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Looking to escape housing boom in small-town Montana? In Laurel, that's no easy task

“People come in with all cash or they go like $35,000 extra over the asking price. I can't even touch it."
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Posted at 8:00 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 11:56:02-04

LAUREL - The current Montana real estate market is nothing short of crazy. As more people pour into the state, what was once just a Bozeman boom, seems to be impacting big and small home prices across the state.

But, if you think picking up and moving to Laurel will help you escape this crazy home buying market, think again. In the small yet well-established community, you're going to pay top dollar – that is, if you even get a chance to make a bid.

The latest data from the Billings Association of Realtors shows that from May of 2020 to May of 2021, the average home sale price in the region jumped nearly $100,000, from $258,927 to $356,921.

Laurel broker Hazel Klein co-owns A Haus of Realty in Laurel, and she watches these prices closely. She’s been in the business for 43 years and says she has never seen the small-town Montana market like this.

“Right now, I don't know that we've got more than a dozen houses on the market, from two mobile homes that are priced right around $50,000 up to a million something,” said Klein. “And that price point, probably from $150,000 up to $300,000. There's not much at all.”

On this day, Klein said there are about a dozen homes on the market in the Laurel area, that are not already pending or under contract.

“Laurel has evolved, and what it was when I came here was more or less labor community, blue-collar workers that kind of thing,” she said.

Klein says Laurel has become a commuter city to Billings, about 16 miles away.

“We got people coming here to retire, they want to be in Laurel because it's small, they don't want to fight busy streets, but they want to be closer to doctors. “

Klein also points to good schools, a small community feel, and nice people.

“They like the fact that people are friendly here, they actually say hi. They wave at you on the street and they don't even know you.”

Whatever the draw, within hours new Laurel listings get snatched up.

Data shows that two years ago approximately 30% of available listings were under contract in Montana at any given time. Today, that number has flipped, and this transition brings a lot of emotions.

“When you have people coming here that want to get settled in for school, and they don't have any choices and the rentals are all taken up. They're very frustrated,” Klein said.

Home seeker Amber Vanderloos can relate.

“I definitely feel robbed of this next life experience,” she said.

The 22-year-old said this is where she wants to live. “I love this place.”

She’s taken the right steps. She graduated from Laurel High School, holds down a good job at Billings Clinic, and will soon graduate as a surgical tech. But that next move, to buy a house, is turning into a struggle.

“A couple acres, that would always be nice, but I feel like that's just not possible right now," she said.

Vanderloos has endured multiple rejections in her bids for houses and has even widened her search across the Yellowstone Valley.

As soon as she falls in love with a new home, she said she’s looked out the window to see several other potential buyers, literally, lined up. “People come in with all cash or they go away like $35,000 extra over the asking price, and I can’t even touch it.”

Klein said sometimes buyers come in at $50,000 over asking price, but she coaches her buyers to be prudent, and patient.

“This is a big purchase. Expect in this market when you're buying to go long term because we don't know how it's going to adjust. We have no crystal ball,” she said.

She suggests buyers get as educated as possible and look at comparable properties recently sold. Make an informed offer, and if you end up in a bidding war, and make sure you won’t end up upside down.

“Even if you don't win the bid, maybe it's the best thing for you. Wait till the right one comes along,” she said, adding, “It’s tough to be patient when you need housing.”

There is no crystal ball, as Montana Realtors and their clients from in and out of state try to navigate this small town market boom.

For Vanderloos, there’s only hope, and she’s not giving up.

“A couple acres with a little house on it so like you know a couple goats and maybe a cow and a horse… but even just goats would be enough.”