So You Want to Live ... Where You Work

When a real estate consultant shops for his own family home, more than a few criteria come into play. When the house doubles as his place of business, he casts an especially wide net.

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 Karin and Jeff Siebold
Caswell Beach, North Carolina

For Jeff and Karin Siebold, the search led to Caswell Beach, North Carolina, a community of 400 people. It lies 30 miles south of Wilmington on the Intracoastal Waterway, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Jeff advises developers, pension-fund managers, and independent investors on real-estate market opportunities throughout the mid-South.

He stays on the road nearly half of each month, while Karin manages the business' home office. Says Jeff, "We've become geographically independent." And years of building solid relationships with clients, he adds, "gave us the credibility and track record that allowed us to move where we wanted."

When it came to deciding where that might be, Jeff and Karin set up litmus tests that proved helpful: "We needed to be within 45 minutes of a major airport," says Jeff. Wilmington, linked to Caswell Beach by good highways, filled the bill. Other must-haves included reliable cell phone service and a high-speed Internet connection―"if you handle the volume of information that we do, you have to have a good cable or DSL provider," Jeff says. Overnight delivery service "was a surprisingly important component for us," Karin adds.

"We started looking in southern Maryland, and worked our way down to the Gulf Coast," Jeff explains. "We'd select promising cities, draw a circle around them with a 30-mile radius, and start researching climate, quality of life, infrastructure. We ruled out places like the middle of the Outer Banks, because we'd have to rely on ferries, and the cell and Internet services are iffy." Caswell Beach met all of the Siebolds' requirements. It also measured up, according to Jeff, "because it's a small town, a nice family community, with a mix of retirees and people who work nearby in Southport in banking, retail, and tourism."

The Siebolds' home is part of a golf course community of nearly 80 lots, developed in the early 1990s. Their 2,700-square-foot Cape Cod-style house has four bedrooms, a wraparound porch, and a magnificent spiral staircase, built by a local craftsman. The couple's office, in a spacious room over the garage, is scheduled for a window addition to capture ocean views. But the water isn't just scenery. Jeff's three children use the beach for sailing, surfing, and skimboarding.

The Siebolds' home also came with a bonus that even a seasoned real estate consultant couldn't have expected. "The town is on the eastern end of Oak Island," Jeff explains. "The light that marks Cape Fear is the brightest in the United States, and the Coast Guard recently decided to turn it over to the town of Caswell Beach. So now, we have a small stake in a lighthouse."

 Shop Talk 
Working from a seaside residence is completely different from 9 to 5 at a downtown office. You'll have no worries about driving to work in a blizzard―but will the same storm shut down your high-speed Internet and cell phone service? Especially along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast, weather can play havoc with the electrical grid. Coastal areas are among the most vulnerable. Consider a backup power supply―perhaps a propane-, gasoline-, or diesel-powered generator―and make sure to install heavy-duty surge protection. Solar power or a wind generator with battery storage might be an option.

If severe storms pose a real threat, plan to evacuate files, both paper and electronic, and other essential materials. Have everything in one place, ready to leave when you do. If the water is rising, you don't want to be looking for that CD-ROM with all the details on the Finnegan account.

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