A roundtable discussion
By Bay Stephens EBS Staff Writer
On Nov. 30, EBS brought together five of Big Sky’s top real estate brokers and agents for a roundtable discussion to gain a well-rounded understanding of Big Sky’s current real estate market. Martha Johnson, with Big Sky Real Estate Company; Lauren Knox, with the Yellowstone Club; Eric Ladd, with L&K Real Estate (and publisher of this newspaper); Tallie Lancey, with Sotheby’s International Realty; and Sandy Revisky, with Christie’s International Real Estate Pure West attended, representing more than 85 years of combined experience in the Big Sky market.
Using words like “robust,” “dynamic,” “vibrant” and “momentous” to describe the market, these experts provided insights on everything from buying, selling and investing in Big Sky, to issues of affordable housing while we filmed and facilitated the discussion.
While national real estate prices slowed this year after a decade of growth, the Big Sky market is on track to outstrip any one of the past 10 years. Last winter may be a big reason why.
“2018 may forever be remembered as the year that Big Sky was really discovered and kind of hit the map,” Knox said. “It started snowing in Big Sky and it never stopped …”
While Utah, Colorado and California had historically bad snowfall, Big Sky’s deep and consistent coverage was shared far and wide on social media, bringing throngs of first-time visitors to the Montana resort. The word got out, and people are looking to buy here, Knox said.
Big Sky often lags national trends by one to two years, Johnson said, adding that while some clients talk of a softening market, buyers are still bullish.
Considering the healthy Big Sky market, these realtors advised prospective buyers to be well informed and prepared to act quickly. Now is also a great time to sell, they agreed, counseling owners to enter the market with their properties priced fairly.
On the investment front, the group has seen few short-term investors coming into Big Sky’s real estate market lately. A high percentage of cash buyers are more interested in the lifestyle than flipping properties, a far cry from the norm of 2008.
“People are buying in Big Sky because they love Big Sky,” Revisky said. “They love everything about it.”
Unless clients are emotionally attached to the area, have a long view and will bank on their property appreciating, Lancey advises her clients against buying for cashflow purposes. “In so many of my initial phone calls with buyers, I say, ‘Big Sky’s not a good investment,’” she said.
Knox thinks there are likely many good investments from an appreciation, rather than cashflow, standpoint, comparing the local market to that of Vail in the mid ’90s or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the early 2000s. These combine for the makings of a strong residential community.
The Big Sky community excels in philanthropy, Lancey said. However, the area lacks an abundance of activities for visitors to do aside from skiing, Ladd has repeatedly heard from buyers.
The area needs an increased diversity of family friendly off-mountain options. These create opportunities for families to be together and make memories that build traditions, Knox said.
The realtors addressed growth in Big Sky, an issue met with ambivalence by longtime locals. While Johnson thinks growth has been controlled and sustainably managed in the absence of a nearby metropolitan center, the recently established amenity base—including a hospital, grocery stores, schools and new hotels, among others—sets the stage for accelerated growth. Ladd had a different perspective.
“I do believe there’s such a thing as too much too fast,” he said. “And I think we’re dangerously approaching that line.” Ladd thinks Big Sky shouldn’t be afraid to put a governor on growth to preserve the area’s integrity, and avoid pinches with water supply, sewer volume and traffic.
Lancey chimed in with what she often tells her buyers about the land here that could still be developed: “We’re only halfway there, so buckle up.”
As growth continues, the enduring shortage of affordable housing will come into sharper relief—an issue complicated by a land shortage, slow permitting approval at the county level, and short-term rentals, such as VRBO and AirBnB, that take long-term rentals off the market.
“I personally think that it is partially the responsibility of our different resort areas to spend the money to put that sort of affordable housing into place,” Revisky said. In her opinion, Big Sky Resort, Moonlight Basin, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and the Yellowstone Club need to chip in the majority, considering that they are the largest employers. She added that there may be no other recourse than for these entities to set aside valuable land for the sake of affordable housing.
“Without government, it’s going to come down to the people that live here to make these hard decisions,” Ladd said. He believes that the real estate market has so much momentum and money that if the need for affordable housing isn’t championed, it will not be effectively realized.
Moonlight, Spanish Peaks and the Yellowstone Club make for a unique dynamic in Big Sky. Through trickle-down economics, the realtors agreed that these clubs have driven the area’s momentum, have brought in an estimated billions of dollars annually to the county, acted as additional marketing engines for Big Sky, and supplied jobs to communities up to 40 miles away.
“If you live in Gallatin County, you are probably only one step removed from dollars coming out of this area,” Ladd said. The clubs have also driven up building costs for land buyers who want to start from the ground up, he added.
Big Sky’s commercial sector constitutes an area of concern for him, as the shoulder seasons still expose small businesses without more consistent year-round visitors.
The Marriott-branded Wilson Hotel, slated to open this spring in Town Center, will be a major benefit to businesses that have suffered the quiet times of year, Johnson said.
Knox and Revisky shared that their clients generally come to Big Sky because people are largely hospitable, kind and happy, which the group attributed mainly to the area’s abundant recreation resources and access to open land.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we could do more to protect what we find special,” Lancey said. Although she’s not sure what that looks like without an incorporated municipality, she called on realtors to work together: “It’s incumbent upon us as an industry to identify what is special and do the best we can to protect it.”
The roundtable concluded with each broker and agent sharing their vision for Big Sky, 20 years from now. Collectively, they dream of a Big Sky where its natural beauty remains intact; that is more connected throughout, with trails and infrastructure that tie the Gallatin River to Lone Mountain’s summit; and that has a thriving community not overrun by crowds.