HELENA — In recent months, Helena has been a very hot real estate market. Agents have reported heavy demand for homes, and a limited inventory. Coming into the fall season, there are plenty of signs the market hasn’t yet cooled off.
“I don’t see it changing a whole lot from the trend which we’ve experienced in the past six to nine months – and even since COVID,” said George Harris, CEO of the Helena Association of Realtors.
Harris points to data from the Montana Regional Multiple Listing Service. In September 2019, the median sales price for a single-family home in Helena was $282,500. That number jumped 6% in 2019, to $299,900. It climbed another 22% this year, to $368,000.
In East Helena, the median sales price was $239,225 in 2019. It rose to $290,000 in 2020 and $365,650 this year.
Similar patterns can be seen in other markets. Lewis and Clark County’s median price increased from $274,900 in 2019 to $365,000 in 2021. Broadwater County’s jumped from $208,400 to $369,000 over the same period, and Jefferson County’s rose from $355,000 to $460,250.
Harris said high demand for homes is obviously a big factor.
“Helena’s a desirable place to live, and people are becoming more aware of Montana in general as a wonderful place to live,” he said.
Julie Lamb-Heller, a broker-owner with Century 21 Heritage Realty, says that demand has changed the way her agents operate. Because of the influx of new buyers – many from out of state – she says they’re making more use of escalation clauses, which automatically increase offers when a competing bid is received. They have also adopted a new liability form for buyers who purchase a home without ever seeing it in person.
“We’re doing a lot of Facetime showings in houses where we’ll haul out the phone and show people around a house, and we’ve never done that too much before,” Lamb-Heller said.
But the data shows a big change in housing supply as well. The number of single-family homes for sale in September 2019 in Helena was 188. It was 126 in September 2020, and 65 this September. The median amount of time each home stays on the market has fallen as well, from 24 days in 2019 to 14 days in 2020 to just 7 days this year.
“It seems like we’re dealing with buyers for a much longer period of time than you would like because we’re not able to get them a winning bid on a house,” said Lamb-Heller. “So we keep showing them over and over, more properties, as much as we can – as much as there is available to show.”
The Montana Regional MLS covers most of western Montana, including Missoula, the Flathead and Great Falls as well as Helena. Data shows the same trends – higher prices, less available inventory and fewer days on the market – occurring across the region.
Harris says there have been some indicators nationally that the available housing inventory is starting to increase, but that any change here is likely to be slow. He said one big question will be how Lewis and Clark County moves forward with zoning in the Helena Valley, which would determine where new subdivisions could and couldn’t be built.