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ABC12 Investigates: Wixom Lake homes lose value after the Edenville Dam failure

Formerly lakefront homes now overlook a patch of weeds and little to no open water

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The impact on property values after Mid-Michigan floods

The impact on property values after Mid-Michigan floods

MIDLAND COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - Shock, grief and anger were all emotions that many people who lived along four Mid-Michigan lakes felt after a dam failure caused those lakes to disappear.

Six months later, some of that emotion remained. But people might have another word on their mind: value. What was the value of their homes now that there were no lakes? The answer, for many, was complicated.

What had once been a toast to summer along a canal leading into Wixom Lake was replaced by autumn and a mostly empty waterway that now was full of weeds. A sunset from a deck on Sanford Lake now included a view of little water and plenty of vegetation.

“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotion and action for a lot of us,” said realtor Teresa Quintana of Modern Realty.

Secord, Smallwood, Wixom and Sanford lakes were primary residences or summer homes, a place where memories were made for thousands of families.

But when the Edenville Dam failed last spring, causing the Sanford Dam downstream to breach, water drained from the lakes and the lakefront properties had to remove “lakefront” as a description.

Six months later, Rick Savard and his wife Cherie knew what to do. Actually, they wanted to sell three lakefront properties in April, but 2020 had a way of taking plans and crushing them in ways no one expected.

“We can’t sell these places,” said Rick.

At least not what the couple hoped to sell them for. He said they did sell Cherie’s father’s home.

“That sold for $75,000. The assessment put it at about $170,000 to $180,000, but he got flooded out real bad. The place is gutted out right now," Rick Savard said.

The Savards and others were still trying to figure out what were their lakefront properties worth now that they no longer have lakefront properties -- at least for now. The best way to get an idea, what were homes selling for in the area right now?

“It’s an interesting situation because this happens to take place at a time where we already had a major inventory shortage in Midland County,” said Quintana.

She had a home listed on Sanford Lake. Back in April, the asking price for the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with 50 feet of lake frontage would have been different.

“I would have estimated around $225,000 or so. We’ve now, have we have it listed at $180,000,” said Quintana.

That was in line with what an appraiser estimated. He did not want to be identified, but he had researched the approximately 20 homes that had sold along the lakes 30 days before the flood until November.

The appraiser reported a mean average of a property value drop of 22%. The biggest decrease was 47% while the lowest drop just 9%.

“We’ve taken tons and tons of questions, from tons and tons of concerned people," Michigan master assessing officer Jamie Houserman said.

It would be up to local assessors to set the value of what a property was worth.

“The things that actually sold, we analyze that data, we use that data to set value," Houserman said.

She was still asking anyone who had property along these lakes to call their township assessor and report any interior damage. That could affect another concern many people have along these lakes, which was property taxes.

“They want some level of relief. What I can say is some homeowners have told us their property had no value. That was a pretty big thing in the beginning of this, that the value of my property is gone. That’s not true. I can tell you that for sure, that’s absolutely not true,” said Houserman.

Property tax bills would be due in December and Houserman warned people that the tax bill will be for last year’s assessed value, so there would be no decrease on the bills this year. The new assessed values would be determined in February and reflected in the December 2021 tax bills.

Craig Purcell’s family had had this home on a canal leading into Wixom Lake for 40 years. This was where his children would bring their families. The summer of 2020 was different.

“We were jumping in the car and going to visit them instead of them visiting us,” said Purcell.

He knew if he sold he wouldn’t get the money he would have received in April. As for taxes, Purcell was not expecting any relief.

“I can’t imagine the local communities and cities and surviving without those taxes, so I don’t think anyone is going to volunteer to lower our taxes because there was no water," he said.

But when will the water come back? Best estimates seemed to be five to seven years. Savard said some of the younger guys were willing to go in and put some work in and wait for the lake to come back.

“We’re seeing groups of people that have sort of the tenacity to take the risk and to wait the five or six years and buy with the discounted prices that were occurring right now,” said Quintana.

On average, those properties were going for about 20% less than they would have if sold in April. Quintana expects to be busy selling homes along the lakes for the next couple of years.

“For every person that’s in that position, there is another person that needs a home or that wants an opportunity to be on the future lake," she said.

For those who weren’t selling, a look out their window was a reminder that what they once had is gone and what they will have in the future was unknown.

“A lot of this is going to be tied up in the courts for a while, so, not sure what next is, and not sure when next starts," Purcell said.

Copyright 2020 WJRT. All rights reserved.

Anchor/Reporter

Terry Camp anchors ABC12 News First at Four and ABC12 News at 5:30. He also reports on issues in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

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