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Unstoppable Rise of North Idaho’s Housing Market

Will we see a rollback? By Ben Geanetta, REALTOR®, Team Lead

So, you might be wondering, is it possible to turn back the clock in North Idaho's housing market? Well, let me take you on a snowy journey back to January 2018, when my family and I braved the winter move. Picture this: a 30-foot moving truck battling the winter storm elements, a steep and icy driveway, and us trying to avoid slipping while hauling everything into our new home—all while enduring the endless struggle of keeping the snow outside where it belongs. You'd think we'd have learned our lesson, but nope, we moved again in winter a year later. Go figure! In the short time I've been in Sandpoint, I've witnessed more changes than a 2-year-old expressing all the emotions in a span of five minutes. From old businesses closing and new ones springing up, demolishing of old buildings to businesses literally burning down, to downtown getting a facelift, new housing developments popping up, Schweitzer changing ownership and the ski resort joining ICON … this small town has been buzzing with activity! With all those changes, probably the most talked about change has been home prices. You've only needed a pulse to know how crazy home prices have skyrocketed since 2018. Starting my career as a real estate professional here in North Idaho was like riding a unicycle on a tightrope—scary and unsteady. No connections, no sphere of influence, and absolutely clueless about the area. It's crazy to think about all the changes I have witnessed to date. Just as little as five years ago, one could easily snag a single-family home in Sandpoint for a reasonable price. Vacant land was also a viable option for those eager to build their dream home. Cost of housing was the talk of the town, especially with most people coming from out of state. I remember showing friends and family back home how much house with land I could buy compared to Phoenix prices. Fast forward, and the cost of a home has taken a rocket ride to the moon! Seriously, the median sell price has skyrocketed, leaving us all in awe. Take buying a piece of land without infrastructure; the cost today in 2023 is what one could buy a home back in 2018—astonishing. Here's a good story to help illustrate. Back in 2020, my wife and I were contemplating buying the vacant plot next to ours. But guess what? As we were wrapping up our discussion, a for-sale sign magically appeared like a genie granting our real estate wishes. We hesitated, as we didn’t want to stretch our budget, and we didn’t feel the time was right, but boy, were we wrong! Looking back, and hindsight is 20/20, if we chose to, we could have sold that same piece of land and made a four-time return on investment. At least we ended up with amazing neighbors! But wait, there's more. The neighbor on the other side is selling their property now, and it's fetching three-and-a-half times the price of the first one we considered. Mind-boggling, right? Once again, we are faced with the opportunity to buy land, knowing it will go up in value in time, but it’s hard to wrap our minds around spending that amount of money. Now, let me answer your burning question: Can Sandpoint's housing market ever go back to its good old days of affordability? As much as I'd love to sprinkle a dash of optimism, reality must sink in. Sandpoint is riding the wave of success, awarded Best Small Town in America, becoming a top Zoom town, and Schweitzer, who joined ICON and is under new ownership (which has a long, successful history operating ski resorts). Oh, and don't even get me started on how this place has become a refuge for political escapees from California, Washington and Oregon. North Idaho is a destination; it is desirable. Plus, we've got a serious case of low housing inventory. Combine all this, and you'll realize that a return to affordable housing where a starter home costs in the low 200s isn't likely. The question now turns to how one can afford a home in Sandpoint—especially a first-time home buyer or the younger generation. First, I believe there are people better qualified to answer this question than me, however, I have a few suggestions. The first house you buy isn’t going to be your forever home, so it’s important to start thinking that way. Why? Because too many of the younger people who are buying want a finished home, the perfect home, a home they can grow into. There is nothing wrong with buying a home that needs some work and very well not ideal. It’s called sweat equity. Make some repairs and sell it in a few years to gain equity so you can then go buy a nicer home. Rinse and repeat.

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