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Real estate experts forecast grim housing future in Montana



Billings, Montana – Finding affordable housing is more difficult than ever. Montana ranks in the top ten states in the US for growth, adding 17,000 additional residents in the past year alone.

The typical price of a property in the Flathead that year was $310,000, according to data from the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors, while the Missoula Organization of Realtors states that the price of a home was $293,138 in 2018. However, in 2022 Missoula County’s median home price increased to $530,000 and prices in the Flathead increased to $605,000.

According to housing specialists MTN News spoke with unless our housing problem is resolved soon, Montana is facing a serious disaster.

According to real estate specialists in Billings, Montana’s housing issue is becoming worse. According to long-time real estate broker and property manager Bob Leach, the future is gloomy if nothing is done quickly.

Leach is outspoken about what’s going on in Billings and around Montana, and he is unrelenting in his assessment of what the future of housing holds.

“I estimate that 75% of people that could afford a house three years ago cannot buy a house today,” said Leach.

Leach has spent years researching the effects of the housing markets. He recently presented his results to the governor’s housing task committee, which has been tasked with advising legislators and state agencies on how to make housing more affordable.

He claims that Montana is in a serious predicament as a result of his discoveries.

“Because we are going to find a shortage of workers, people who stock grocery stores, police, fire,” said Leach. “If people are more unsettled because they can’t find a home, they are more likely to go somewhere where they can.”

He claims that one option is to eliminate the cost of the land, which, according to Leach, might be accomplished through a community land trust.

“The city has talked about donating land. We’ve talked to the county commissioners on land that they might have for development and put it in a community land trust and make it permanently affordable,” Leach said.

The phrase “permanently inexpensive” is crucial since many hopeful customers, who may have formerly been upbeat, are now unsure about what that phrase actually means.

Charles Westwood was looking through online real estate ads in December 2022 in an effort to determine what his family could afford.

“There’s not a lot in town to purchase,” he said at that time. “I’ve made six different offers.”

At that point, not a single application had been approved. Westwood asserts that he was outbid by a greater sum in each instance. For more than a year, Westwood and his wife looked for a new house with the hopes of one day starting a family.

“The market hasn’t cooled off, from what I’ve seen so far,” he said.

Leach claims that the county, where out-of-state residents can afford to build on large lots with high square footage because they made significantly larger profits from a prior sale, is where most of Billings’ expansion is taking place. However, for some, such as Westwood, it is not feasible.

“Most of the people who are buying new houses are building them out on the West End. But it’s gotten so expensive out there,” said Westwood.

According to Steve Simonson of the Billings Association of Realtors, the aspect that becomes crucial is the effect the problem in affordable housing has on our vital employees.

“Prices have gone up about 20 to 30 percent in the last two years,” said Simonson.

And at a time when pay growth has only been a small portion of that.

“They are not vested in our community if they can’t buy a home,” said Simonson. “We need to find some innovative solutions, because this problem, we are just on the front end of this, this is not going to go away anytime soon.”


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