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Property Values increasing in Seeley Lake and Swan Valley (Condon)

(A Special Report)

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
February 29, 1996

Property values in the Seeley Lake area have increased significantly in recent years. According to data provided by John Zimorino, president of the Missoula County Association of Realtors, the median price of a residential property in the Seeley Swan increased by about $33,000 between 1992 and 1995.

Residential property is defined as a home on a lot or small acreage. The median price is exactly in the middle--50% of residential property sold above that price, and 50% sold below that price during the given time period.

Zimorino's data came from the Missoula County Association of Realtors for property sales in Seeley Lake, Condon and Swan Valley. Interviews with real estate agents throughout the area confirmed a general upward trend in home prices, with sales slowing slightly in 1995.

The biggest jump in home prices was between 1992 and 1993 when the median price of a home wnet from $65,000 to $79,500. Zimorino said things "took off" throughout Missoula County then. "It was like a feeding frenzy--like throwing meat to sharks."

The real estate market has had its ups and downs since the late 1980s. However, prices generally kept increasing. In 1988, realtors saw a buyer's market. Buyers would make a ridiculous offer, and the seller would take it. That was soon followed by a seller's market. Sellers were asking ridiculous prices and buyers would pay, Zimorino explained. That kind of activity contributed to the price increases in 1992 and 1993, he said.

However, by 1994, prices began to stabilize. The median price of a home in the Seeley Lake area in 1994 was $90,650. By the end of 1995, the median price had increased by less than $8,000 to $98,000. "Today we have a fair market. Neither party is gouging the other party," he said.

Other area realtors confirmed the stabilization of the housing market--in 1995 houses were selling for what they were worth, they said.

Understanding the numbers in real estate can be a challenge. "Average" prices are often higher than "median" prices in areas with a lot of new construction, since newer homes cost more than older homes. In 1995, the average sales price for homes in the Seeley Lake area was $115,206--a figure that is much higher than the median price for the same time period--according to statistics provided by the Missoula County Multiple Listing Service.

At Seeley Lake, more new homes are available now than ever before. According to Janice Nemmers, office manager for the Double Arrow Landowners Association, every year for the past three years there have been 25 or 30 applications for new home construction on the 3,500-acre subdivision, the largest block of private land in the Seeley Lake area.

Another factor that affects property value is the amount of land that goes with a home. New homes on larger parcels of land are valued considerably higher than residential homes on lots. According to West Newbold of Great Bear Properties in Seeley Lake, a new three-bedroom, two-bath home on ten acres--the type of property that many people are looking for in this area--will cost from $155,000 to $160,000. "Log homes bring a little more than frame houses, and the price goes down for older homes," Newbold explained. "A decent house on two to five acres might bring $120,000, compared to a large new home on creek frontage at about $168,000.

Swan Valley More Expensive

Location is a key factor in price, Newbold explained. Residential properties in the Swan Valley are generally priced higher than those near Seeley Lake, perhaps because Condon is more remote and there are fewer small parcels available, Newbold said. However, the home market in the Swan Valley is slow. Residential properties move a little more quickly at Seeley Lake, where buyers have access to a larger variety of properties in many differnt price ranges.

The Double Arrow Ranch Subdivision

The Double Arrow Ranch, which was first developed in 1973, is perhaps the biggest mover of property at Seeley Lake. Statistics show that 175 lots on the Ranch changed ownership in 1995. The subdivision has a total of 848 lots. Of those, only about 240 have structures on them.

The larger number of lots that sell each year on the Double Arrow Ranch boosts the market at Seeley Lake. But the realtors interviewed for this article all noticed a difference in price between bare land on the Ranch and bare land off the Ranch.

"Our experience indicates that there is definitely a difference in value and salability between Double Arrow Ranch land and non-Double Arrow Ranch land," Wendy Wetherell of Clearwater River Realty said recently.

The Ranch is governed by covenants--protective property rights and architectural guide-lines--which may be a factor in the price differences. Wetherell explained that many buyers look for property with less stringent covenants, such as land that is suitable for horses.

Bare Land Costs

Wetherell provided statistics from the Missoula County Multiple Listing Service for bare land sales in the Seeley Swan during 1995. The average sales price of a Double Arrow Ranch parcel (acreages range from 1 to 15 acres with an average of 3.56 acres) was $22,242. For land off the Ranch, the average sales price of a five-acre parcel was $43,333.

Smaller lots off the Ranch--les than one acre--averaged lower at $10,588 in 1995. However, several realtors in the area indicate that small lots, especially in town, are in short supply.

Bud Berckmoes of Seeley Condon Realty, who lists mostly bare land, noted that a 20,000-square-foot lot in Seeley Lake recently sold for $14,500 cash. He added that there aren't many lots like that available in town. In fact, he said, "I don't have any right now."

Larger parcels in the area are valued proportionately higher, according to the Multiple Listing Service figures. A 10-to-12-acre parcel off the Ranch sold for an average price of $57,000 in 1995, while 20-acre tracts that sold last year averaged $74,919.

Trying to come up with a "per acre" value for bare land in the Seeley Swan is difficult, since the locations and amenities of the various properties--type of access roads, distance from highway, availability of electricity and drinking water, and things like creeks and views--vary greatly. According to Wes Newbold of Great Bear Properties at Seeley Lake, bare land with electricity available and decent access is usually offered in the $5,000-per-acre range. However, prices can go as high as $10,000 per acre for some of the large riverfront properties in the Swan Valley.

Prices for bare ground are higher than what they were just a few years ago, when they could be found priced in the $3,000-per-acre range, according to local realtors.

Lakefront Prices

Lakefront properties are priced considerably higher than residential land, though very few lakefront homes come up for sale, according to Newbold. Those that do are sold before they hit the market, he said. Comparing "average" sales prices for lakefront homes is difficult. The Multiple Listing Service reported only two lakefront home sales in 1995--with an average price of $272,500 each. Lakefront homes on one-acre lots currently advertised for sale by owners in the Seeley Swan are priced over $300,000, according to local real estate agents.

Changes in property values in recent years will affect taxpayers and landowners when a statewide reassessment is completed this year. The last statewide reassessment was in 1992. The tax assessor for the Missoula area is now studying all property values in the Seeley Swan. New assessments will reflect the current fair market value of the properties, according to Jim Fairbanks, assessor from Missoula.

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