Mrs. Animal and I have been planning this for twenty years. We’re now at the light at the end of the tunnel stage. Here is the next installment of the story of our planned move from Colorado to Alaska.
We spent the week of November 2nd in Alaska, doing a deeper dive into areas and looking at some houses we had identified in real-estate web sites. Arriving in the Great Land on a Friday afternoon, we spent the weekend doing drive-by looks at a few of the places that we were skeptical about before meeting with our realtor on Monday at the wonderful Palmer Ale House – a fun little local place with great food and a good beer selection, by the way, and one I highly recommend if you’re ever in Alaska. The rest of the week was spent actually looking at properties.
We had a few particulars we wanted in a house, and there were a few deal-breakers.
- I wanted a little bit of space, at least a couple of acres, to give us some breathing room between us and any neighbors. It’s been said that privacy is the last great luxury, but in Alaska, it’s one you can have.
- Zoning, as in un-zoned. While not a deal-breaker if the right house came up, I wanted a place that I could shoot on, and also not have any busybodies come out whining if I decided to run up an outbuilding.
- Water access (as in, lakefront property) would be nice, preferably lake access as I’m rather paranoid about flooding, given that I grew up on the banks of a big Iowa trout stream notorious for flooding. But water access adds a fair amount to the price of a house in Alaska.
- Good hunting and fishing nearby – say, within an hour’s drive – is a must, but in Alaska, that’s almost everywhere.
- Minimal stairs. We wanted to keep it on one level if possible, due to Mrs. Animal’s disability. Having the master bedroom on another floor is doable, as we’d only be going up there once or twice a day, normally just to sleep.
- Storage and workshop space. I need a place to set up my gunsmithing and reloading equipment. Mrs. Animal needs storage for books and room for her sewing gear. That amounts to a fair amount of space required for business and hobbies.
- Office space. We both run businesses out of the house and need room for the computer equipment required.
- Some of the newer areas and the new construction options were in covenanted areas. None had an active HOA enforcing those, and some were more acceptable than others. Mind you our current house in Colorado has covenants and an HOA, but the rules are not restrictive and the HOA pretty laid-back (I was on the Board myself for a three years) so we’ve been dealing with that issue, but when we move I’d rather not have extra-legal rules on what I’m doing on my own place.
- Give our requirements for access to the airport and the VA hospital in Anchorage, and our desire to be in the Mat-Su region, our northernmost limit was on the Parks Highway at the Hatcher Pass turnoff a little ways north of Willow, and our easternmost, the Glenallen Highway at Chickaloon.
- Extensive repair. Some houses sold “as-is,” or even wackier, some houses that were listed as “no inspection allowed” or even “no interior walkthroughs allowed” were right out. Ditto for some we saw listed with earthquake damage or structural problems.
Over the weekend we ruled out several places just with a drive-past. One, while roomy and interesting, was too far north, being almost halfway from Willow to Talkeetna, and was awfully rough. Another was too small and lay on a small lot within the Palmer city limits. A couple of others that might have worked proved to have been under contract; real estate is going fast in Alaska these days.
We chatted with some locals as well. What was really interesting was the stock response from folks in Willow, Wasilla, and Palmer when we mentioned we were looking to move north to Alaska: “Which of the forty-eight are you fleeing from?”
On Tuesday, we started looking at houses, but nothing really stood out. One was on an acre of land with a small pond, but the driveway looked horrible – crooked, tilted and mostly mud. Also, it was in a development, so zoning. We didn’t even go inside.
One ranch-style house was promising and could have worked, but only a quarter-acre lot, no storage or workshop space, although we were tempted by a view of the lake and a boat ramp to said lake a few hundred yards away.
Another was even more tempting, being big, roomy, with plenty of space that could be used for workshop/storage/whatever, but it was a three-level place with lots of stairs and, like the other two, was in a zoned development.
There is a fair amount of developing going on in the Palmer area, so on Wednesday afternoon our realtor set up a meeting with the agency and builder that was working in the neighborhoods north and east of Palmer, doing new construction. The builder laid everything out in great detail, including lot sizes (two to five acres) and custom options. There were covenants in the new areas although no HOAs, all areas were zoned, and the price for a house laid out like we’d want was about fifty grand above what we were willing to spend, so that ended up being a non-starter.
