The market's heating up - again

The real estate market in Sandpoint is looking up, according to local Realtors, after having been "flat" for three years. "I feel we're in a bit of an upturn. It's an upswing that may last another three years," said Steve Van Horne, an associate broker at Coldwell Banker and the spokesman for the Bonner County Association of Realtors.

Inventories are still high, and the market can still be characterized as a buyer's market, Van Horne adds. Chances are good in 1998 that the sales will exceed last year's figures and be within 10 percent of 1995, a very busy year.

"Every Realtor in town will tell you they're having a very good year-to-date," Van Horne says.

He said Realtors are getting calls from around the nation, and Sandpoint is feeling residual effects from the success of real estate feeder markets in Colorado, California and western Washington. People are still wanting to escape metropolitan areas and move to an area like Bonner County for a better lifestyle. With our area experiencing a good economy and companies like Coldwater Creek recruiting employees, it's easier for people to move here.

The first quarter of 1998 gave strong indications of an upturning market, according to Van Horne. Real estate sales were $2.7 million ahead of 1997's first quarter. A local bank had its best month ever for real estate financing in March, and a local title company had the best first quarter they ever had.

Many people moving here are looking for a business to buy or enter. And commercial construction is taking place on many parcels sold in 1994 and '95. The Lazier Center at Schweitzer is being finished and will be home to many businesses, such as the Pend Oreille Brewing Co. and Ground Zero. Starbuck's built a new outlet in downtown Sandpoint, and a new Texaco is being built at the south entrance to town. "I think we'll see a resurgence in commercial activity," Van Horne says.

However, the uncertainty over ownership of Schweitzer Mountain Resort ­ which is in receivership with an offer to buy it pending ­ is still affecting the real estate market. "A lot of people will be happy when the ownership issue is resolved," Van Horne says. Even without a resolution, the market at Schweitzer hasn't stalled, just slowed. New projects like the Black Bear Condominiums ­ a major remodeling of the Overnighter ­ have sold enough of the modestly priced studio and one-bedroom units to pay for the reconstruction.

For condos at Schweitzer and waterfront properties, it's a mixed buyer and seller market because these are luxury properties, the kind that people don't need, but want, according to Van Horne.

On the other hand, the residential market has the biggest share of sales and definitely remains a buyer's market with more than 920 homes now for sale. In 1997, there were 350 residential properties that changed hands and total sales were nearly $38 million. In the first quarter of this year, 75 properties had been sold for a total of $9.2 million. (Figures provided by the Bonner County Association of Realtors only reflects sales by members and don't take into account homes sold by owners.)

Overall, 1997 compared closely to 1996. Sales were 5 percent ahead of '96 at a volume of $74.57 million.

- Billie Jean Plaster

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