The real estate market in Teton County seems to be experiencing a slight boom in buyers.
Choteau Postmaster Robert Stokes said that he’s seen about 10 new P.O. boxes open up in town since March. “Typically, it’s a wash in most years. One person will move out and another moves in, and the number of P.O. boxes stays about the same,” Stokes explained. “It seems to me we’ve added a few more than normal — not a lot, but a few. We’ve gained them quicker than normal, too. And rather than people moving in from Townsend or wherever, a lot of them are moving in from out of state.”
Stokes also said he expects there have been more people moving to the country outside of the city limits. About 95% of those new residents would be added to a route for mail delivery, but he didn’t have exact numbers for those additions.
The real estate market seems to reflect this increase in buyers, too. The Montana Regional Multiple Listing Service shows that in Great Falls (the closest regional area to Teton County that the MLS has data for), the number of monthly sale closings, average and median sale prices and the dollar volume of closed sales have all steadily increased, while the average number of days a home stays on the market has decreased just as steadily. July 2020 saw the biggest peak in all increase categories since January 2017.
From March to August 2020, the median sale price of a home in the Great Falls area has gone from $199,000 to $217,500 (and it was $210,100 in August of 2019). In that same time, the monthly dollar volume for closed sales in the area has gone up 27.2% from $21,349,133 to $29,354,167.
Typically, September is the time of year where the housing market begins to wane in Montana, as colder weather slows activity. This year, however, things still seem to be moving along.
“I thought winter would affect sales, but so far, it hasn’t. I’ve gotten six more listings in the past week,” said Jen Barnett, a real estate agent from Fairfield who works with Dascoulias Realty Group.
Barnett says she hasn’t seen much change in the number of renters in Teton County, but she has seen more buyers. The majority of these buyers are looking for primary residences.
“We’ve had clients coming in from out of state, and some from Great Falls and the other bigger Montana cities. We also have a shortage of listings, so there’s a lot more buyers than there are sellers. If anyone was thinking about selling, now is an incredible time to list your home,” Barnett said.
Real estate agents Phyllis Bechtold with Buy N Sell Real Estate and Jim Bouma with Clearwater Montana Properties echoed Barnett’s comments.
“We have been very, very busy. I can only speak for myself, but for me, it started getting busy after the Fourth of July,” Bechtold said. “And we definitely need listings. It’s a buying market right now, so if anyone is thinking about selling, now is a great time.”
Bechtold said she’s had two buying clients from out of state. Of those two, both have previously lived in Montana, and one was from Choteau.
“I’ve seen an increase in traffic, in both buying and renting,” Bouma added. “Some are coming from out of state, and most are looking for primary residences.”
One possible explanation for the heightened buying activity in rural Montana is that these buyers are looking to escape the big cities during the COVID-19 pandemic and move to the less affected countryside. With many employers having their employees work from home now, employees no longer need to worry about a commute and are able to move more easily.
Another possible explanation — and one with more concrete numbers to back it up — is that buyers are taking advantage of the low interest rates. (These rates may also be affected by COVID-19, but indirectly so.) The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (more commonly known as Freddie Mac) reported on Aug. 6 that the average U.S. 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell to 2.88%, making for the eighth time it has hit a historic low this year. The 30-year fixed rate (which is America’s most popular mortgage option) has never been this low in the 49 years that Freddie Mac has tracked mortgage rates.
“Listing prices may have gone up slightly, but the real drastic change is in the offers. Offers are huge right now,” said Barnett. “There are two reasons for this. One, buyers can make higher offers because the interest rate is so low. And two, they have to offer higher because the market is so competitive. As a seller, you pretty much get to pick the deal you want, and you have a lot more say in the details like closing costs, closing date and inspection times because you have plenty off backup offers. It gives sellers much more leverage.”
Barnett advises potential buyers to get pre-approved. “Sellers are asking for pre-approval letters with the offers now, because they don’t want to take a home off the market and then have it turn out that someone can’t buy it,” she explained. “Typically, we’ve never had to do that in our area, but with the competition being so high right now, it has become a necessity.”
As for what long-term effects this little boom in the market will have on Teton County, only time will tell.