But while we were discussing that, something new came in.
When we bought our house in Colorado, way back in 1997, our Colorado realtor had already shown us several places we didn’t care for. When we arrived to look at the house we are in now, he met us at the door and said, “I think this might be the place for you.” We went inside, and immediately said, “Yeah, I think this is the place.”
After our meeting with the new house builder on Wednesday, we had pretty much decided we weren’t going to find a place on this trip and decided to put off further searching until spring. But then, as we were still sitting at the conference room table in the builder’s office, our realtor scanned her tablet quickly and said “…well, there’s this one that just was listed today; you might like it.” We looked at the listing. I asked if I could shoot on the place, since it seemed to be out in the woods. The realtor consulted her tablet and said yes. She showed us the photos of the property, and they looked interesting indeed, so we decided to go look at it the next morning. The house photos showed promise; roomy, open concept, several outbuildings, all set on two acres of land a couple of miles south of Willow.
Thursday morning, we met the realtor at the place to do our walkthrough. A half-mile up a graveled road from the highway, we came to a long driveway that led up to the big, open yard, in the middle of which lay the house and outbuildings comprising, in effect, a compound. We walked into the house, looked around, and experienced the same reaction we had twenty-three years earlier: “I think this is the place.”
It was indeed open, with a huge living room, a new custom kitchen, and two guest bedrooms and a full bath on the main floor. The master suite lay upstairs, with another full bath, two closets, and a crawlspace/attic for storage.
Outside there was a lovely little outbuilding the current owner used as an office and craft shop, wired, and heated but not plumbed. Another, larger (and somewhat uglier) building with no windows, built in part around an old sea-land van, proved to be a former legal grow facility, but could easily be converted into more storage and workshop space. Heating was a combination of oil heaters (we will probably convert to natural gas), wood, and electric baseboard. Air conditioning, of course, isn’t necessary in Alaska.
There was no direct water access on the property, but the Nancy Lake and Sustina River boat ramps proved to be only minutes away.
We looked at everything, told the realtor we’d have to talk, and went for a long drive, almost to Talkeetna, to do just that. Within the hour we had called, placed a bid on the house, and that evening, it was accepted.
The first Glibertarian to learn of our purchase was in fact our good friend and fellow Alaskan 61North, with whom we had dinner in Anchorage the evening of our Nov 7th flight back to Colorado.
So now, we have a lot of packing to do. We’re not taking much of any furniture that distance, but in almost thirty years of marriage, you accumulate a lot of stuff, not least of which is an extensive gun collection that has to move through Canada. Some guns just can’t be taken though Canada. Our AR-15s are already in Alaska, in a secure storage, having been taken up courtesy of United Airlines in checked baggage. We’ll probably do the same with the handguns we can’t drive through. The rest of our guns we can take on the drive, as long as Canada’s bureaucratic hurdles are satisfied.
We’re planning on driving the AlCan with truck and trailer probably in late March, with a good amount of our stuff; Mrs. Animal will probably be spending a fair amount of time in CO getting the remainder of our stuff packed up for the moving company and (with the help of our kids) getting our huge barn of a Colorado house ready to sell.
It’s going to feel odd leaving the Colorado place. We’ve been living there twenty-three years, longer than either of us have ever lived anywhere in our lives. We’ve raised four daughters in that house. We’ve loved the house; we’ve lived and loved in the house. But a house like this is far too big for a couple. It should have a family in it, and it’s time we moved on and let that big rambling place be the home for another growing, young family, assuming any growing young families can afford that place given the loony Colorado real-estate market.
But the bright side there, is that the cash-out of the Colorado place should almost, if not completely, pay off the mortgage we took out on the Alaska place, leaving us mortgage-free (hopefully) for the rest of our lives.
For almost as long as we’ve lived in the Colorado house, we’ve been planning our move to the Great Land, to spend our golden years there. Now our dream is coming true at last. And boy howdy, does it feel like a great time to get out of the Forty-Eight.
We’re pretty damned excited. More to come as the move starts – one of the key elements of that move will be driving the Alaska-Canada Highway, which should yield some interesting insights. Stay tuned.