was sold and our new lake home was completed, the idea of taking care of one place won us over,” Dorothy said. They sold their Twin Cities’ home and retired to Spirit Lake in Aitkin five years ago. “We love the lake, access to outdoor activities, the peacefulness of nature, and, of course, the call of the loons.”

The couple has enjoyed getting involved in their community via their lake association, volunteering, pickleball, and more. “The transition to living here full-time was easier than we thought it would be,” Dorothy said. “I encourage others to reach out and network. They will be surprised by how many others are relocating here full-time, too.”

The bottom line: accept that you will experience a certain dose of culture shock when making the cabin your primary home. Life is at a slower pace up north, but it can be full of many memory-making moments you will cherish forever—especially while relaxing on the lake on a Sunday night while the weekenders are stuck in traffic. 

Should You Make Cabin Your Full-Time Residence?

Pros:

  • Not having to “open” or “close” the cabin.
  • Paying for maintenance, taxes, and insurance on one home vs. two.
  • Not needing to have two of everything or taking care of two yards, etc.
  • Getting a Homestead classification for your lake home, which may result in lower taxes.
  • Not having to leave on Sunday night and spend time in traffic.

Cons:

  • Dealing with a difference in job availability and salaries.
  • Needing to establish new relationships with local health care providers, contractors, other service providers, and friends.
  • Being farther away from a large variety of sporting events, restaurants, and cultural activities.
  • No longer having the anticipation of getting away to your weekend retreat.

Before You Make the Move

  • Try to move in the spring. It will give you about six months to settle in and meet more people before the shorter days of winter arrive.
  • Identify local and regional social and educational opportunities such as places of worship, libraries, museums, arts organizations, and outdoor recreation groups. 
  • If you still want to work, you may find new—albeit limited and potentially less paying—opportunities to reinvent yourself in a new career, or you can work part-time in your new community.
  • Decide if your vehicle is right for your area, the terrain, and your new driving habits. 
  • Ensure you have access to the health care providers you need.