Colton and Natalia (Bungert) Maher both grew up in the lakes area, attending school in Pequot Lakes through graduation in 2007.

After venturing off to college, living and working in downtown Minneapolis, moving to a Twin Cities suburb and starting a family, the Mahers have gone full circle.

In the fall of 2018, they returned to the lakes area to raise their family – which includes Maija, almost 2, and twins due this spring. They bought a home in Breezy Point, Natalia works remotely, and Colton started his own real estate brokerage company in Nisswa.

“We always knew living here and owning a business here was part of the plan,” Colton Maher said. “It was part of the five-year plan, and we decided why wait when we knew it was part of the plan.”

After graduating from high school, Maher attended Concordia College in Moorhead for two years, where he played baseball. He then transferred to Minnesota State University-Moorhead, graduating in 2013 with a degree in athletic training.

He moved to Minneapolis, where Natalia – by then his fiancee – lived. The high school couple thought they became friends in sixth grade, and later saw a kindergarten picture where they were standing next to each other. They married in September 2013.

Maher had started working at a real estate brokerage firm in Minneapolis, choosing that over an athletic trainer career. He was interested in entrepreneurship and real estate, and real estate allowed for a lifestyle that better suited the future he wanted to have.

“I knew I wanted to have a family. I knew I wanted a life outside of work,” he said, so he pursued a sales career and making his own successes, with the goal to own his own business one day.

Maher worked for six years at that downtown Minneapolis real estate firm, starting in the back room and working his way up. The Mahers loved living in downtown Minneapolis. He cited the restaurants, the ability to walk everywhere and the fun of being in the middle of everything. They lived near the Vikings stadium and watched U.S. Bank Stadium being built.

“It was the perfect way to start out life,” Maher said.

They're just as happy to be back in the lakes area, where Maher started Woods to Water Real Estate in September 2018, moving into a downtown Nisswa location – the former longtime home of Jo & Bill’s Gifts – in November of that year. He calls the company “a unique, boutique real estate agency” that offers buying, selling, vacation rentals and property management in the Brainerd lakes area.

“We are a company founded on true northern Minnesota living,” the company's mission statement says. “We appreciate, embrace and love all that this area has to offer. Many of us grew up here, locally grown and raised in this beautiful place. Some of us have stayed, others have come and gone, but we always come back.

“It’s our firm belief that too many people lose sight of why they choose to live where they do. They forget about their surroundings and the gift they’ve been given. The Brainerd lakes area is beautiful and we’re emphatically proud to call it home. We simply want to share our passion for this place with our families, our friends and our clientele.”

Maher has three agents, and his goal is to take a different training approach by being more of a mentor in teaching younger agents.

“It's just a different way of doing business,” he said, noting his company doesn't have a corporate ideology and doesn't take a boilerplate approach.

Regarding the company's name, Maher said it needed to fit the “up north” lifestyle because that’s what the company’s brand and vision are truly built around. The company offers clients an array of services across all platforms, serving both year-round residents’ and seasonal residents’ needs.

“Behind the name lies the simple fact that anything from the woods to the water, we’re happy to help you achieve your real estate goals,” Maher said.

Finding a downtown centric building that offered walkability led him to downtown Nisswa.

“There's so much energy here. We're not stuck in a cubicle somewhere with no windows,” he said.

A goal is to one day hire more agents at Woods to Water Real Estate, as well as expand the brand into multiple offices. Maher is community minded, having brought the Best Christmas Ever program to the area to help a family in need, and he asks each of his agents to join a local cause.

“There's a lot of opportunities to give back out there,” Maher said. “It's our jobs as locals to take those opportunities and practice what we preach.”

The Mahers love being back home. Maher said he enjoys not having a long commute to work, and he likes the ability to work a full day and still have time to take a snowmobile ride or fish for awhile at the end of the day.

“Regardless of the season, my wife and I want to be outside and hopefully encourage our kids to do the same,” Maher said, adding when he’s not out looking for walleye, they enjoy spending time on the water with friends, sitting around a fire at the end of a long day, hitting the golf courses, which Natalia is just getting into, or taking regular weekend getaways up the north shore for some hiking. They also enjoy the local craft beer breweries on their days off.

“We came back home because of the lifestyle you can have living here,” Maher said.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.