Priced-out in the Flathead 

If you grew up in the Flathead Valley and haven’t received a substantial inheritance, chances are good that you can’t afford to buy a home here. According to statistics released last week by Jim Kelley, a Kalispell-based real estate appraiser, the Flathead’s median household income in 2004 was $39,254. Stack that stat next to 2004’s median housing price of $186,500, and Flathead home ownership becomes unattainable for many. The problem only worsens when would-be homebuyers divert funds to other needs such as health insurance, which, according to statistics also released last week by Flathead Valley Community College economist Greg Davis, is offered by only half of Flathead employers.

Of 974 homes currently for sale in the Flathead, just 24 cost less than $100,000, Kelley notes. For years, home affordability and local earnings kept pace here, Kelley’s data indicate, but that stability has begun to disintegrate.

“What you’re seeing right now is a major separation between home affordability and home prices,” Kelley says. “This started in 2002 and it continues to grow. What this raises is, ‘How far can this go before something’s gotta give?’”

Still, those outside the county, and especially from larger regional cities such as Seattle, continue to view Flathead property as “cheap” or “a steal,” according to Glacier Bank Senior Vice President Dennis Beams, which accounts for a rapid influx of out-of-county property buyers.

“We’re rapidly approaching fifty-fifty in terms of income coming from within and outside of the county,” says Liz Harris, president of Jobs Now, a regional economic development organization.

“You can really see the wealth that’s moving into the valley,” Kelley adds, offering that the most expensive Flathead home sale in 1984 was $199,500. In 2004, it was $13.5 million.

Kelly doesn’t go so far as to call the Flathead a rich man’s valley, but he does say that, “None of us have seen home prices and affordability separate the way it has over the last year, so this raises some serious concerns.”

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