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Billings gets high rank in new national housing index as buyers start to feel pinch

Home sales surge in July, supply dwindles
Posted at 4:49 PM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 14:22:06-04

BILLINGS - While Bozeman gets a lot of the attention for its supercharged housing market, a new national index has put the spotlight on Billings, where sales are barely outpacing demand and putting the pinch on buyers.

Billings was recently ranked the fourth top emerging housing market in the country, according to an index released this week by The Wall Street Journal and Realtor.com.

Billings was the only Montana city to make the index, which ranked metro areas by their return on investment and livability.

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, was ranked at the top of the list, followed by Austin, Texas, and Springfield, Ohio.

The researchers used several housing metrics to compile the list, including supply, demand, and pricing, but also factored in economic and demographic conditions of each region, including unemployment, cost of living, commute times, small-business activity and the number of foreign-born residents.

Of the 300 metro areas listed, many were in rural areas or places where prices had yet to supernova, which likely explains why places like Bozeman - where the median price is north of $700,000 - didn’t make the cut.

In Yellowstone County, the median sales price for a single-family home was $285,000 in March 2021, a 20 percent jump from the median price in March 2020, according to the Billings Association of Realtors.

The problem is supply: a typical healthy market has about a six-month supply of homes. Last March, the Billings area had only three weeks available, which has led to multiple listings for many homes and an influx of cash buys, often from out-of-state investors, according to a local Realtor.

“We’ve got a great place to come to but nowhere to buy,” lamented Frosty Erben, president of the Billings Association of Realtors and a 33-year veteran of the industry locally.

Erben, part owner of Keller Williams Yellowstone Properties in Billings, told MTN News he’s not surprised Billings appeared on The Wall Street Journal ranking. The pandemic has placed a premium on living away from congestion, and Montana in general has seen its profile rise as a rural destination, he said.

He said he had a recent buyer ask him to find a new home for an upgrade. Erben called another agent listing a desirable home, only to discover it had 16 showings in one day and would likely sell to a cash buyer.

“That’s the market we’re in,” he said.