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Big Sky Bargain Basement
The 9,300 square foot house in Summit View subdivision near Big Sky was listed in the $4 million range but is now down to $2.393 million. Along Summit View Drive, a windy road that cuts through a young conifer forest behind a red steel gate in Big Sky, is a 9,300-square-foot home with five bedrooms and nearly twice as many baths. The mansion can be had for $2.4 million. And that's a fetching price compared to the $4 million price tag attached to it just a year ago. Photo by Erik Peteresn/Bozeman Daily Chronicle

BIG SKY - Along Summit View Drive, a windy road that cuts through a young conifer forest behind a red steel gate in Big Sky, is a 9,300-square-foot home with five bedrooms and nearly twice as many baths.

The six tall windows that wrap around the living room and wood stove provide an unobstructed view of Lone Peak. Downstairs, the WhisperKool 4200 awaits programming to set the climate in the glass-walled wine cellar.

The mansion can be had for $2.4 million. And that's a fetching price compared to the $4 million price tag attached to it just a year ago.

And while the home's hidden passageways and boulder-lined hot tub make it a particular sort of palace, the deep price cut is common these days in Big Sky.

All along the paved switchbacks in the Madison Mountains, prices for homes and condos have been cut by 30 percent to 40 percent over the last year, said Martha Johnson, president of Rivers to Peaks Real Estate, who has been selling property in Big Sky for well over a decade.

It's an uncoordinated fire sale fueled by foreclosures and cash-strapped homeowners looking to unload property, Johnson said over a latte at a coffee shop last week.

All of which is causing property in the land of "The Biggest Skiing in America" to move again.

"The forces driving down the prices are repercussions from a year ago, the economy tanking," Johnson said. "Layer on top of that job losses. Layer on top of that the prices of '05-'06, when the real estate market caught on fire. Some of the folks who bought in that extreme high of the market are having to let go of their property."

In a more modest subdivision down the mountain from the turnoff to Summit View, is a wood-sided house that has never been lived in and sat on the market for a year and a half priced at $1.17 million.

It finally sold after the asking price was slashed by almost $300,000.

Farther down the hill, one condo that had been listed for $250,000 was sold at auction for about $70,000.

"If you want to sell it, it has to be priced to sell," Caroline Laney Kalpinski, who also works at Rivers to Peaks, said while showing off a condo in the Big Sky town center.

It's a scenario that, at Johnson's company, has been playing out over and over this year and is having pronounced effects, she said.

Year to date, sales are up 15 fold. But the "price per transaction" is down 35 percent.

And, in Johnson's opinion, it is going to have to play out many more times over to get the Big Sky real estate market back to normal.

"For the market to recover, we have to sell the foreclosures," she said. "For the Big Sky market to recover, we have to get that off the shelf."

Foreclosures are having the biggest effect, she said.

Homeowners who perhaps lost a good-paying job or took a hit in the stock market then decide mortgages and homeowners-association fees - which can easily total $25,000 a year -- aren't worth it and give up the house.

Banks, in turn, inundated with property, become more eager to sell property quickly.

Ron Farmer, president of First Security Bank in Bozeman, said normally, banks act just like any other property owner and "sell it for as much as we can."

But some banks - his and other local banks not among them - wind up in a bind and accept to sell property for a loss in order to get cash.

"It does happen," Farmer said, "particularly in this economic environment. If the bank is in a difficult situation wherein they need liquidity, they may be required to dump property, but it's not their first choice."

Johnson, who first moved to Big Sky to work on a dude ranch 22 years ago, is upbeat about what the buying frenzy means for the mountain community.

While the prices are enticing, the fact that people are putting money down on properties suggests people are feeling more optimistic about their economic futures, she said.

"There's confidence in the buyers. They feel confident in the world around them," she said.

And, she said, the buyers she has dealt with are not the speculators of years gone, but families who can "finally afford Big Sky."

"It's more lifestyle buyers coming in. People who are going to put down roots and contribute to the community. In the long run, that will be good for Big Sky," she said.

 

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