Tulalips homes for cheap — with a view and a catch

TULALIP – The house comes with a deck on a bluff that overlooks Possession Sound.

It has a wood stove, two bedrooms and a small garden on a quiet, dead-end street.

All this for just under $220,000.

What’s the catch?

The house is for sale.

The land it sits on isn’t.

A lease for the land, which is owned by the Tulalip Tribes, expires in five years.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to have a quality of life without paying the big dollars,” said Marcia Duecy, the Windemere real estate agent who represents the home.

The people who are selling the 1,700 square-foot rambler prepaid the tribal lease through 2012. Tulalip leaders are considering giving some leaseholders one final, 15-year extension before they take back their land.

That gives a new buyer 20 years – maybe – to enjoy a home that would otherwise cost half a million dollars or more, Duecy said.

And buyers are coming.

Houses on leased land along Mission Beach Heights road, Totem Beach Road and other areas of the Tulalip Indian Reservation are selling – often at rock-bottom prices.

Angela Smith, 38, and Judy Tidrick, 35, said they’ve been priced out of houses and apartments near Seattle. They bought their small Mission Beach Heights Road home a year ago for about $45,000.

“We saw the view and we couldn’t say no,” Tidrick said as she grilled chicken on her front porch, where she can watch fishing boats and orcas in the water.

When their lease ends in 2012, they hope to apply for the 15-year extension.

They compare their low house payment to “long-term, fixed rent.”

“We didn’t think we’d be able to afford anything, but we were lucky,” Tidrick said.

The Tulalip tribal government began leasing land years ago, before there was a casino or an outlet mall to generate income.

The Tulalip Indian Reservation isn’t the only tribe that leases land to homeowners.

In Palm Springs, Calif., the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians owns every second land parcel – literally half the city.

Most homebuyers there don’t think twice about buying on leased land, but the Agua Caliente have never hinted that they may stop leasing, Palm Springs real estate agent Doug Fischer said.

“There is no example here of the tribes not extending the leases,” he said.

About 30 homeowners who live on Mission Beach Road, a beachfront drive below the bluff, were told more than two years ago that their leases won’t be renewed when they’re expired in 2012.

Tribal leaders said then that erosion was destroying the beachfront properties.

Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Members of the Marysville Tulalip Community Association, an organization that often takes on the tribe in disputes with non-tribal members, say they were promised in good faith that leases would always be extended.

To fight the tribe now, said Holly Robinson of Mission Beach Heights, leaseholders would have to take the dispute to tribal court.

“If we were turned down there, we would need to appeal in federal court,” she said. “We’re looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Robinson bought her home nearly seven years ago for $72,000. The view and the privacy of the secluded neighborhood can’t be had for the price anywhere else, she said.

Even if they tribe doesn’t offer a one last lease extension, some homeowners say they’re grateful for their time at Tulalip.

Gary Gilbert , 66, lives one row back from the edge of the Mission Beach Heights Road bluff. The view from his picture window is just as grand as that of homes closer to the water.

His house cost $32,000 more than 20 years ago – a mortgage Gilbert has long since paid off. He said his home is now worth about $55,000.

Now, he and his long-time companion Sheila Blanton, 52, pay $351 each month to lease the land.

They said they were told they could renegotiate in 2012 for another 15 years. When that happens, the annual lease would be 10 percent of the home’s assessed value.

“Even if our lease doubles, it’s not worth it to move,” Blanton said.

Blanton and Gilbert said they both have life-threatening illnesses. They plan to stay in the home they love until they die.

“We have no reason to leave now,” Gilbert said. “Where would we go?”

Kevin Nortz / The Herald

Windemere real-estate agent Marcia Duecy is selling waterfront homes at bargain prices on leased Tulalip property. Current home owners are scrambling to sell their houses out of fear that the Tulalip Indian Reservation will not extend their leases in the years to come.

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