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Homes out of range

Sun., April 2, 2006

In 1994, a million dollars bought a waterfront lumber baron’s mansion in Coeur d’Alene’s most elegant neighborhood.

That same East Lakeshore Drive residence sold for $1.6 million last year. This might have been a bargain, considering a two-bedroom, one-bath cottage a few doors down just went on the market for $1.1 million.

The cottage is one of 72 homes on the market for $1 million or more in Kootenai County, compared with 18 in all of Spokane County. Thanks to several years of the North Idaho real estate market running at a red-line pace, million-dollar homes are becoming commonplace.

John Beutler is the Coeur d’Alene real estate agent who sold the mansion in 1994 and again last year – along with 20 other million-dollar homes. Beutler offered a recent nickel tour of the region’s bumper crop of high-end homes.

What may be most revealing is what those homes didn’t have.

Forget about servants’ quarters, marble bathtubs, fancy topiary, meandering driveways or sweeping staircases. In Kootenai County these days, most of the million-dollar homes on the market are best summarized as big, well-constructed dwellings with pretty landscaping and great neighborhood locations. They might have high-end plumbing fixtures and lots of built-in doodads, including several with private theaters, elevators and wine caves. One recent listing, for $1.8 million, included a $350,000 “media room,” which seats 10. “It was better than any movie theater,” Beutler said.

But some of these spendy digs don’t even come with grandiose North Idaho views.

One home in Hayden’s exclusive Forest Hills subdivision fetched $410,000 just two years ago, Beutler said as he navigated his sport utility vehicle through the iron gates that guard the neighborhood. Beutler stopped in front of a four-bedroom, three-bath home on East Woodstone Court. The 3,800-square-foot residence is now on the market for $1.1 million. With a 20 percent down payment, the 30-year, 6 percent mortgage would require a $5,276 monthly payment. That’s more than twice the average monthly wage for a typical Kootenai County resident, according to the most recent state labor statistics from 2004. Roughly half the people who buy million-dollar homes pay cash, Beutler estimated.

Although the $1.1 million Forest Hills house is less than a five-minute walk to Hayden Lake, it has no view of the water or the nearby mountains. Its windows face other houses in the same price range. The price increase, Beutler said, is based on other recent neighborhood home sales.

Prices have jumped on the county’s starter homes, but “the upper end has increased as much or more as the lower end,” Beutler said. The trend will continue for at least another five years, he predicted.

Not long ago, newer million-dollar homes rarely hit the market. Mostly, these were dream homes, custom-built by newer retirees, Beutler said. But with the superheated housing market, it’s hard to find skilled labor to build these homes. That’s why some are opting to buy rather than build a dream home.

Homes worth a half-million or more account for less than 5 percent of the market in the county, but is changing fast. Today, a million-dollar sale no longer generates much buzz in the real estate community, Beutler said.

“We’re almost there right now,” he said. “The next benchmark is $2 million.”

The high end is also growing in Spokane, but at a slower rate, said Denise Fox, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker and one of the city’s top sellers in that market. “Coeur d’Alene definitely has more million-dollar homes. But we’re seeing more.”

Although new construction in Liberty Lake and at several planned communities include price tags of $1 million or more, much of Spokane’s seven-figure sales include grand old homes on the South Hill. Fox called these residences – many of which were built by skilled artisans and craftsmen at the turn of the century – a comparative bargain.

“They’re pretty darn fabulous houses,” she said. “To rebuild them today would take millions and millions.”

In Kootenai County, several million-dollar properties on the market are being built on speculation, including a $1.2 million residence in the Armstrong Park neighborhood east of downtown. Another house higher on the hill, valued at an estimated $1.9 million, is an exact copy of the owner’s mansion in Beverly Hills, Beutler said.

When finished, the house now under construction will have two master bedroom suites and an elevator. It also has an amazing view of the lake and of downtown Coeur d’Alene, but its steep hillside perch leaves little room for a yard. Even Beutler said he was surprised to see “spec homes” being built in the seven-figure range.

Then again, “When you have a view and a house of any size, you’re going to be in the $1 million range,” Beutler said, continuing his tour. When asked if it was possible to find waterfront for $1 million, Beutler responded, “Not anymore, not close in.”

Actually, for a hair above $1 million, one can buy a two-bedroom, one-bath cottage at 1103 E. Lakeshore Drive. The 1,700-square-foot home is across the street from Sanders Beach and just minutes from downtown. And it comes with a private boat slip, said Carolyn Berry, the listing agent.

“This one just cries for a hanging swing,” Berry said, also noting the house comes fully furnished.

Berry has advertised the property in Seattle newspapers and has had interest from several prospective buyers. Although the price might seem high, “It’s not near as shocking as it used to be,” she said.

Real estate agents in other parts of the country are often surprised when they find out what’s going on in North Idaho, said Beutler, who was named Century 21’s top-selling agent in the world in 2003 and again last year. Beutler had 179 sales, including 21 homes in the million-plus price range last year. That doesn’t include six condominiums he sold that are under construction by local businessman Duane Hagadone. Each of the condos is in the $4 million range.

Beutler declined to reveal the total value of the homes he sold last year. “It’s almost embarrassing,” he said.

Beutler swears he gets just as excited, if not more, when helping people purchase a starter home, although it’s becoming harder and harder for young families to purchase a home of their own. The North Idaho real estate market, with its growing abundance of seven-figure properties, is now beginning to resemble the California market.

“I’m concerned about affordability,” Beutler said. “It could mean fewer young people staying here.”


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