December 17, 2013 in Idaho

Dozens of Priest Lake cabin sites headed for auction block

By The Spokesman-Review
 

As many as 95 state-owned lakefront cabin sites could go on the auction block in the next eight months, after Idaho’s state Land Board cleared the way for the auctions Tuesday.

They’d involve 74 cabin sites on the shores of Priest Lake and 21 at Payette Lake where the current renters – who built and own their own cabins on the state-owned ground – had signed up for now-cancelled land exchanges, designed to let the cabin owners take ownership of the land while trading the state higher-yielding commercial property.

Legal issues derailed the exchanges, so now Idaho is offering the renters a chance to voluntarily put their lots up for auction, a chance to own their cabin sites outright. The catch: Anyone can bid.

“We have ready, willing and able buyers,” said Kathy Opp, deputy director of the state Department of Lands, noting that those who signed up for land exchanges already have lined up financing and settled title issues. The auctions, she said, will “capture current buyer interest while motivation is high.”

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “I would hope we would move as swiftly as we can to accommodate people who have already jumped through any number of hoops for us. … We can finally get out of dozens of these leases and get appraised value for them.”

The board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials, voted unanimously to offer the auctions.

The cabin sites are part of Idaho’s endowment, which generates money for schools. After years of battles over what constitutes a fair rental rate for the ground under someone’s cabin, the state has embarked on a plan to get out of the cabin-site rental business, but it’s proceeded in fits and starts.

The auctions for the Priest Lake sites would be held at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, on two dates, yet to be set, between now and August. The appraised value for the lots would be the minimum bid.

“It’s a nationally recognized venue,” Brian Rallens of Bottles Corbett Real Estate told the Land Board, and would draw attention to Priest Lake, “really a gem that’s not that well-known.”

If someone other than the current renter of the land was the successful bidder at the auction, they would have to pay the current renter appraised or assessed value for the improvements, including the buildings on the property.

Said Rallens, “At the end of the day, we really feel that there’s an opportunity for a fiduciary benefit for the endowment.”

With the turmoil and uncertainty revolving around the state lots at Priest Lake, as many as 30 percent of the current lessees may default, as they face steep increases in their rental rates for the ground under their cabins, Rallens said. That would force land values there down and saturate the market with vacant properties, he said.

“Really the best time to sell is when you’ve got buyers,” he told the board.

Idaho already has held one auction for outright ownership of lakefront cabin sites, involving 13 lots at Payette Lake near McCall in October. In that case, all 10 that had current lessees went to those current renters; the other three were vacant, unleased lots.

“It will drive prices up over time,” Rallens said. “Especially at Priest Lake we feel it’s an opportunity to preserve values.”

He said, “From an expectation standpoint, I would say most will probably sell for appraised value.”


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