Our Team 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 modern 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 and perhaps weren’t even aware that it was possible to purchase one of these quaint cabins. 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”.
What are the USFS like?
Most USFS cabins are smaller in size, between 800sqft and 1,300 sqft and were originally built in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The common layout is the kitchen, dining, living area downstairs along with 1 bathroom and then the bedrooms upstairs. Some don’t have interior bathrooms and instead have a out-house located just outside the cabin. There are even cabins that have been extensively remodeled with higher end materials and appliances.
How much do USFS cost to purchase?
The price range for USFS cabins is very broad and mainly depends on the specific location of that cabin. There are cabins priced under $100,000 and a select few priced over $1,000,000. But most fall in the $120,000 to $250,000 price range. The higher priced ones are mainly located at Echo Lakes. To see an example of a high end Echo Lakes cabin that sold recently CLICK HERE.
With the average single family home in Lake Tahoe being priced around $500,000 you can see the attraction to USFS cabins with their much lower average price range under $250,000. So what are the differences between a single family house and a USFS cabin and why are they so much cheaper?
Here are the 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. It sells with a Bill of Sale like personal property. You then lease the property from the Forest Service and you have a special use permit to use the cabin.
2) Can I get a loan to purchase one of these cabins?
Conventional financing is not available to purchase them. These are “cash only” sales. Some home buyers will refinance their primary or other properties they own or use a line of credit for the purchase. 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?
The short answer is Yes, but with some exceptions. It can be an adventure to visit most cabins in the winter with snowshoeing or skiing access. Water is disconnected most of the time to prevent freezing in the winter and normally the roads are not plowed. Find a safe place to park your vehicle off the main roads and away from Cal Trans plowing areas or your car could be towed, ticketed or even buried! Some cabin owners have contracted with independent snow plow operators to clear the roads after each large storm. Other cabin roads have gates that block driving access completely in the winter. If the cabin is located below 4,000 feet in elevation then the snow won’t be as much of a problem usually.
8) What dates do I have access to the cabin?
The typical season is Mother’s Day in May to Halloween in October. 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. Some cabins have conditional permits until they meet certain criteria.
10) How much does a lease cost?
Annual fees range from $400 to $3,500 or more based on the appraised value. The value appraises about every ten 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?
We are always available at 530-541-2465 and 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 are currently a couple for sale in South Lake Tahoe and others located west of the lake off Hwy 50 in the Strawberry area.
You have plenty of options available to choose from. Some cabins in Lake Tahoe are privately owned and don’t have the same restrictions and rules as US Forest Service cabins.
Ready to Buy a Cabin in Lake Tahoe?
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