Ask the Expert: Erica Wirtala, Director of Public Affairs for the Northwest Montana Association of REALTORS®

Since the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates in 2022, home prices have fallen from their median pandemic peak of $690,000 and stabilized at around $550,000. But real estate industry experts say prices remain unaffordable for many homebuyers as they contend with a 7% interest rate and a lack of supply in the Flathead Valley.

Erica Wirtala, public affairs director for the Northwest Montana Association of REALTORS®, spoke with the Beacon to answer questions about housing trends and interest rates in the Flathead Valley.

The following is an excerpt from that conversation and has been edited for clarity.

Have real estate market trends returned from before the pandemic?

Usually this time of year is when things really get busy, with kids getting out of school and families talking about moving. That's when we see the last of the agents because they're all super busy. We're seeing more of the seasonal comeback than the Covid madness. I'm hearing from agents that they're having to try harder to sell their homes and that they're hosting showings again, which is a change from Covid times when things were sold sight unseen.

What have prices looked like since the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates?

The market has gotten weaker and quieter and prices are down from where they were two years ago. Everyone was hoping the Fed would cut rates and is disappointed that the cut might be delayed until September. That plays a big role in people's ability to buy homes. It's hard to buy a new home at a higher interest rate, but the people who can't decide whether to downsize or upsize – I think they're still doing it. I haven't heard of many deals falling through.

Will the inventory be expanded?

Developers are still building their inventory and projects are being completed. I still hear from contractors that sometimes it's difficult to find subcontractors, even as things start to ease. The supply chain seems to be better and you can order a dishwasher; things aren't quite as difficult as they used to be.

Anna Harden

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