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.

By William G. Scheller
March 06, 2006
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.
Kevin Garrett

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 southof Wilmington on the Intracoastal Waterway, at the mouth of theCape Fear River. Jeff advises developers, pension-fund managers,and independent investors on real-estate market opportunitiesthroughout the mid-South.

He stays on the road nearly half of each month, while Karinmanages the business' home office. Says Jeff, "We've becomegeographically independent." And years of building solidrelationships with clients, he adds, "gave us the credibility andtrack record that allowed us to move where we wanted."

When it came to deciding where that might be, Jeff and Karin setup litmus tests that proved helpful: "We needed to be within 45minutes of a major airport," says Jeff. Wilmington, linked toCaswell Beach by good highways, filled the bill. Other must-havesincluded reliable cell phone service and a high-speed Internetconnection―"if you handle the volume of information that wedo, you have to have a good cable or DSL provider," Jeff says.Overnight delivery service "was a surprisingly important componentfor us," Karin adds.

"We started looking in southern Maryland, and worked our waydown to the Gulf Coast," Jeff explains. "We'd select promisingcities, draw a circle around them with a 30-mile radius, and startresearching climate, quality of life, infrastructure. We ruled outplaces like the middle of the Outer Banks, because we'd have torely on ferries, and the cell and Internet services are iffy."Caswell Beach met all of the Siebolds' requirements. It alsomeasured up, according to Jeff, "because it's a small town, a nicefamily community, with a mix of retirees and people who work nearbyin Southport in banking, retail, and tourism."

The Siebolds' home is part of a golf course community of nearly80 lots, developed in the early 1990s. Their 2,700-square-foot CapeCod-style house has four bedrooms, a wraparound porch, and amagnificent spiral staircase, built by a local craftsman. Thecouple's office, in a spacious room over the garage, is scheduledfor a window addition to capture ocean views. But the water isn'tjust scenery. Jeff's three children use the beach for sailing,surfing, and skimboarding.

The Siebolds' home also came with a bonus that even a seasonedreal estate consultant couldn't have expected. "The town is on theeastern end of Oak Island," Jeff explains. "The light that marksCape Fear is the brightest in the United States, and the CoastGuard recently decided to turn it over to the town of CaswellBeach. So now, we have a small stake in a lighthouse."

Shop Talk
Working from a seaside residence is completely different from9 to 5 at a downtown office. You'll have no worries about drivingto work in a blizzard―but will the same storm shut down yourhigh-speed Internet and cell phone service? Especially along theEastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast, weather can play havoc with theelectrical 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 installheavy-duty surge protection. Solar power or a wind generator withbattery storage might be an option.

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