Vacation Homes Skyrocket in Western Montana

By Beacon Staff

From 2000 to 2010, the number of vacation homes in Montana skyrocketed, particularly in popular recreation areas such as Flathead and Madison counties, according to a University of Montana researcher.

In some counties, seasonal housing now represents 25 percent or more of the entire housing market.

Jim Sylvester, an economist at UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, based his report off figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sylvester said that from 2000 to 2010 Montana’s statewide seasonal housing grew by about 14,000 homes, or 59 percent.

Five counties – Flathead, Madison, Lake, Gallatin and Lincoln – accounted for more than half of the increase, Sylvester’s report states. Most of the growth occurred before the recession.

Flathead County’s seasonal housing increased by 83 percent from 3,570 vacation homes in 2000 to 6,542 in 2010. Sylvester said the majority of the growth occurred along the shores of Whitefish and Flathead lakes. Vacation homes account for nearly 14 percent of all housing in Flathead County, Sylvester said.

In Madison County, which is home to much of the developed area around Big Sky and Moonlight Basin ski resorts, the growth was even more pronounced. Vacation homes increased 153 percent from 1,144 in 2000 to 2,899 in 2010, representing more than 40 percent of overall housing in the county.

Lake County’s seasonal housing units increased 47 percent with nearly all of the growth occurring near Flathead Lake. Nearly 25 percent of housing in the county is for seasonal use.

Seasonal housing in Lincoln County doubled from 821 to 1,719, with the houses scattered among the county’s lakes and streams.

The number of vacation homes in Gallatin County rose by 1,071 units, or 61 percent. Still, seasonal housing accounts for only 6.6 percent of all housing there.

“Other areas in Montana also experienced growth in seasonal vacant housing but at levels far below the five just discussed,” Sylvester said in a release from UM.

Sylvester said that seasonal vacant housing makes up 42 percent of housing in Granite County, 21 percent in Carbon and 33 percent in Meagher, counties where “outdoor recreation is a substantial part of the lifestyle.”

Jim Kelley, of Kelley Appraisal in Kalispell, said the Flathead Valley’s vacation homes are a mix of more modest cabins on the region’s secondary lakes – such as Bitterroot and Ashley – and high-end houses on Flathead and Whitefish lakes.

The influx of pricey lakeside homes before the recession helped drive up prices in the local housing market, Kelley said.

“People coming in and building these large multi-million homes largely contributed to the increase in property values we saw up to 2007,” Kelley said.

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