Seek & find: a buyers guide to finding the right spot in northern Idaho
Where do you start when searching for property in northern Idaho? On the Internet, on the street, at a real estate office all are good answers, but there are many more. And what kind of questions do you ask? The issue is more pertinent now because more of us are looking for homes; in fact, more people than ever are homeowners in the United States. The rate of ownership reached its highest level, 67.7 percent, in the year 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). To get a good overview of home buying, check out the agencys website: www.hud.gov.
Ken and Doris Sanger searched and found the perfect waterfront lot for their new home.
First, to help you set your course, find out how much mortgage you can afford. Lenders generally require that mortgage payments be no more than 29 percent of your monthly gross income. Local broker Charlie Parrish of Evergreen Realty puts extra emphasis on this step. The biggest thing people dont realize is how hard it is to make a living here, he said. Thats probably the one item that forces people to leave.
Next comes creating a wishlist, finding a Realtor to work with, researching financing options and securing a loan. Finding a Realtor you like to work with is important, but even more critical is deciding whether to be a customer or a client. The choice is up to the buyer, who is protected by law under the Idaho Real Estate Brokerage Representation Act. As a client, the buyer has signed a written buyer-broker type contract to be represented by a broker, who is legally bound to act in the best interests of the buyer.
We almost always become their agent, Parrish said. The advantage is that clients know that the agent is working on their behalf and that they have specific duties.
Now comes the actual house-hunting process. This is when buyers should consider the not-so-obvious particulars of northern Idaho: things like roads and seasonal access, schools, taxes, fire protection, wells and septic systems. Yes, thanks to our climate and rugged topography, along with our own particular economy and government infrastructures, our market does merit extra attention.
Pat and Richard Zurcher moved here in January 2002 after looking for two years and visiting Sandpoint for the past eight years, coming in summer, fall and winter. We did a lot of homework before we came here, Pat said. You cant expect anyone else to do it for you. Theres so much information out there. She searched on the Internet, mostly utilizing Realtor.com, and studied factors such as temperature, climate, population and wildlife.
We realized quickly that many places would be lovely but were too far out, Pat said. They settled on a property only four-tenths of a mile from a paved road in Cocolalla, a central location between Sandpoint and Coeur dAlene. And theyre prepared for what may come this winter and spring. They added 120 tons of gravel to their 400-foot-long driveway and bought a tractor with a blade to remove snow.
Ken and Doris Sanger started searching for property three years ago when they were living in Denver. They wanted to buy in the Colorado mountains, but it was too crowded and expensive. Thats when they started looking here for acreage or a lakefront lot out of town that would become a vacation or retirement home. After coming here and looking at about a dozen properties over five days, they changed their minds.
We wanted to be in town, and we wanted a house, Ken said. Although they didnt want to go through the building process again, they couldnt find the quality or design they wanted, so they searched for a waterfront lot on which to build a custom home. They found a lot in the Northshore subdivision. Since they didnt know Sandpoint, they visited schools and talked to people everywhere they went about the area in general and about neighborhoods.
Our main objective was to find a piece of property we were happy with, Ken said. What was more important to us was the area we were buying property in.
For a buyer who wants to build, permits must be secured from the appropriate government entity: Property in unincorporated parts of the county are subject to building location permits from the Bonner County Planning Department, while incorporated cities require standard building permits. Since 1997 when the countys building department was almost totally dismantled, the county has required only building location permits.
Stay within city limits or make sure the home was designed and inspected by an architect or looked at by a third-party building inspector, Parrish said, in advising people on looking at homes built after 1997.
When buying undeveloped land, determine if established water and sewer systems are available; otherwise, a private well must be drilled and septic tanks and drainfields installed, and permits are required. Expenses can vary greatly, as water veins may be tapped into at varying depths, and soil types may require more involved septic systems. Well-drilling is typically a set price per foot drilled, and there is no guarantee. Buyers are wise to make offers contingent on septic approval.
Some people forget about what a well and septic system require, Sanger said. And if they dont want to find out, then they should choose a location in town.
Another service to consider is fire protection. Although Bonner County has 10 fire protection districts protecting 231,820 acres of land, not all areas are covered. Buyers should check to see if properties are within a fire district. The Bonner County Planning Department has maps that show areas covered for all these services. Stop into the office in the Bonner County Courthouse Annex or look up www.co.bonner.id.us/planning/compplan.html.
Buyers who want to blend recreation into their lifestyle should look at property close to National Forest or other public lands; or in the vicinity of local resorts, Hidden Lakes, Stoneridge or Schweitzer.
One of the hottest topics on the minds of residents at election time is county roads. And for those looking for property outside the city limits, this should likewise be a priority. Of the 699 miles of county roads in Bonner County, 450 of those are gravel. Because of the climate and precipitation, unpaved roads typically break up in the spring as snow melts off and frost comes out of the ground, an unnerving sight to the uninitiated. The buyer should be aware of the possibility that winter snows or spring break-up conditions could hamper access to their homes. Of course, living in town eases the issues of roads and seasonal access considerably.
If a buyer has school-age children, education will be of particular interest. Potential buyers should visit schools to decide which attendance zone they wish to be in.
Sanger offers the following advice: Meet a lot of people and ask a lot of questions. And if youre buying out of town, do a lot more research.
- By Billie Jean Plaster
Billie Jean Plaster searched for property here more than 10 years ago and doesnt ever want to go through the experience again.
Marketwatch: Sales at record pace
Residential sales figures for the first eight months of 2002 were at a record pace an increase of 35 percent over last years sales in the same time period. Total sales volume through August exceeded $72 million, and the average sales price was up 11 percent.
As July 2002 sales hit record levels in the two northern counties with gains in all areas tracked, Bill Lewis, executive officer of the Bonner County Multiple Listing Service (BCMLS) said, The market locally has actually out-paced the national market in this tracking period, and it appears we could see record real estate sales this year.
Year-to-date residential sales hit 480 units by the end of August, up from last years 357 units. The average sale price for July 2002 stood at $159,772, compared to last Julys average of $122,665.
BCMLS President John Weyant (John L. Scott Real Estate) added, We are happy to see that the stagnant national economic numbers have not found their way to our area, at least as far as the real estate market is concerned.
Waterfront residential properties also showed strong gains. Total volume in the first half of this year was about $6.5 million compared to about $4.1 million for the same period last year, an increase of 58 percent. The average sale price of waterfront homes year-to-date stood at $291,568, up from last years figure of $242,259.
Sales of bare land also show record levels. The total number of land sales in the first eight months of 2002 was 280 units, up 31 percent over last year. The total sale volume of land rose 56 percent, reaching $17.65 million. The average sale price increased by 19 percent to $63,040. In July, bare land sales exploded; volume stood at $4.18 million, up more than 300 percent from last Julys volume of $1.24 million.
Agents are busier than ever this year, Weyant said. Its a great market out there.