Outlook 2019: A ‘Rosy’ Outlook for Real Estate

Realtors report busy trends continuing into winter, with activity occurring in most home price ranges

By Molly Priddy
A sign marks a home for sale in Whitefish. Beacon file photo

The real estate market was hot in 2018, the kind of activity that keeps Realtors and homebuyers hopping well past the busy spring and summer seasons and into the historically slower times of fall and winter.

“What I’m hearing from my agents is that they’re as busy now as they were in July,” Erica Wirtala of the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors said. “I’m sure there are some out there that are slowed up, but the ones really hustling are still busy and doing well.”

Homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 price range sold the most in 2018, a demand that lines up with a growing population in Flathead County. Richard Dews, CEO of Glacier Flathead Real Estate, charted real estate activity in 2018, and the data showed a decline in less-expensive home sales, while higher-end purchases are picking up speed.

According to Dews, 240 homes between $200,000 and $249,000 sold in 2017, whereas in 2018, that number dropped to 200. Properties listed for more than $450,000 saw an increase in sales of anywhere between 15 to 50 percent over 2017 depending on the price range.

The less-expensive homes also sold much faster than the other units on the market. Dews’ research showed that anything priced for less than $200,000 in Kalispell is typically under contract within 10 days, and anything priced for less than $300,000 is gone within 20 days.

In Whitefish, homes priced between $200,000 and $350,000 tend to sell within three weeks. At the low end, these homes cost about $240 per square foot. Columbia Falls is also experiencing quick sales for the less-expensive homes, according to Dews, typically running about $160 to $170 per square foot for this price range. Bigfork can have homes on the market for $125 to $150 per square foot, but those priced near $500,000 range from $170 to $185.

With plenty of activity happening in most price ranges, Wirtala said NMAR is paying attention to the national slowdown in home sales and builds.
“Here in the Flathead we haven’t seen quite a dip like the rest of the nation has,” Wirtala said. “We’re usually about six to eight months behind national trends.”

One aspect that will change for homebuyers in 2019 is mortgage rates, which were at historic lows during the recession and below average in the following years despite economic growth. In 2012, the interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit 3.31 percent. In 2019, the same rate is expected to hit 5.8 percent.

Wirtala said continued growth in Kalispell and Whitefish is strong, and Columbia Falls remains busy. A mild winter led to continued construction projects into the winter, and Wirtala said the market has a cautious feel, a bit less wild than the crazy days of the mid 2000s.

The ensuing winter months are full of planning, meetings with city and county planners, and getting development projects ready to roll by the time spring makes its appearance in the valley.

“As soon as construction season hits, they are ready to go with projects. People are getting a lot more done,” Wirtala said. “Overall it’s a pretty rosy outlook for 2019.”