Millennials and Housing in Montana

Montana Real Estate

Montana Real Estate


by Robyn Erlenbush


The Millennial Generation is garnering much national attention for their spending patterns, use of technology, how they make buying decisions, and even their preference in housing styles and community amenities.  This generation, estimated to be about 79.8 million in the United States, is between the ages of 18-34 years.  Wielding an enormous influence since they have entered the workforce, they are a major component of overall market conditions and strong influencers of many emerging trends in real estate development across the country.  Interestingly enough, those trends are being embraced by multiple generations and are occurring across Montana.

This segment of the population makes up nearly 36% of home purchases and has the ability to truly stimulate real estate markets once they make the decision to purchase a home. So where will they chose to settle? That is a mixture of finding a market where they can start on their career paths and take advantage of a lively social setting, yet also being able to afford what the housing market has to offer.® published a forecast of which cities they anticipate will feel the effects from an influx of millennial home buyers.  The Top 10 list from first to last includes Atlanta, GA; Pittsburgh, PA; Memphis, TN; Boston, MA; Austin, TX; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; Houston, TX; Denver, CO; and Charlotte, NC.  Median home listing prices vary in these markets from a low of $149,000 in Pittsburgh to $585,000 in San Diego.  All of these cities are experiencing rebirths of their downtown with massive infill developments that create walk and bike friendly neighborhoods and the “urban edgy” vibe.

The National Association of REALTORS® published information last summer pertaining to this generation’s affinity for walking as a preferred mode of transportation, with further support for biking and an increase in public transportation. A portion of the survey stated, “Millennials are also shown to prefer living in attached housing, living within walking distance of shops and restaurants, and having a short commute, and they are the most likely age group to make use of public transportation.” Therefore the millennials are purchasing more than just a home, they are buying a neighborhood, community, and a lifestyle.  Urban areas that are being redeveloped to bring new restaurants, stores and more into areas that were not considered as desirable have become the new hip, walkable neighborhoods in many cities. Old, abandoned buildings are suddenly given new life, a new role.  

We are seeing several examples of these national trends emerging in our beautiful state.  We have a unique cross-section of vibrant and diverse communities that attract young entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, as well as increased growth in the high-tech industry, medical and sports/recreation sectors.  These higher paying jobs coupled with Montana’s amazing outdoor recreational opportunities, and not to mention “a very fun place to live,” provide an attraction for millennials to stay or relocate here.  As we look around our stunning state, it is always encouraging to see the positive changes happening in our cities and towns. Enhancements made to trails and parks systems, downtown redevelopment, and the overall housing situations are what make our cities better to live in and a draw to those considering moving here. Let’s take a look at a few of the more interesting highlights from the major markets around the state. 

The Bozeman community has long been ahead of the curve on parks and trails, but the concept of using them for commuting to work is a newer model.  There has also been a great emphasis on revitalizing downtown Bozeman and the neighborhoods that are within walking distance.  A very successful example of new construction is Block M, a multi-level attached housing development which is two blocks from historic Main Street.  We are seeing countless, small infill projects popping up within a four to six block walk of downtown.  There are three ongoing and new projects that feature luxury condos downtown. The “Village” is just off Broadway and Main and has several offerings from penthouses, stacked flats, to palatial townhomes as well as a mid-sized product.  The newest addition to downtown is 5 West, located at Tracy and Mendenhall.  This five-story complex features retail on the main level, offices on the second level, and unique, trendy urban condos on the top floors.  And lastly, the beautiful renovation of the iconic Willson School at Main and 3rd, which is being transformed into seventeen thoughtfully, redesigned condominiums.  

In Great Falls, the River’s Edge Trail has been a key component for enjoyment of the Missouri River for a quarter of a century. Nearly 60 miles of trail has been constructed in both urban and rural areas so that runners, walkers, and cyclists can all recreate. This impressive trail system is a boon to the town by drawing in people who appreciate an active lifestyle without having to travel far. Currently, $225,000 in private funding is being used in conjunction with $4.6 million in grants to “design, construct, repair, and maintain” the trail system over the next couple of years. Trendy developments along the river provide fun shopping and dining venues.  

Just last month, Helena published its 20 year Downtown Helena Master Plan to show their commitment to growing this area of the capital city which celebrates quality of life. The themes of convenience, vibrancy, uniqueness, and connectivity all intertwine for the vision to come true. The Great Northern District is positioned to appeal to young professionals who desire to live and work in an up and coming area. The Last Chance Gulch Retail Core is designed to be inviting to Helena residents as well as visitors to the area. The Fire Tower District includes condos and townhomes with the goal of alluring those who desire an eclectic mix of dining, culture ,and recreation. 

Billings proudly offers the Heritage Trail System, among others, for non-motorized use to support a healthy environment and a progressive community. The plan even goes so far to connect outlying areas including Laurel, the South Hills, and Lockwood. While long considered the center of regional commerce and healthcare, Billings’ downtown area has also undergone positive changes. Further makeovers are expected to keep coming in the form of the Gateway Exposition project in the East Billings industrial district. The area near the popular event venue, MetraPark, is slated to undergo a large makeover over the upcoming years to increase infrastructure, streets, and even a pedestrian overpass.

Some projects that are intended to spruce up an unsightly or vacant area still meet with opposition.  For instance, in Missoula, the historic Missoula Mercantile has been the subject of debate.A developer has been working with the Missoula Historic Preservation Commission and Downtown Association to come up with a plan that is workable to all parties which will demolish the current structure in order to make way for a $30-million, 154 room, five-story Residence Inn by Marriott hotel.  Missoula’s lively downtown is walking distance to the University of Montana.  

In the Flathead area, there is a unique project in Whitefish that goes by the name of Casey’s Pub and Grill. The building itself has operated as a saloon or billiard hall since it opened its doors (originally as the Sprague Saloon) in 1905. In 2012, a major overhaul took place and the establishment now offers multiple levels and atmospheres from family friendly dining to a lounge with shows to the only rooftop location in the Flathead Valley.  The nightlife events are beyond comparison and draw in a diverse crowd.  Whitefish is filled with distinctive shops and restaurants and is experiencing several infill projects near Main Street. 

For a town to provide a fun environment is one thing, but in order to thrive it must deliver jobs and affordable housing as well.  The Montana Association of REALTORS® quarterly state meeting compiles housing statistics and showed Montana’s median housing prices for the first quarter of 2016 ranged from $160,000 in Great Falls, $213,500 in Billings, $229,00 in Helena, $238,750 in Missoula, $240,000 in Kalispell and $283,000 in Bozeman. As you travel this summer, take an extra hour or two and explore the downtown renaissance occurring throughout our state.  I think most of us agree the “last, best place” just keeps getting better.  


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Robyn Erlenbush is a third-generation Montanan who lives in Bozeman. She owns ERA Landmark Real Estate with offices in Bozeman, Big Sky, Livingston, and Ennis along with NAI Landmark Commercial, and Intermountain  Property Management. [email protected]