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North Idaho Realtors helping clients through challenging market By Colin Anderson

boomtown sandpoint

Before the 1980s, the Idaho panhandle was a fairly sleepy place. Many families made their living off the land whether by farming, mining, or the timber industry. A small wave of big-city dwellers discovered the area and decided to uproot their families and take root in the smaller communities North Idaho offers. As the popularity of Schweitzer grew and the building of the Coeur d’Alene Resort in 1986, the area began to take shape as a tourist destination. As more visitors came to the area, they were also taken by the scenery and slower pace of life. While growth continued through the ‘90s and 2000s, the past two years are like nothing the area has ever seen.

“We are a great place to live that is no longer a secret,” says Sarah McCracken, a Realtor with Blue Door Realty Keller Williams in Coeur d’Alene. “Our beautiful landscape and ample opportunities to recreate will always make this a desirable area to live.”

While the scenery and recreational opportunities have always driven people to the panhandle, a new swath of residents are moving in due to many other factors. These include purchasing a retirement or vacation home, or real estate investment, and families leaving larger markets because of personal politics or the global pandemic’s impact on the workforce, with many salaried workers now able to work from home. The ability to make major market income while residing in an area like the panhandle where the cost of living is much lower has wreaked havoc on the local real estate market. With already low inventory and low interest rates, the market has become one of the most competitive in the U.S. “Buyers need to be prepared to be ‘all in’ when getting into a fast-paced market,” says McCracken. “Although listings meeting their search may be few and far between, they will not last long on the market, and buyers will need to make quick decisions.”

While some people thrive on quick decisions, others have decided to wait out the hectic market before buying or selling. This has created very low inventory, but there are signs that could be changing in the near future. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by .25 percent in March and will likely add another rate hike or two before the year is out.

The move is meant to help curb inflation but will also drive up rates on loans, including mortgages. If mortgage rates continue to creep up as forecasted, home prices will eventually stabilize and more people might look at getting into the market. “If you have a home to sell first, get that process well underway before negotiating in our market,” offers Jackie Suarez, Associate Broker for Century 21 RiverStone in Sandpoint. “If you need a loan, have a lender committed to you before you begin your home search. Cash buyers are still taking priority in negotiations.”

Being prepared is a step echoed by seasoned Realtors all throughout the panhandle. With homes selling within a week of listing, and multiple offers coming in, buyers need to be ready to be pre-approved, willing to go over asking price, and possibly wave inspections or pay closing costs. Sellers might be wowed at what their current home is worth, but you will still want to maximize your home’s value. While major updates aren’t currently needed in order to sell, a few simple steps can help to maximize your home’s appeal to potential buyers.

“Making sure to take care of deferred maintenance items, declutter, and making clean neutral spaces will be worth the extra effort,” shares McCracken. “We all have appliances on our countertops that we use here and there, however, when it comes time to list, less is more,” adds C.J. Tuma, Owner/Broker Coldwell Banker North Woods Realty in Bonners Ferry. “Same thing with all of our knickknacks; while they are great and meaningful to homeowners, again, less is more. The less items and clutter in a home, the larger it feels.”

Even the relatively remote market of Bonners Ferry is seeing a big influx of out-of-town buyers looking for room to stretch out and have more control over their lives and property. “Buyers here like being able to build a shop without five permits, growing a garden, harvesting, canning, freeze drying, home schooling, etc.,” he says.

When staging a house, two of the most popular features continue to be a beautiful kitchen and a comfortable master bedroom. As one would expect with the remote worker migration, a space for a home office is also tops on many buyers’ priority list.

“Homes that are ‘move-in ready’ for buyers are desirable. However, for the right price in the right location, buyers are willing to make their own improvements,” says Suarez.

While the thought of selling and finding something you can afford in the local market might seem daunting, it never hurts to contact a professional to assess your situation and provide meaningful advice. “This includes lenders, appraisers, real estate agents, insurance companies, home inspectors, property managers and title companies,” affirms Suarez. “Each location is unique, and you’ll be relying on local experts to guide you through the process.”

McCracken adds: “Although prices seem high for buying homes, your home sale will also likely be higher than it once was. If you put the equity back into your new home, combined with favorable interest rates, buying and selling in this market may not be as challenging as you think.”

There are numerous factors that can greatly affect a housing market. North Idaho is clearly in a boom, but as we’ve learned in recent times, the boom eventually comes to an end. If you are a current homeowner, you have equity—and likely more buying power than you think. For those looking to make a move or find their first home, it might be a struggle, but being prepared and flexible might just be the ticket to finding your place to call home.

“Don't get frustrated,” says Tuma. “Real estate is simple economics; supply and demand. Hang in there, stick with your Realtor—and you will find the perfect home.”

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