I receive phone calls and emails often from Lake Tahoe home buyers looking to purchase a cabin in the mountains. The word cabin means different things to different people, from those made of logs and in the middle of nowhere, to a chalet next to the ski resorts. Some buyers are intrigued when looking at Lake Tahoe real estate when they see US Forest Service cabins for sale. Perhaps you weren’t aware that it was possible to purchase a cabin, so here is some information to consider.
Owning a Forest Service Cabin
Lake Tahoe Forest Service cabins provide owners with unique opportunities. You enjoy undeveloped areas with rustic and natural surroundings and they fit the true meaning of “Getting away from it all.” As you search Lake Tahoe homes for sale, perhaps you’d like to know more about USFS cabin opportunities. Here are some often asked questions and answers:
1) Do you own the land when you purchase a US Forest Service Cabin? You do not own the land, just the building. It is sold with a Bill of Sale like personal property. You then lease the property from the Forest Service.
2) Can I get a loan to purchase one of these cabins? Conventional financing is not available to purchase them. Some home buyers will refinance their primary or other properties they own or use a line of credit. It is common for cabin owners to provide seller financing for a new buyer.
3) How does the IRS recognize a Forest Service cabin? They are a Capital Asset much like a car or boat.
4) How much are property taxes? Owners pay the county 1.25% of the purchase price.
5) What does the Forest Service get? They receive the lease income. Depending on the area there may be Homeowner’s Association dues as well.
6) Do I need to have Property Insurance? Yes. You need to have insurance for the structure, personal property and personal liability.
7) Can I use my cabin in winter? Yes, you can, but you need to be prepared for the elements. It can be an adventure with you snowshoeing or skiing to the cabin! Most of the time though, water is disconnected to prevent freezing and normally the roads are not plowed. You’ll need to find a safe place to park your vehicle away from Cal Trans plowing areas or your car could be towed, ticketed or even buried!
8) What dates do I have access to the cabin? The typical season is Mother’s Day in May to Halloween in October, but times are subject to change due to weather and temperatures. Cabins under 4,000 feet elevation may have a longer season, but these aren’t in Lake Tahoe since our lowest elevation is over 6,000 feet.
9) How long does my lease last? Currently, the Highway 50 corridor cabins have 20 year leases and everyone is on the same schedule. 2014 is the 5th year of leases. Some cabins also have conditional permits until certain criteria is met.
10) How much does a lease cost? Annual fees range from $400 to $3,500 or more based on the appraised value. Appraisals are done about every 10 years.
11) How much are the Escrow fees to transfer ownership? Fees are about $400 for each the Buyer and the Seller plus an additional $50 for each UCC Name Search through the Secretary of State.
12) How can you get more information? I am always available at 530-541-2465 as well as the US Forest Service Ranger office at 530-647-5354 (ask for a copy of the Guidelines for Summer Residences Handbook). Or, here is their handbook and other information.
There are a total of 975 cabins in the Eldorado National Forest with over 15,000 in the whole country. There is currently 1 for sale in South Lake Tahoe and 2 at Fallen Leaf Lake. One of the Fallen Lake homes is a magnificent lakefront estate with the South Lake Tahoe cabin steps away from hiking and fishing.
Many of the South Lake Tahoe area cabins are found in Christmas Valley along the historic Hawley Grade as well as around Echo Summit and Echo Lake.
There are many Lake Tahoe cabins that aren’t Forest Service owned as well.
Ready to Buy a Cabin in Lake Tahoe?
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