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The Missoula Organization of Realtors asking the Missoula County Commission candidates about how to reduce the high cost of housing is like one thief asking another how to reduce crime. Both the Realtors' group and county commissioners across Montana have a vested interest in keeping property values high and making them go higher if they can.

Realtors get a 3 to 6 percent commission on every real estate transaction. It is in the Realtors' best interest to get the highest possible price for a seller; the seller is happy, the Realtor is happy and the county commissioners are happy because appraisal values go up with every "comparable" sale. So if properties in Missoula County turn over, on average, every four to six years, we are assured at least a 3-6 percent increase in values every appraisal cycle.

It is a no-brainer the commissioners prefer higher taxable values so they can meet their budgets. If a reappraisal cycle by the Montana Department of Revenue results in lowered values, as in this most recent cycle, commissioners have to sharpen their pencils and cut costs.

So, how do we bring values back down? We could regulate Realtor commissions by law, or we could deduct commissions from the purchase price for appraisal purposes (that was tried in the 1990s and the Realtors' lobby and the Montana Association of Counties came in and killed the legislative proposal in committee). We could all move out of the county to a less-expensive property and let the market correct itself sometime in the next century. No easy answers here.

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As far as county government, Rob Natelson had it right a few years back: embark on a discussion of which (local) government services we don't want and cannot afford, and work to ensure the ones we keep are administered efficiently.

Don Larson,

Seeley Lake

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