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Lake County real estate sales, prices jump in 2020

by CAROLYN HIDY
Lake County Leader | January 21, 2021 12:15 AM

Though Lake County has always been a popular destination for retirees, celebrities and folks just wanting to trade city sidewalks for mountain views, homes and building sites became especially hot commodities here in 2020. Sales increased significantly, leaving inventories of available properties diminished, and rentals are nearly impossible to find.

“Things really got rolling after COVID hit,” said Cindy Johnson, a licensed real estate broker for Engel & Volkers in Polson. “We started getting calls in March, and by the time summer hit, everybody was so busy. We stayed busy through December.”

Besides the typical market for locals as first-time homebuyers or those looking to “move up,” Johnson said there was an increase in out-of-state buyers. Some people purchased properties sight unseen over the phone, just to ensure that they had something to move into. Others packed up all their belongings and drove to Montana with campers, hoping to find property when they got here.

“People came from all over the place,” Johnson said. “California, Texas, quite a few from Washington, but even from back east.”

With the onset of coronavirus, an increase in remote working to reduce the virus’ spread has allowed people to work far away from their companies’ offices. Johnson said this was seen as an opportunity for many who had longed to move to Montana, either for the first time, or to return to their roots.

Sales across Montana were nearly double the year before, and in Lake County it was no different.

Northwest Montana Association of Realtors’ MLS database shows total residential sales in Lake County for 2020 were $310,735,000, up from $155,993,000 in 2019.

Properties tend to sell quickly, and with the rapid increase in sales, inventory of available residential properties and vacant land is limited, causing prices to rise significantly. While the number of sales for the year were up 47% over 2019, “dollar volume” rose by 99%.

The median residential sale price was $399,900, but with the sales of multimillion dollar properties up, the average sale price for the year was $571,000. Average prices for vacant land soared, with an average sale price of $201,927 for 0.5- to 0.99-acre parcels. Builders are all busy, Johnson said, so even if they are paying premium prices, buyers may find themselves on long waiting lists to have a home built.

Because of high sale prices, this might be a good time for retirees moving into a retirement community or those who have a second home to downsize. But Johnson offered a caution to homeowners thinking of selling.

“Even though you might be getting a great price for your home, it would be helpful to know where you’re going to go. You’re going to have to spend that much more on the next house you’re getting.”

As affordable housing and rentals for modest income families become more scarce, Johnson said there are still some affordable homes in small towns across Montana.