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As Out-Of-State Buyers Drive Up Prices, A Montanan Utilized Local Cred To Buy A House


A man in a sandwich board on a street corner does not usually make news, but a 27-year-old in Bozeman, Mont., did just that. He caught the eye of the hosts of our daily economics podcast, The Indicator. The sign says, please sell me a home. NPR's Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia bring us the story of that Bozeman local and how homebuyers from the coasts, people who can work remotely, have driven home prices way up in cities like Bozeman.


STACEY VANEK SMITH: Sean Hawksford came to Bozeman, Mont., for college and fell in love with it - great hiking, great skiing, tons of natural beauty.

CARDIFF GARCIA: And he also fell in love with a Bozeman local who's now his wife. And they decided to settle down in Bozeman, buy a house and start a family.

VANEK SMITH: And this plan was looking very good. Sean had a successful business. His wife works. They'd saved up a bunch of money, and the bank qualified them for a half-million-dollar loan.

GARCIA: And almost right away, they saw a house they really liked.

SEAN HAWKSFORD: It feels like a huge step, but we'll make the effort. We'll do it. We'll commit to making the offer. They responded and said, I'm sorry, we've accepted someone else's offer.

VANEK SMITH: Apparently, it was a cash offer.

HAWKSFORD: And then we did that 17 more times.

VANEK SMITH: Really? You've made offers on 17 houses.

HAWKSFORD: Eighteen now. And we have been - yeah, we've been turned down on all 18.

VANEK SMITH: He says all this started some years back. A handful of, like, ski bum, techie startup-y (ph) types moved into Bozeman from big cities, and the town slowly started to change. The median home price in Bozeman, Mont., is about 75% above the national median. It's well over $500,000.

GARCIA: And the median household income in Bozeman, which is about $50,000, is 25% below the national median.

VANEK SMITH: Bottom line, if you are a Bozeman local working a job in Bozeman, buying a house is becoming financially out of reach. The math doesn't work.

GARCIA: And this math is happening in small cities and towns all over the U.S. That's according to Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin, an online real estate brokerage. Glenn says that the pandemic has accelerated these trends because as more people start working from home, they've been migrating to smaller towns and cities where they can do their work now.

GLENN KELMAN: Sixty percent of the people making $100,000 or more a year can live anywhere and keep their jobs. And so they're moving everywhere.

GARCIA: Sean says a lot of his friends are talking about moving away. And Sean was pretty resigned to this, but then something changed. He and his wife are now expecting their first baby.

HAWKSFORD: So my wife and I went in for our 20-week ultrasound. We got actual photos of the really clear shape of the baby's face. And then we came home and just had a normal evening. And then I laid in bed for three hours without falling asleep because my mind was just going into absolute overdrive.

VANEK SMITH: Sean suddenly felt like he had to find a house for him and his family, and that's when it came into his mind. I might not have cash, but I do have some local cred, and that has value, too. Like, maybe I could leverage that cred into a house for my family. So he got a big piece of cardboard and a Sharpie.

HAWKSFORD: I made a sandwich board.

GARCIA: Sean spent three days standing outside in 15-degree weather. And it worked (laughter).

VANEK SMITH: It did work. We just got word since talking to Sean that a local who saw his sign offered to sell him a house. They said they really wanted a local family to buy it.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia.

VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.