Housing Market Sees Steady Prices, Strong Sales

Buyers are taking advantage of low interest rates; realtors warn sales could shift in May

By Maggie Dresser
Homes for sale in the West View Estates development on the north side of Kalispell on April 22, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After Wendy Brown, a realtor at Chuck Olson Real Estate in Kalispell, added a new home listing at 9 p.m. on a recent Friday night, she already had it under contract at 10% above the list price before 5 p.m. the next day with multiple offers.

This has been a common trend in the Flathead Valley this spring, despite the coronavirus’ impact on the economy and workforce across Montana and the nation.

But while real estate is strong now, Brown says it’s still too early in the pandemic to tell what the future holds.

With record low interest rates and a high demand, home prices have remained fairly steady with low inventory, Brown says. At Chuck Olson Real Estate, 57 homes in the $250,000 to $350,000 bracket closed in the last 30 days, as of April 24, and Brown says they are closing more than they are opening.

“We’re running out of inventory very quickly,” she said.

Erica Wirtala with the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors has also noticed homebuyers taking advantage of low interest rates.

“Because interest rates are so good, it’s a terrific time to buy a house,” Wirtala said. “Banks are going crazy (and so are) private lenders.”

This March, Kalispell saw 92 residential sales in comparison to 65 sales in March of 2019. Similarly, Whitefish saw 46 sales this March and 31 the year before, according to Montana Regional MLS data.

“March was a phenomenal month (in) comparison to last year — we’re up (about) 40% in sales,” Brown said. “I think it skews a little and I think maybe we haven’t seen an impact yet, but I think there will be some impact. We are still seeing new listings come on the market every day and we’re closing.”

Brown says March’s data don’t paint a complete picture, since April’s numbers haven’t been taken into account yet. Since May normally sees a flood of house listings, Brown says realtors will have a clearer idea of COVID-19’s impact on the housing market later into the season.

But in the meantime, Brown hasn’t noticed a trend in price reduction, which is likely due to the low inventory.

Wirtala has also noticed a steady market, seemingly not impacted by the pandemic.

“All indications that I get is that things are still kind of cooking along,” Wirtala said. “There might be some dip in the market later than the rest of the nation. I just don’t have that gut feeling that the rug is being pulled out from underneath us,”

Both Wirtala and Brown say Montana usually lags far behind national trends, but they don’t think the housing market will be as impacted by the pandemic as it will be in larger cities.

Brown speculates that cities in New York and California will be hit harder, which could result in people exiting those states and relocating to places like the Flathead Valley, potentially creating an opposite effect on housing.

“We have a lot of second homes in this area,” Wirtala said. “That carries us a bit further. Maybe there will be a dip in the market, but it will come later.”

Wirtala also speculates that the pandemic could lead to more remote work in the future, meaning people might relocate outside of those larger cities.

Real estate companies in Montana have also embraced doing business remotely to minimize contact while keeping the market flowing.

With virtual tours via FaceTime, drones and open door tours, where clients can walk into open homes without touching doorknobs, real estate agents are still able to show homes while practicing social distancing.

Wirtala says appraisers no longer have to enter a house to complete appraisals and title companies can do notaries through a car window service, where they can bring the documents to the client’s car window.

“Virus or not, life keeps going,” Wirtala said. “People still need to downsize homes or upsize; people are moving in and out of the area. There will always be a need for real estate transactions.”

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