Outlook 2018: After Record Year in 2017, Real Estate Looks to Hold Momentum

Prices and sales continue to increase across the Flathead Valley, with affordable housing remaining a focus

By Molly Priddy
Housing in Whitefish. Beacon File Photo

The last decade has seen significant peaks and valleys in the trends of the real estate market, but 2017 offered a new high: there were more residential sales in the first 11 months of the year than in any year previously recorded.

Through the middle of December, there were 1,830 home sales in Flathead County, according to Jim Kelley of Kelley Appraisals. A record 1,751 residential sales occurred in the first 11 months of the year, crushing the previous record from 2006 of 1,668 sales in the same timeframe.

With that momentum behind it, the real estate market is likely poised for another banner year, Kelley said, though it’s impossible to see the future.

“As far as the number of sales, I think it’s going to be about the same as this last year. It really is going to depend on the optimism around the country, too,” Kelley said. “If that optimism continues, then that’s probably going to bode pretty well for the local real estate market.”

Median home prices continued to rise through 2017, landing at $275,000 by the end of November and increasing to more than 11 percent above the national median of $248,870.

Kelley said this continued incline would likely come into play in 2018.

“The prices have got to start leveling off pretty soon, things are getting unaffordable,” he said.

The price range between $150,000 and $300,000 is still the most popular, with limited supply of such properties across the valley. Erica Wirtala, public affairs director for the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors (NMAR), said Kalispell and Columbia Falls continue to see burgeoning growth.

“Affordable housing is always in such short supply all across the valley and in most parts of the country as well,” Wirtala said. “Realtors are hoping that with the newly adopted B-3 zoning in Kalispell’s downtown area that more apartments and in-fill housing development is on its way. Columbia Falls is seeing a renaissance and an uptick in sales and projects.”

Columbia Falls’ median price of homes increased to $265,000 in the first half of the 2017, a 24 percent increase over 2016’s median price of $213,500. Kalispell’s median price increased from $220,000 in 2016 to $239,000 for the first half of 2017.

“There are some new apartment buildings proposed and apparently under construction, obviously that may take a little bit of the strain off the market,” Kelley said.

The higher end of the market continues to be sluggish, Kelley said, though there could be a surge of folks who bought their homes in the heart of the recession now selling and moving up in price range.

“What we could end up seeing is people who ended up buying their house five or six years ago, there’s likely to be an increased number of (these) people who want to move up, so they’ll end up selling the house they bought five years ago and buy a $400,000 house,” Kelley said.

Wirtala reported that sales in some areas near the Canadian border have shown decreased prices, which she said could be due to the value of the Canadian dollar.

She also said Kalispell is keeping up with national trends regarding redevelopment of city core areas, as noted in the National Association of Realtors winter 2018 magazine, “On Common Ground.”

“There is currently a big focus in both the private and public sectors on re-examining and re-doing existing buildings and communities. New shopping malls are not being built, but underperforming malls are being redeveloped into mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods,” the magazine reported. “To meet the demand for affordable homes in existing neighborhoods, accessory dwelling units are being added into the mix of housing options. Cities are retrofitting their streets to meet growth by making them more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, which also contributes to environmental sustainability.”

Wirtala also said NMAR’s ranks keep increasing, and it now has 850 members and its boundaries now include Realtors in the Libby area.

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