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'You Can’t Go Home Again'

by RAPHAEL BARTA Contributing Writer
| July 28, 2021 1:00 AM

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

With these words, Thomas Wolfe closes out his magnificent novel about home and longing. Mr. Wolfe wrote his masterpiece in 1940 but it is ever so true today as we look around us at the changes happening to our small town, to Bonner County, and to our way of life. The pandemic and the national political upheaval, the deteriorating quality of life in the large urban centers, created a diaspora that compressed many years of otherwise hard-to-notice change into twelve months. At first it was kind of a novelty, Idaho as the No. 1 state in the union to move to, the recognition nationally what we here have known all along. But now we are trying to stuff the toothpaste back into the tube. Mild-mannered tolerance for seasonal tourists has given way to shock (“What are all these people doing here, it’s a shoulder season!”)

It’s not just home prices (there is no affordability, forget it that ship has sailed). It’s not just the City Beach parking lots completely full of license plates that do not say 7B. It’s not just city streets overwhelmed with vehicle volumes they were never intended to carry. Impossible left turns. Driving too slow. Driving too fast. Going into a favorite establishment and for the first time ever, not seeing even one familiar face.

I hear of locals decamping to far away states where owning a home is still a possibility: states that aren’t popular or “discovered,” like Oklahoma and Alabama. Sure, there’s tornados and humidity and snakes. But as Sandpoint gets Aspenized, what happens to the folks who have been here a long while and have grown used to a certain uncrowded quiet inexpensive lifestyle. I see now why I moved around the country a lot when I was young – it gets harder to do as you get older and those roots have burrowed deep. A dream town is great until everyone starts having the same dream!

It was all about “place.” North Idaho is blessed with such great natural beauty, with lakes and mountains, healthy forests and fresh air and water. Real estate is about place too, as people want to carve out a little piece of this Paradise for themselves. Who wouldn’t want to live here? The way the free market works in America allows anyone with the funding to buy that slice of their dream. There’s more of them than there are slices of the dream, so demand/supply kicks in and prices go up. Fast. There’s a lot of frustration surrounding this issue: I have recently heard this is the realtors’ fault. But blaming a realtor for high housing prices is like blaming doctors for sickness or plumbers for leaks. In actual fact, Realtors do not want the market we are experiencing. It is very stressful for the people we serve: buyers are anxious because they know they are over-paying, and sellers are worried the music will stop and they won’t be able to cash out like their neighbor did a few weeks ago. I’ve been practicing real estate for a long time as a developer and as a broker, and I have never seen imbalances in the market like this. I keep searching for factors that will trigger a re-set, that will take the market back to some level of sanity. But even though the price of lumber is correcting now, and interest rates can’t seem to get any lower, and the pandemic is over (at least for the vaccinated) the crazy momentum persists. I fear Thomas Wolfe had it right all along, truly, You Can’t Go Home Again.

Raphael Barta is an associate broker with Century 21 Riverstone. He has an active practice in residential, vacant land, and commercial/investment properties. raphaelb@sandpoint.com