Long a haven for adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts, Montana is enjoying newfound popularity in the pandemic era due to its ample space, abundance of fresh air, and pristine natural beauty. As a result, the real estate market has skyrocketed, with the median home price jumping to $500,000—nearly double what it was in 2020. Further amplifying the trend is what some brokers have dubbed the “Yellowstone effect,” a reference to the hit TV drama in which Kevin Costner plays a dutiful cattle rancher in the state. “We can’t keep up with demand,” says Charlotte Durham of Big Sky Sotheby’s International Realty.
Indeed, Montana was one of the few places to notch population increases in 2020 and 2021, with the majority of new occupants relocating from California, Washington, and Colorado. Even media baron Rupert Murdoch got in on the action, recently splashing out a record $200 million for a sprawling property in the southwest corner of the state. “Lately, I’ve noticed a slowdown from the frenzy of the past couple of years,” adds Durham.
Such a dip, however slight, offers prospective buyers an opening into what has become one of the country’s hottest housing markets. Among the buzziest areas is the aptly named Big Sky, a scenic area just outside Yellowstone National Park that boasts private residential communities such as the exclusive Yellowstone Club (the only private ski and golf club in the world) and Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, as well as luxury resorts Montage Big Sky and One&Only Moonlight Basin. “The Big Sky community was ready for an influx of residents,” says Martha Johnson, vice president of sales and founding broker of the boutique Big Sky Real Estate Co., noting the recent development of town-center amenities as well as a wealth of trails, fly-fishing spots, and world-class ski slopes. “We also have sophisticated infrastructure like underground fiber-optic lines that make it easy to work from home.”
The affordability issue is particularly acute in prominent areas such as Bozeman, Kalispell, Missoula, Paradise Valley, and Whitefish. “But since we are such a huge state, many of our rural areas have not been as impacted by the market as those hot spots,” says Durham, who suggests the biggest surprise isn’t sticker shock but how easy it is to acclimatize to Montana’s cold winters. “Of all the people that I’ve helped move, I’ve not had one person or family say they made a rash decision,” she says. “People just love it here.”
A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2022 Fall Issue under the headline “Big Sky Bliss.” Subscribe to the magazine.