The Tide Has Turned


Mention 2007 to a Realtor, and you are likely to see them cringe. After all, it has been just over 10 years since the nation experienced a real estate crash that was abruptly followed by the Great Recession. But there is good news. The economy, particularly real estate, is back and continues to grow.

Chris Chambers moved to Sandpoint in 1976 and has been a Realtor with Tomlinson Sotheby’s International for the last 17 years. Seeing the many ups and downs over nearly two decades, Chambers is pleased with the steady growth in recent years.

“Two years ago, we were just starting to feel some positive growth across the board,” says Chambers. “Sometimes that market strength fades in the early summer, but in 2016, it stayed steady all year. The same thing continued into 2017, and currently, we are short on reasonably priced, quality inventory.”

Chamber says for his clients, as well as the market in general, there is a definite shortage of inventory in the $750,000 to the $1.2 million range.

So just what age group is driving the current market? According to Chambers, baby boomers are a very strong driving metric in both Bonner and Boundary counties. “The state population statics support that trend over the past 10 years and expect it to continue for several more years,” he says.

Heading into the second half of 2018, Chambers anticipates that buyers are going to be more patient and thoughtful with their decisions considering the lack of inventory. “The last recession left a strong imprint on buyers, and many feel that no decision is better than a compromise,” states Chambers.

When listing a home for sale, he advises that the pricing must be spot on or the seller’s home could be passed over and face a series of price reductions before finding the right buyer. And for those seeking to purchase a home, Chambers stresses the importance of hiring a highly networked agent. “The last three homes I sold never made it to the MLS,” he says.

With the Great Recession over and real estate on the rebound, there are also new agents seeking to share their love of the Inland Northwest with potential home buyers. Tom and Lisa Davies relocated to Sandpoint from Southern California about seven years ago. They recently opened a real estate office in Downtown Sandpoint on the corner of First Avenue and Superior Street. The Davies Real Estate Team will work with their broker, NextHome Living The Northwest.

Tom and Lisa have observed that while North Idaho has typically leaned to being more of a retirement community, their experience is that is changing quickly. “Millennials have been quite attracted to Idaho,” says Lisa, pointing out that the newer industries headquartered in Sandpoint are also bringing the younger generation to the area. “Sandpoint is home to many tech-savvy companies.”

One encouraging statistic (or not, depending upon whether you want Idaho to remain one of the best-kept secrets) is that the Census Bureau reports that Idaho leads the U.S. as the fastest growing state.

This growth is especially evident in Coeur d’Alene, which has seen a consistent spike in out-of-state residents moving to the area for much of the past two decades. People from larger communities in California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon are drawn to the small-town feel, relative affordability and outdoor recreation, and as a safe place to raise a family.

“Since mid-2011, home prices in all of North Idaho are up 67 percent and 83 percent since the bottom,” says Raniel Diaz of Professional Realty Services in Coeur d’Alene. “This would be our seventh year of beyond healthy growth—an average of 11 percent year over year. The most common question I get on a daily basis is, ‘Are things slowing down?’ Short answer … nope.”

So just exactly what is driving the housing market? According to a report on Realtor.com, unemployment hit a 17-year low in October of 2017, and in 30 of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, unemployment is less than half of 2010 levels. Also, employment is particularly strong among millennials with employment reaching 79 percent in the 25 to 34 age bracket last September.

While national forecasters believe there will be only small growth in prices for 2018, professionals in the Northwest aren’t seeing too many signs of the market slowing down. One factor that could cause a slowdown is the Federal Reserve raising interest rates. A rise in rates would likely slow home values down, especially if there’s an uptick in available inventory.

Realtor Jackie Suarez with Century 21 RiverStone in Sandpoint has been in the real estate business since 1988, first as a paralegal for a real estate attorney and then managing a branch for a title insurance company in North Carolina. She moved to Sandpoint in 1999 and obtained her Real Estate license in 2000; she, too, has witnessed many ups and downs of the market over the past two decades.

“The pace of today’s market is faster than previous years. Buyer demand is high, and inventory is relatively low,” says Suarez. “While the market has shifted to a seller’s market, buyers are continually more aware and informed, and lenders are still taking a conservative approach with their underwriting and appraisals.”

Suarez says that currently the single-family market on a neighborhood lot in the $250,000 to $350,000 range is the target price for many buyers. “For a home on small acreage, expect to look in the range of $400,000 to $500,000,” she says, adding that demand for waterfront properties is on the rise this year.

There has also been a shift in demographics in North Idaho as well. Suarez states that approximately 75 percent of her clients are either retired or close to retirement. “These include owners who are downsizing or selling a larger estate in exchange for a more low-maintenance lifestyle,” she says. “We’re also seeing many of our local homeowners trading up to make room for their growing families. Our local employers are able to draw full-time workers who are buying and selling properties. This translates into a healthy mix for our market.”

Looking forward, Suarez says the current trend in terms of buyer demand is likely to continue. “Interest rates are on the increase, and this will likely fuel buyers’ needs to move quickly.”

So given all this information, just when is the right time to buy or sell? Suarez says her response to those inquiries is simple: “When the time is right for you!”

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