Outlook 2020: Seller’s Market for Real Estate

Trend of robust sales and low number of days on market expected to continue

By Maggie Dresser
The first phase of the Trail View Homes development in Whitefish on Dec. 27, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

With everyone from millenials to baby boomers migrating to the Flathead Valley, both new housing developments and older homes are expected to maintain a seller’s market in 2020.

The general growth in the valley paired with a robust economy creates a healthy real estate market and high turnover, said Erica Wirtala of Northwest Montana Association of Realtors.

“Sales were up and days on the market were down,” Wirtala said of 2019. “The average home price was up 5.9 percent.”

In the last three years, homes in the $250,000 to $299,000 range were the highest sellers in Flathead County, while houses in the $200,000 to $249,000 range sold the most in 2016, said CEO of Glacier Flathead Real Estate Richard Dews. He suspects if the economy remains stable, that price will increase to the broader range of $250,000 to $349,000 in 2020.

In addition to increasing prices, homes are moving through the market quickly in the valley, making for a seller’s market as interest rates remain relatively steady.

“People are so frantic to buy something instead of rent,” Wirtala said. “I think things are turning over a lot quicker. It’s definitely a seller’s market.”

Dews also predicts homes listed under $300,000 will stay on the market before closing for fewer than 30 days on average while homes listed under $499,000 are predicted to stay on the market for fewer than 60 days. But that’s only if the economy and interest rates remain stable.

In 2019, homes with a median sale price under $300,000 sold for $160 per square foot, homes listed under $400,000 were $165 per square foot and homes under $500,000 were $195 per square foot, Dews said.

Those numbers rose slightly from 2018 when homes under $300,000 were $155 per square foot, homes under $400,000 were $160 per square foot and homes under $500,000 were $185 per square foot.

Kalispell will see an influx of new homes in the spring and summer of 2020 with a wide range of housing developments, including apartments and duplexes, as Wirtala says the city is trying to create more affordable housing.

While the median home price of $280,000 is slightly lower in Columbia Falls, the affordable inventory is thin. The higher-end homes tend to stay on the market longer while the low high-end homes move through the market quicker, said Wirtala.

Meanwhile in Whitefish, construction is booming and prices are expected to remain high as the city grapples with affordable housing.

Despite the market’s strength, Wirtala says high student debt numbers are pushing the average homeowner age older. “The one thing that holds the market back is people are carrying a tremendous amount of student debt,” she said.

She says people are struggling to get a mortgage because of that debt, which is causing the average age of homeowners to rise from 33 to 35.

But Wirtala notes that the Flathead Valley has become a popular place to retire, bringing in an older population.

“I definitely think that’s a big component,” she said. “People are moving here for the first time from other areas.”

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