Y2K: It's a factor, not a force
By Trish Gannon
Y2K concerns are almost a city phenomenon; potential computer problems leading to power failures, delayed food deliveries and a breakdown in communication have less impact in an area like our own, where power failures are more common, people habitually stock their pantries and most people know their neighbors.
"We live Y2K all the time," explained Margie Stevens, the broker/owner of Sommerfeld Realty. "We have months of groceries at home because we only make the drive in to town to shop once a month. To us, it's a normal way of life."
That way of life is what appeals to those looking for property in this area, some of whom count concerns about Y2K among the reasons they want to relocate to North Idaho. "It's another reason for them to do it," explained Stevens. "They don't want to live the way they've been living. They want to get back to nature. They really do want to be here." Want to be here enough that, Stevens says, "We have more pending sales right now than we had last summer," and leads her to believe we might be "moving back into a seller's market."
As the broker/owner of one of only two real estate offices between Sandpoint and the Montana state line, Stevens has a large listing of the types of property people concerned about Y2K are looking for. "Naturally we have a lot of property that would work," she said. "Rural property with running water, river front, creek front, with easy access to national forest. Mostly it's unimproved land, but we have a lot of nice homes, too. The focus is more toward privacy."
At C.M. Brewster & Co. in Sandpoint, broker/owner Tom Renk is also seeing a small increase in sales of rural property, an area he likes to specialize in, "Just ... because it gets me out!" he laughed.
"There hasn't been any big panic," he explained, and agrees with Stevens about the motivation of people looking at rural property today. "Those (buyers) who mention Y2K, by and large, have thought it out pretty well. They're willing to take their time to look."
Renk says the real test of whether Y2K will impact local real estate sales will be seen in the next few months. "Fiscal 2000 starts (in April) for some businesses, then June and then October. We may see (an increase in sales) if there are major glitches that show up."
Locally, he doesn't see any real concern about Y2K. "Right now, in general, people are not worried. They might be buying a little extra food, or preparing for a power outage. A lot of people have a pretty positive idea of the future."
Renk points out most of what's available locally to buy might appeal to city dwellers worried about Y2K. "Just being in an area less likely to be affected makes people feel more secure." C.M. Brewster has lots of listings to appeal to those customers. "We have listings from accessible to remote, where people can be pretty much self-sufficient," he said.
Barbara Pressler lives high on Gold Creek Ridge, northeast of Sandpoint, and has recently listed her 20-acre retreat for sale, specifically for the Y2K market. The four-story house, built from wood recycled from the old Day Lodge at Schweitzer, has everything needed to "get away from it all." Wired for both AC and DC, the house is solar powered and comes with a 5,000-watt generator. It uses propane for cooking and heating water, wood for heat and also comes with an ATV and a snowmobile.
"My kids think I'm crazy for selling it," she laughed, but this grandmother wants to live a little bit closer to her grandchildren. "It's a 45-minute drive into town (from the house). It breaks my heart to do it ... it's a grandma thing," she explained.
Pressler believes city dwellers, concerned enough with Y2K to be moving to the country, will find her place just about perfect. "You get up there, and the rest of the world doesn't exist," she said.
Steve Van Horne, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker and communications director for the Bonner County Association of Realtors, believes Y2K "is a factor, not a force," in the local real estate market. "We've had a lot of people coming here, looking for remote pieces of property. That's easy to do here; you can get away from it all, quick." He's seen Y2K concerns prompting more purchases of what he calls "recreational property. These are people buying land to use for campsites and recreation. And sometimes they'll laughingly mention how they'll be all set when Y2K arrives."
That may change as we move through the remaining days of the 20th century, depending on just how many "glitches" the systems of our urban society experience. "There have always been people who want to be in the woods, and always will be," explained Van Horne. "Y2K is usually not (a buyer's) only reason for acquiring property. But how much further those people will fuel the market, nobody knows. It will depend on how irritating problems in more urban areas get to be."
Trish Gannon is a senior production assistant for The River Journal, a title she defines as "Whatever Dennis tells her to do but she gets to whine about it."
Market Watch: Current conditions in the area real estate market
"1999 is showing every indication of being an excellent year," said Steve Van Horne, communications director for the Bonner County Association of Realtors and associate broker at Caldwell Banker. "Many of us in the business think we're beginning a cycle of moving up."
He credits this upswing in sales, almost $14 million in the traditionally slow first quarter, to many factors. "The change of ownership at Schweitzer has had a favorable impact on the area," he said, "and the banks are doing a phenomenal job of making financing available. As we approach election years, there's always more upheaval in urban areas and people want to get out. You could draw a line at the 45th parallel and watch as people more above it." And he believes they're coming to North Idaho because, well, it's North Idaho.
"The whole overtone (here) is recreational and people are drawn to it," he explained. "They're looking for a recreational lifestyle, and we have it. They're able to move here to enjoy what we take for granted." The icing on the cake, he says, is price. "People coming here can usually expect to find something that will appeal to them at a price that's practical."
Conventional residential property is still leading the way in local sales. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which reflects sales by members and doesn't include sales by owner, reports 73 sales in this category during the first quarter of '99, with an average sales price of $106,359. Of those sales, 49 were in the Sandpoint area alone, where the average sales price is $119,200.
A fairly new contender in this classification is "subdivisions and tracts," said Van Horne. "That's where I think most of the action is now." The MLS reports 549 active listings in this category alone year-to-date. "Subdivisions are filling up rapidly and requests (for permits) are up a great deal. I think we're going to see even more changes," he said.
Commercial property, a slow mover in recent years, is beginning to pick up as well. "It's better than it was, but not as good as it has been," Van Horne explained. "You couldn't keep commercial property three years ago, especially on Highway 95 north."
Van Horne suspects this is an area we can expect to see growing, especially along the highway south of Sandpoint. "With Northern Lights building their new facility south of town, I think we'll see some activity out there. It will also open up some growth toward Dover and Laclede, which is now an undeveloped corridor." The big problem there, he says, is "there's not much available. What will spur growth in the commercial area is the people who have already bought property, building it out."
He points to recent growth as a positive sign, using the corridor along the highway north as an example. "Taco Bell finally went in, TCBY Yogurt and Subway are opening in the Canyon Mall. Staples and the expansion of Yoke's are a big visual at Bonner Mall."
The Bonner County Association of Realtors is working to increase the area's real estate presence on the Internet, a rapidly growing marketing tool for sales in this area. They're currently working to help all member realtors place their inventory on the Web, allowing buyers out of the area rapid access to what's for sale at www.realtor.com. "We're broadening access by making everything available on the web," he said.
In addition, realtors are working through the Chamber of Commerce to attract business interest in the area. "Realtors continue to be, both individually and collectively, active in the community, including taking part in an effort to solicit new business for this area."