Ann Vick Fitzpatrick of Grosse Pointe Farms has rented a variety of cottages through the years with her husband, Walt, and their three children. An on-going favorite is one on Lake Michigan in West Olive available through VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner), a national network. “It has just two bedrooms,” she said, “but we like to be cozy on our getaways.”
Because the family doesn’t get away to stay indoors, location is the larger reason this spot’s their top pick. “We love being so close to the beach, but also not far from shopping and dining. And there’s so much to do in nearby Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven.”
Returning to this inviting rental retreat has another added benefit, Fitzpatrick shared. “We like to go back to the same area because it becomes familiar,” she said, “and almost feels like it’s ours.”
Can cottages truly be carefree? Yes, say fans of fractional ownership and cottage rentals, who believe both options offer the rest and relaxation typical of the cottage experience with less stress and expense.
Throughout the state, there’s a wide range of such hassle-free houses away from home.
Hampton, Newport, Marblehead, Nantucket, Savannah, Charleston. The names may reference popular East Coast and Southern vacation spots, but the location and amenities are pure Michigan, said Cyndy Schurman, vice president of sales and marketing for The Beach House at Lake Street in Holland.
Open since 2006, the property has eight completely furnished units, each with its own distinct style, spacious living and dining areas and two to three bedrooms. “We very much wanted that East Coast, Nantucket aesthetic and carried that theme throughout the property with names, a coastal feel and relaxed interior colors and style,” Schurman noted. “The goal is for people to immediately feel like they are on vacation when they get here. Everything is maintained and cared for by the association.”
Fractional ownership makes that possible, she explained. “There are many people who want to have a second home and love this area, but don’t want the burden of whole ownership because they know they will only use it a fraction of the time. The appeal is that you only buy what you are going to use.”
Fractional ownership, Schurman added, isn’t the same as buying into a time share program. “You purchase real estate, not time,” she said. “It’s like owning a home, but only 1/10th of it.”
At The Beach House, each owner gets full use of the property and the resort amenities five weeks per calendar year, including membership at the nearby Macatawa Legends Golf and Country Club. Holland State Park is within walking distance, as are boat and bike rentals to explore downtown Holland and nearby areas.
Bob and Marilou Flory fell in love with Holland while vacationing in the area with their two daughters more than 30 years ago. “We had a neighbor who introduced us and we started going every summer,” shared Bob, a dentist based in Royal Oak. The couple started thinking about fractional ownership when they saw The Beach House property being built. “We get five weeks of the year to enjoy Holland, which is perfect for us.”
While a retreat they enjoy in Palm Beach becomes really crowded, “We’ve never had that happen in Holland,” Bob said. “Everything is gorgeous, well laid out and top-notch.” And the couple especially likes that they don’t have to do anything to keep it that way.
The Florys have used their property for family vacations and larger reunions, but Bob admits he looks forward to quiet weekends as much as larger bashes. “I love that I can spend at least half my time doing nothing. It’s completely relaxing.”
He and Marilou plan on passing their property down to their girls, now 30 and 28. They’re also considering trading their current two-bedroom in for a larger three bedroom. “Someday there will be another generation up here,” Bob said. “We consider it our legacy.”
In Northern Michigan, the Homestead Resort was among the first in the state to offer fractional ownership about 20 years ago, noted Resort Realty manager Diane Kemp. Today, a variety of opportunities are available, from quarter shares to the newest 1/12th buy at Camp Firefly.
The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath Adirondack-style cabins have golf and forest views as well as high ceilings, stone fireplaces and original art. Four-week access means owners enjoy the best of all seasons and the activities that come with each: “People lead very busy lives and fractional ownership offers a place to call your own without a lot of expense or responsibility,” Kemp said. “Having a few weeks works well.”
Renting is another low-maintenance, high-return option. In Michigan’s Harbor Country, Bluefish Vacation Rentals offers a choice of 56 properties ranging from one-bedroom cottages and bungalows to five-bedroom houses, noted co-owner Tom Hemingway. Now in its 14th year, Bluefish specializes in properties found in New Buffalo, Three Oaks, Union Pier, Lakeside, Harbert and Sawyer, a stretch marked by diverse restaurants, antique shops, enticing beaches and Warren Dunes State Park.
“Everyone wants all the amenities now,” Hemingway said. “We screen our cottages closely and pick the ones that are closest to the beach or have pools. All are well-maintained and well-furnished. We make sure everything is perfect.” Peak season is Memorial Day through the end of October, he noted, when a one-week minimum is required.
While more than 40 of 60 available properties available through Lake Michigan Cottages are in the Grand Haven-Spring Lake area, office manager Jami Schmidt-Lewandowski said many houses are also available from Fennville to Pentwater, including along Lake Michigan.
“We have a handful of more modern properties, but most people want the true cottage feel and experience,” she shared. Their largest houses can accommodate 12 people, and a three-night minimum is available as well at some properties: “Not everyone can stay for a week — we try to accommodate everyone.”
Farther north, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Glen Lake and the Leelanau Peninsula draw vacationers to Leelanau Vacation Rentals. Manager Ranae Ihme noted the agency has more than 130 properties that range from Homestead Resort studios to Leelanau County cottages, including “Beach Glass,” a newer listing. Less than a mile from Glen Arbor, this getaway featuring three bedrooms, a fireplace and two baths accommodates up to 10 and is a picturesque spot to toast s’mores by the shore, hunt for beach glass, swim and watch sunsets.
Ihme encourages interested renters to spend some time reviewing all of their options online.
“Some of our places are beachy and some rustic,” she noted, “but all are great cottages.” ≈
Learn more at lakemichiganbeachhouse.com;
– Khristi Sigurdson Zimmeth is a Grosse Pointe Park-based editor and writer.