For Sale sign - Keller Williams

BOZEMAN, Mont. - COVID-19 may be having a surprising impact for realtors in the country's fastest growing city of its size.

Some realtors say they're preparing for a wave of new clients fleeing to Bozeman from bigger cities outside of the Treasure State. Gallatin County, home to mostly-affluent towns like Big Sky and Bozeman, has some of the highest home prices in the state, with many current residents coming to the area from out-of-state.

Bozeman's already-inflated housing market is in for an even bigger boom, if predictions from some top housing experts - not just in Bozeman, but around the country - are true.

Realtors say it comes down to supply and demand. Bozeman is already facing such a high demand for housing that developers are scrambling trying to build homes quickly enough.

The news of another housing boom is a double-edged sword. Those who will be hit hardest by the boom are Bozeman's lower-income residents, many of whom are already struggling to pay sky-rocketing rents and home prices. Ann Brower, a realtor for 406 Living Realty at Keller Williams Montana Realty, says those residents are being forced to get creative to stay in Bozeman.

While it may be good news for those in the housing and economic sectors, for everyday Bozemanites, another housing boom could be enough to force them out.

"And that really is the quandary that we are all in: how do we balance that? Because we don't want to see people having to leave," says Brower. "Everybody loves Bozeman. I haven't talked to too many that don't. So, they want to find ways to stay and make it work."

The median value for a single-family home in Bozeman is currently close to $475,000, up more than $180,000 from a decade ago. Since at least 2016, Bozeman has had a cost of living somewhat significantly above the national average.

Some projections suggest that the coronavirus is speeding up the migration of people from bigger cities into what they see as "safer" rural states.

"Based on conversations that we're having with other realtors - based on things within the industry, things that we're hearing, articles that we're reading - the speculation is that we will definitely see a lot of out-of-state buyers coming in," Brower says. "People that wanted to live here anyway before, that always thought about, you know, the dream some day of retiring in Montana, we expect them now to take this excuse to say, 'Now's the time, we're pulling the trigger, we're doing it.'"

Brower's advice for buyers and sellers? Start planning right now. Work with your realtor to answer basic questions: what's the price we're going for? When is the best time to sell or buy? What should you be on the lookout for?

She also suggests that homeowners stay in contact with their mortgage lender along the way as that industry is seeing its own changes throughout the pandemic. If homeowners are staying in constant contact with that lender, they'll be more up-to-date and ready to go the moment that they need to start making the big decisions.

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