Note: This story is part of Lee Enterprises’ series Squeezed Out, which focuses on the escalating housing crisis in the West. Across the region, the costs associated with renting or buying real estate have skyrocketed, forcing many individuals and families to redefine what home means. More than a dozen of his journalists, photographers and editors from the West contributed to this project.
T.The toilet had sunk through the rotting floor and had damage from standing water in the crawl space. My heart sank too. The run-down little house I wanted to buy cost $10,000 to repair before I could move in.
In the short time you dreamed of becoming a first-time homebuyer in Billings, Montana, the housing market has changed dramatically. Two years ago, a newspaper colleague, whose photographer I work for, purchased his first home in the $180,000 range.
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Then the COVID-19 pandemic prompted thousands to flee the urban chaos in search of the idyllic bliss of Montana. They brought in barrels of cash from remote jobs and the sale of million-dollar homes in crowded cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.
In University of Montana towns like Missoula and Bozeman, already inflated home prices skyrocketed further during the pandemic as homebuyers exceeded asking prices by $50,000 to $100,000, sometimes as much as $1 million. Did. And they paid in cash, pushing away anyone who sticks to the promise of a down payment and a bank loan.
In Bozeman, the average home price is now $900,000 and in Missoula $600,000. Billings averages $410,000, which is “more affordable”. Two years ago, the average Billings price was $280,000.
At such prices in Billings, the housing stock available to a first-time homebuyer like myself is somewhere between a chicken coop and a ramshackle shack on the verge of being blamed. Limited to a few homes.
I started seriously thinking about buying a house last April. As a down payment he armed himself with $12,000 in savings and pre-approval from the bank for a mortgage of up to $200,000. Even with the help of the state’s first-time homebuyer program, it took weeks to collect and get pre-approved tax documents, income confirmations, student loan documents, credit reports, and more. I was incredibly excited and my hard work paid off. I started looking for a house and started to get nervous.
In addition to not having enough cash for a truckload, there were other disadvantages to buying a home. I’m single, but most of the first home buyers are working couples. My income is she has a modest income of just under $40,000 and some student loan debt.
Besides, I’m younger than most first-time homebuyers. Currently, he is less than 1% of homebuyers under the age of 25. I was 23 when I started looking for a home and 24 when I moved.
I started by checking Zillow, Facebook, MLS, Craigslist and browsing the lists obsessively. According to Zillow, in my metropolitan area of about 168,000 people and 47,000 homes, the average number of homes for sale in the past year or so has averaged about 500, sometimes as low as 300. It has fallen below.
Over the next few weeks, I decided to look at just a few homes listed in my price range. For several weeks, nothing.
After seeing some very small, very old, very battered starter homes, they were all too expensive for me, so I pursued the sinking toilet house with a glimmer of hope. Asking price he was $210,000 and the owner was no joke that he described it as a “fixer upper”. However, it was close enough to walk to work from my office in the city center, and it was a high-class residential area with a bright future. It was the best house in my price range in the whole city.
I bid on everything I had in the house and signed a sales contract with the homeowner. Within a day, someone beat my offer by thousands of dollars above the asking price.
I was losing hope in the American dream of owning a home.
Growing up in rural northeastern Montana, I was surrounded by lifelong homeowners. My parents were in his early 20s when he bought his first home for $20,000 in 1986. A few years later, they bought his small vacation cabin on Fort Peck Lake for his $1,000.
The days of five-figure homes may be over, but here I am sitting in the living room of my new home writing this essay. I beat the system because I have something that the cash-drunk urban immigrants flooding Montana do not have. I am connected and willing to adjust expectations about how and where I want to live.
These connections start with my new boss and his wife. When I moved to Billings last year, they let me stay rent-free in their house so I could save on my down payment. My boss here he has lived for 40 years and knows everyone, including real estate people. Someone was preparing to sell his mother’s house and knew someone who might agree to a personal deal.
there was a catch. His home was in Edgar, 35 miles away. Edgar was a small old ranch town with one bar and about 100 people. Edgar wasn’t on my radar, but I agreed to look at the property. I thought there was. It was an investment in myself and my future.
Growing up in rural Montana, I was no stranger to country life and was happy to make it happen. I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the small town’s fertile agriculture. The house was on a spacious lot with friendly neighbors on both sides and a backyard bordering on a cornfield.
My jaw dropped when I entered the back door. The house was recently renovated and well maintained, and was a great contrast to other properties I have seen. The two-bedroom, one-bath house had a modern country feel that immediately made us feel at home. With a large deck, two-car garage, and a beautiful yard, I knew it was the right move for me.
The asking price was $190,000 and from that day on we started the process of signing the purchase contract. In the six weeks it took to close the deal, I started shopping for the furniture and necessities needed to make it a home. .
I bargained at weekend real estate sales, garage sales, and Facebook Marketplace. An entire house he was able to furnish for under $1,500. We also found a log bed for the master bedroom for just $160.
By the end of July, I finally closed Edgar’s house. During my trip, I learned a lot about the home buying process and market conditions. Perhaps most of all, I learned the importance of using my flexibility, connections and tenacity to make my dreams come true.
I am sitting here now. Young, non-traditional buyers living in their own homes. The American Dream is real and I have a cornfield at home.