Sandpoint Market Watch

Prices, inventory good for buyers

Real estate buyers continue to enjoy better-than-average opportunities, as a high inventory of properties and steady asking prices have held the real estate market in place, according to Charlie Parrish, broker at Evergreen Realty and the Bonner County Association of Realtors president.

After a period of high price escalation during the early 1990s, pricing now is flat and comparable to sale prices from late 1993, according to Parrish. Waterfront prices have actually slipped recently. Sales in the first quarter of '97 were sluggish ­ down 25 percent from the previous year ­ because of extraordinarily high snows last winter.

However, sales from April through August made up for the slow winter. More than a quarter of the year-to-date volume was recorded between July 1 and Aug. 27. Total sales by that date reached $42.18 million, compared to $43.35 million for 1996.

With fall being a popular time to finalize buying decisions, realtors project total 1997 sales will be similar to '96, when sales at year end totaled $73.1 million.

Parrish said the pending sale of Schweitzer remains a key factor in turning the area's real estate market back into the "boom" market of 1993 to 1995. Some potential buyers for mountain properties remain cautious because the resort is in receivership, and the current owners have challenged a proposed $18 million sale to Harbor Properties of Seattle. However, once the sale of Schweitzer is completed, it should have a positive effect on the market. Near term, operation of the resort is guaranteed this winter with financing already secured.

A recent change in the capital gains tax will also perk up the local market, Parrish predicts. The new law took effect in May and allows a couple to sell their primary residence for up to $500,000 without capital gains tax, making it easier for many to retire and move here.

A number of younger people are coming here for jobs, too. Coldwater Creek, an international mail-order company based in Sandpoint, continues to recruit professionals to the area, who in turn buy homes here. In the current buyer's market they have plenty to choose from. BCAR reported more than 1,400 residential properties on the market at the end of August, up from 1,215 for the same period in 1996.

Desirable areas to invest are Kootenai, where the opening of a new school last fall and a possible paving project have a positive impact on values. Coldwater Creek is a major employer there.

Commercial properties in downtown Sandpoint are also looking up. The Coldwater Creek retail store and the Old Power House mall provide solid anchors for the downtown core. A proposed boardwalk along Sand Creek would be a plus.

- Billie Jean Plaster

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