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Real estate prices soar across county

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | April 20, 2021 7:00 AM

Lincoln County has seen a slightly more than $100,000 spike in average real estate sales prices since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In March of 2020, the average sales price in the county was $242,081, according to Montana Regional MLS. Last month, the figure had risen to $348,417. Average sales prices peaked in December at $442,227. December also saw the greatest dollar volume of closed sales in the county over the past year at just over $21.2 million.

Erica Wirtala, public affairs director at the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors, said that changes in the Canadian market were likely responsible for the slight dip in prices after December. She noted that sale prices in Flathead County generally increased from December on.

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A property up for sale on 10th Street in Libby. (Paul Sieves/The Western News)

The number of closed sales in Lincoln County roughly mirrored the fluctuations in average sale prices. In March 2020, Montana Regional MLS recorded 18 closed sales. A year later, there were 40. It reached its apex last August with 56 closed sales.

The average number of days a piece of property spent on the market saw an overall decline countywide in the past year. Around the start of the pandemic, the figure was at 114 days whereas last month it was at 69.

Wirtala said the figures indicate a strong seller’s market. One side effect of the pandemic was that it loosened people’s hold on a single location, she said.

“People everywhere are on the move,” she said.

Along with the pandemic, the parceling and sale of property historically owned by timber companies influenced the Lincoln County real estate market. In early 2020, Southern Pine Plantations, a Georgia-based company, bought roughly 630,000 acres in northwest Montana from timber giant Weyerhaeuser.

Last December, Eric Moody, land specialist with Southern Pine Plantation, said the company was selling off parcels. Buyers looking at Lincoln County, he found, were primarily interested in smaller tracts of land.

Clyde Ross, Lincoln County deputy clerk and recorder, found SPP had filed 14 deeds since last April. According to the deeds, two of the parcels are in the Libby area, three are near McGinnis Meadows and eight are in the Thompson Chain of Lakes area. One deed to Green Diamond Resource Company, a forest products company, bundled scores of tracts spread throughout the southeastern end of the county.

Some realtors are speculating that more properties might appear on the market this summer, according to Wirtala. She said families with school-aged children might be waiting until then to put their homes on the market out of fear that their properties would sell too quickly.

While the recent spike in activity is significant, Wirtala said the northwest Montana real estate market has been ramping up over the past decade.

In 2010, Wirtala said there was a glut of empty homes on the market. Now, she said realtors are eagerly seeking out properties. She cited one large firm in her association that recently had 96 realtors and only six listings.

The boom has led to the real estate industry attracting a large number of recruits locally, according to Wirtala.

“It’s a very desirable career choice,” she said.