Terri Casey, Aug 28, 2007

Sun Valley, Aspen, Jackson Hole, Lake Tahoe, Sandpoint

Even though it's the newcomer in the group, Sandpoint now plays in the major leagues of Rocky Mountain places where people of means look for primary, second, and vacation homes. High-end real-estate developments in the area are vying for the hearts and wallets of these wealthy prospective buyers, while local leaders and citizens try to sort out how to welcome the demographic change here while preserving and protecting what makes our area so attractive to begin with.

"Even in what the nation is calling a down marker, our prices for luxury real estate have not adjusted-on the contrary, they've maintained or accelerated," says Dale Pyne of Dale Pyne Real Estate Investments, current president of Selkirk Association of Realtors, which comprises Bonner and Boundary counties. "When prospective buyers who can be anywhere they want to be take a look at us, they're often awestruck; what they find here is tremendous natural beauty and space. People quickly see that there are so many opportunities for four-season activity that you don't have enough time to pursue them, and very few places in the nation pose that challenge. Relatively speaking, we are still unrecognized and therefore still very much a value."

Luxury-lifestyle buyers love natural beauty and space, but according to many developers, they also love amenities.

"Of course people come here for the waterfront, but folks will come from all over the world to The Idaho Club because of the Jack Nicklaus golf course," says Jeff Bond, broker/owner of Tomlinson Sotheby's in Sandpoint. "People also want amenities like skiing, fishing, a quaint village, almost always art galleries and the arts and culture, good restaurants. We have all of those things."

But different amenities appeal to different luxury buyers, developers say. For some, the top amenity might be privacy, or space for grazing their horses, or healthy rivers for fishing; for others, it's a sense of community that's available even to part-time residents; for yet others, it's easy access to downtown Sandpoint for movies, music, food and wine. Each luxury-real-estate developer faces the challenge of distinguishing their offering and getting the word out, and many in Bonner County are working hard-and spending mightily - to grab the attention of luxury real-estate buyers across the U.S.

Selling the dream

At Seasons at Sandpoint, on Lake Pend Oreille east of City Beach, prices range from the mid-$400,000s for a one-bedroom, two-bath condo to in excess of $2 million for 4,100 square feet with home theater, outdoor summer kitchen, two-car attached garage, and other high-end features.

"We're seeing a mix of people using their Seasons condo as their primary residence or second home - people who are not enjoying taking care of acreage anymore, who want to be a part of a community and so are moving back into town," Chambers says. "These people may travel two or three months a year, and while they're in Sandpoint they want to spend their time boating, waterskiing, enjoying the arts at The Festival and The Panida, and being downtown.

An amazing number of our buyers spent time on a lake as a child and have an idyllic memory of it, and they want to create an upscale version of that in this stage of their lives," Leedy says. "Because we're a waterfront community and waterfront is at a premium, we focus on that."

"The million-dollar figure is not that striking anymore"

Jeff Bond says he decided to affiliate his real-estate firm, formerly Tomlinson Black, with Sotheby's International "because we were getting more $1 million-plus listings that required a more sophisticated marketing approach than we could manage." The week that Tomlinson listings hit the Sotheby website, Bond and his agents got emails from London and Spain.

One need look no further than the numbers to get the sense of the area's trajectory: According to MLS records, from 2000 to 2003 in Bonner and Boundary counties, 2 homes valued at $900,000 or more sold. From January 2004 to July 2007, 57 such homes sold, and in late August of this year, 96 such homes were listed. The same increase is true of vacant land: From 2000 to 2003, 5 parcels of vacant land under five acres sold for $500,000 or more. From January 2004 to July 2007, 32 such parcels sold, and in late August, 56 such parcels were listed.

In late August, there were 106 million-dollar home and condo listings in Boundary and Bonner counties, ranging from $1 million to $12 million, with an average of $1.8 million and a median of $1.75 million. "There are also lots of land sales going on now that will end up having multimillion-dollar homes on them," Bond says. "With the cost of building a quality home today, the million-dollar figure is not that striking anymore."


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