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KIRO Radio's Tom Kelly digs deep into the Puget Sound real estate market
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fishing 980 AP
If you are drawn to the Northwest's natural wonders and you dream of vacation near a river for fishing, maybe you can use Father's Day as an excuse to take a drive in search of your dream. (AP Photo/File)

It's Dad's time: Let him dream of a getaway

If you are drawn to the Northwest's heavy surf, cascading rivers, rolling meadows or placid mountain lakes, maybe you can use Father's Day weekend as an excuse to take a drive in search of your dream.

I started my personal search for a place by the water more than 30 years ago. I was working the night desk in a newspaper's sports department, had no children and was able to block out two days a week to explore the possibilities.

The area in the south Puget Sound near Anderson Island always had been attractive and a summer weekend filled with crab and oysters near Union on the Hood Canal beckoned a detailed search of possibilities. So many areas to consider.

The waterfront between Marysville and Stanwood always had a distinctive lure. A newspaper friend had been raised in Warm Beach and had introduced us to its sandy beaches and high-bank properties with peculiar switch-back trails and expansive views of Camano Island.

It didn't take long to realize that virtually everything we looked at was out of our price range. The smallest, most remote cabins and lots in the area's beach communities were far more expensive than anticipated.

However, I was determined. I felt that somehow, somewhere I would find an acceptable property with decent terms and conditions. I contacted owners of the seemingly cheapest cabins and vacant lots to see if they would consider selling. I tracked down the beach plats at the Snohomish County Courthouse, copied the lot numbers and found the listed owners through tax records. We then wrote letters and got several "maybe" responses.

One Arlington man asked that we contact his attorney about a vacant lot on the east side of a small beach community. It turned out the man had been involved in the original platting of the community and at one time had owned quite a bit of property in the region. He said he thought his beach front lots had been sold long ago.

His attorney researched the man's holdings and concluded that the man did, indeed, own the vacant lot and would part with it for $5,000. We told the attorney we would buy the 50-by-250-foot property contingent upon the approval of all services.

It wasn't waterfront, but it was $5,000 and across the only street in the community. There were no problems with power or water. The only thing that stood between us and a buildable dream lot was an approved septic-system design and percolation test. The lot had the required square footage, but water from the side of the hill periodically made the ground soggy.

While doing property research at the courthouse, I met a registered sewage disposal designer who said the drain field design, percolation testing and required county paperwork would cost $195. I considered doing the job myself (a designer or engineer was not required) but felt our chances for approval would be better if a professional did the work.

In the end, a health inspector decided the dry area of the lot was too small to adequately accommodate the septic system and she denied us a sewage-disposal permit - an opinion upheld by the district supervisor.

We were stunned. Without a septic permit, we could not build our house. Alternative systems were not allowed by the community association. Adding to the sting was the fact that most of the cabins were on lots smaller than the minimum size required for septic approval. They were built when the laws were less stringent.

Should we try to buy the adjacent lot? Maybe with an additional lot we could pass the septic inspection. But the county said the adjacent lot had problems, too.

We decided to walk away from the beach lot. The experience was not worthless. We had found a lot, its owner, history, taxes, neighbors, market value and requirements for building. It did not work out, but at least we knew why it didn't.

A year later, we found a spot on a fresh water lake that we still share with another family. I like to row there and my kids sometimes study how I row much as I studied my own father. Yet, I know they take being on the water for granted. They say there's so much water around here that you're never too far away from it.

And that, in a capsule, is why we are so lucky. It also is why so many people want to live around here.

Tom Kelly's novel "Cold Crossover" is now available in print at bookstores everywhere and in both print and Ebook form from a variety of digital outlets. Follow real estate agent and former basketball coach Ernie Creekmore as investigates the disappearance of his star player on a late-night boat. Check out the national reviews and put "Cold Crossover" on your list.

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