Life remains leisurely in Idaho despite rapid luxury market growth


Luxury homebuyers from all over the United States are flooding into Idaho, drawn over the past year-and-a-half by small towns and open spaces.

With the second fastest growing population in the nation, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, the Gem State’s real estate market is booming.

“The luxury market in Idaho has not only steadily grown, but accelerated at a mind-boggling pace with the onset of COVID,” said Tye Scott, an agent with John L. Scott Real Estate in Idaho.

“In fact, the number of homes in North Idaho that have sold for $2 million or more since March of 2020 was greater than what had sold for that amount in the preceding decade,” he said.

Luxury landscape

Out-of-state buyers have been climbing aboard the Idaho train from major cities in California, Seattle, Portland, Austin and, more recently, New York, changing the landscape of the luxury market itself on the way.

“Where Sun Valley used to be the only city that came to mind when you thought of luxury, the migration of people and money into the area has opened new luxury markets across the state – from the larger metropolitan areas like Boise, Nampa, and Meridian to the smaller vacation cities of Coeur d’Alene, McCall, and Sandpoint,” Mr. Scott said.

Many are heading straight for second homes in resort areas in the northern part of the state.

“Our luxury home market has had a bit of an explosion in the past year,” said Jennifer Smock, a co-owner and managing broker at Windermere Real Estate’s office in the resort town of Coeur d’Alene.

“With pricing soaring in our area we have noticed that our premier price point needed to be adjusted up to reflect the appropriate quality that this sort of buyer expects,” she said.

Telecommuting has motivated many families and young workers to make the leap to farther-flung areas such as northern Idaho, aided by the sudden interest of celebrities and high-net-worth individuals in the area.

“Social media has had a large impact on this,” Ms. Smock said. “Many celebrities that already owned homes here have promoted the beauty of the area and the lifestyle it provides.”

Luxury estates in Boise, Idaho enjoy the natural setting and open spaces. Image courtesy of John L. Scott Real Estate

Despite all of the attention the resort areas are getting lately, Boise, the largest city in the state with a population of 225,000, and the surrounding area in Treasure Valley, still get about 80 percent of luxury property sales, according to Nick Schlekeway, founder/CEO of Amherst Madison Real Estate Advisors.

“People compare Boise to Austin, which I think is fair, just in terms of a growth market, up-and-coming area, people being really into outdoor activities,” Mr. Schlekeway said.

“This really tells the tale: in Ada County there were 156 homes in 2019 that sold for over $1 million,” he said. “In 2020 that number doubled to 312. Now, year-to-date in 2021 there have been 506, so we’re on pace to double that again.”

In Treasure Valley, luxury properties center on views of the river that runs through downtown Boise and along the mountain band just outside.

In the north, ski resorts, mountain vistas, lakefront property and golf courses beckon vacation home seekers.

Change of pace

No matter where in Idaho a property is located, it is sure to be in close proximity to nature.

“If you are an outdoor enthusiast, the opportunities are just about endless here,” Ms. Smock said.

More than 60 percent of Idaho is federal public land, with plenty of room to spread out.

“You’re able to access it easily,” Mr. Schlekeway said of the great outdoors.

“From all these markets, you’re anywhere from a five-minute drive to 20-minute drive to world-class mountain biking and white-water rafting, hunting, fishing,” he said.

“In some parts of Sun Valley, you’re a zero-minute drive because you just have to hop on your bike and go. Idaho has some of the best mountain biking trails in the world.”

Lakefront luxury homes in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho offer abundant outdoor options. Image courtesy of John L. Scott Real Estate

The way of life in Idaho also calls to out-of-state buyers who are looking to get away from big-city congestion and commotion.

“Once we entered the national lockdown and people were bound to the confines of their homes, I think it inspired many to take a good hard look at where they were and what they wanted,” Mr. Scott said.

“Most notably are the out-of-state buyers – those leaving behind the traffic, long commutes, higher cost of living, crowdedness, or even the politics to seek out a slower, more affordable way of life with values that may be more in line with their own,” he said.

Politics certainly have been on buyers’ minds lately.

‘Whatever side of the political spectrum you fall on – left, right or center – there’s a ton of people who are fed up with the politics in those markets and that’s a big reason they come to Idaho,” Mr. Schlekeway said.

“When COVID hit,” he said, “it sort of brought those things to the forefront.”

The pandemic also brought on a yearning for a slower pace for many, something that Idaho has in spades.

“The quality of life here still lends itself to that small-town quaint feel,” Ms. Smock said. “Although this is becoming less of a “small town” and more of a destination, the allure of the lifestyle is still very enticing for so many.”

Idaho is known as the Gem State for many obvious reasons – mountains, rivers, lakes and wildlife are part of the landscape.

“But beyond the natural beauty, I find people are seeking Idaho for its lifestyle and simplicity,” Mr. Scott said.

“Until late, Idaho has been more of a hidden gem that still offers opportunity, upholds values, and an untouched way of life that attracts those looking to invest in their future,” he said.