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Buyers struggle to afford homes as prices in Billings area continue to rise

Posted at 4:41 PM, Apr 11, 2024

Billings home buyers are struggling to find affordable homes as the median price of homes continues to increase.

In the past four years, Yellowstone County has seen a nearly 60 percent increase in median sale prices, reaching $358,950 in 2023, according to figures provided by the Billings Association of Realtors.

That continued climb has made life difficult for first-time home buyers like Josh Berst and his fiance, Leah Bayless.

"It's a crazy puzzle," Berst said Thursday morning. "This is a stressful state to be in."

Berst was recently informed by his landlord that the property he has been renting for 10 years is going to be sold, and he and Bayless have 80 days to find a new place.

"In the letter, they were really gracious," Bayless said. "It basically said you have 83 days until you really have to leave."

Berst and Bayless

And while both Bayless and Berst understand the decision, it's thrown a hitch in their plans.

"They're doing what's right for them and no knock on that," Berst said. "But it is stressful for us though, to be like, oh, we've got to find some place."

Bayless said the couple had been planning to buy a house in the next few years, but now that process has been sped up.

"I'm okay with change, but it's a lot less intimidating when it's on your own timeline," Bayless said. "There's not a lot of sleep right now. At least, on my part."

Berst said he handling the stress a little better, but he's starting to feel the pressure.

"I've handled it a little better than she has," Berst said. "Even though we're working on it and things will work out in some way, it's still scary."

To make matters worse, it isn't the best time to be in the market. Yellowstone County's median sale price continues to climb since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the median price was approximately $225,000.

Billings real-estate agent Mikayla Kovash said that's when things began to change because Montana saw an influx of people moving to the state.

"The market has certainly shifted since COVID," said Kovash, who is president of the Billings Association of Realtors. "I think a lot of people were drawn to a different business industry."


In 2021, the median price jumped to approximately $270,000 and it increased once again in 2022 to $349,900. This past year's jump is less extreme than the previous, and Billings remains more affordable than other communities. Bozeman's median home price is nearly $1 million, just $52,000 less than in Seattle.

"Bozeman is another one of those resort towns," Kovash said. "Plus that Yellowstone show had a lot of people wanting to move there."

Even with the continued rise in prices, Kovash said now is the time to buy before interest rates drop and competition goes up.

"I'm always hesitant with that question, but I do believe that now is the time to buy," Kovash said. "If interest rates drop like they are supposed to, which I think they will, there's going to be a lot of people hitting the market."

While some may have the option to wait and see, Berst and Bayless have no choice. They currently have 50 days left before their rental is gone.

"It's cool if we get a contract and everything goes smoothly, but that still might take up to 45 days," Berst said. "So, it's crunch time."

"My running joke is that we'll be living in a van down by the river under a bridge," Bayless said with a laugh. "It's not going to happen, but that's my running joke."