Californians Buy Idaho Rural Land

June 19, 2009

CaliforniaRun, Forest, Run! If Forest Gump was in California, he would be running for states nearby where economies, while they may be bad, aren’t hemorrhaging.

Let’s look at Idaho as an example of a state where  Californians (and others) are hoping to buy rural land and get some economic relief by seeking lower taxes (1430), lower jobless rates, clean air, less highway congestion,  lower crime rates, a strong sense of community, and a higher quality of life.

Idaho joins Wyoming, Montana, Utah and New Mexico as the states with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Idaho’s jobless rate ranks 18th in the U.S. at 7 percent, compared to California’s whopping unemployment rate of 11 percent (the 5th highest in the country).

Idaho ranks consistently high as one of the states with the highest quality of life.  Money Magazine ranked Idaho as one of the best places to live and work. Having lived just outside of Sandpoint for years, I can tell you that National Geographic Adventure, Sunset Magazine and Forbes all raved about Sandpoint’s outdoor appeal, ranking it among the Top 10 Dream Towns.

Why Leave the Sunshine State?

Why do people leave California and move to other areas like Idaho? According to George Will at Real Clear Politics, people and businesses are leaving California because of taxes.

“For 4 consecutive years, more Americans have moved out of California than have moved in. California’s business costs are more than 20 percent higher than the average state’s. In the last decade, net out-migration of Americans has been 1.4 million.

California’s income and sales taxes are among the nation’s highest, its business conditions among the worst, as measured by 16 variables directly influenced by the Legislature.”

A December 2007 Los Angeles Times story claims the mass exodus from California started “when it became too expensive for most people to buy homes” and has continued with the loss of  so many jobs. John Husing, Economic & Politics, Inc., adds, “people started leaving California because of housing prices – particularly younger couples that just couldn’t afford to buy a house.” People who are leaving the state, he said, are probably doing so because they’ll “do better” elsewhere.

“Doing better” often means feeling like you can still get ahead and leave something to your children by buying property you can call your own. Buying rural land in Idaho is still possible for people under the age of 30. Recent migration trends for Idaho are mixed, but there was a surge of new residents in the 1970’s and again in the 1990’s. Interestingly enough, but no surprise to those of us living in Idaho, the population influx coincides with economic downturns in California. Californians tend to cash in on their homes and decide to move to a place where they can get more for their money. Idaho is often the answer.

Idaho Rural Demographics

Here’s some interesting facts and figures about rural Idaho, taken from the Profile of Rural Idaho:

  • Idaho’s 35 rural counties – those with no cities over 20,000 residents – account for about 88 percent of the state’s land area.
  • Jobs in agriculture, including food processing and natural resources, make up 22 percent of the total employment in rural Idaho compared to 5 percent in urban areas.
  • About one-third of the state’s K-12 students attend school in rural counties. On average, high school dropout rates are lower in rural Idaho.

Buying Land

So, if you’re into wonderful scenery, reasonable land prices, low population, little crime, friendly people, and a place where you can still see the stars, consider rural Idaho. But like so many people that move to Idaho hoping to find the perfect piece of property, make sure to do your homework first.

As money and migration from California and other areas in the West fueled the economy, the Idaho real estate market has suffered the same impacts as elsewhere. Recreational areas such as Sandpoint are still a good bet for buying property even in a depressed market, but only if you’re prepared. Take a look at rural Idaho land listings and other land information to get a good idea of prices and availability.

I’ve spent my career advising people how to find the best property location and buying recreational property in Idaho. I highly suggest that if anyone wants to know how to buy Idaho land, pick up a book called, The Land Buyer’s Guidebook. It was written by local Sandpoint area (Priest River) Realtor, Marte Cliff.

Priest River, Idaho

Priest River, Idaho

Marte is well-known in the area as a reputable broker. When you download her book, you’ll appreciate her insights about choosing a real estate agent. She has years of experience as a broker and owner of her own real estate company. She probably has the most experience of anyone else I can think of when it comes to giving advice to prospective Idaho land buyers. I like her style. I was involved in a few transactions with Marte and she really put me at ease by knowing the market so well. She doesn’t cut Realtors any slack either. She has high standards and demands that she and her agents do a better job for the buyers they represent. I like that kind of honesty and frankness.

Buying Idaho land can be tricky. Knowing how to do your due diligence becomes even more important when you’re looking for vacant land in rural or remote areas of Idaho.  Marte tells you exactly what you need to know before you buy. She even gives you great insider information for getting the most out of your Realtor and a how-to guide for negotiating the purchase. Who better to listen to than an ex-broker?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many real estate companies in northern Idaho and numerous real estate agents. If you want to settle in Sandpoint, you’re definitely going to want to check out Mickie Caswell and her listings with Sotheby’s. Mickie is the highest caliber agent I know of and was born and bred in Sandpoint. She’s the best there is.

Be Prepared

When I was looking for a house to buy in northern Idaho, a Realtor once told me that she had seen so many people come and go. People often are on vacation, they see a beautiful and seemingly idyllic place to live, and they buy. Next thing you know, winter hits and they don’t like living in the snow. She had observed that if people could make it three years, they would stay forever. So many factors can make living in a new location difficult. Lost equity, lost jobs and the possibility of foreclosure threaten dreams of starting anew.

Especially now when the economic slump is hitting everyone hard and affecting life even in rural areas, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence? Jobs in many recreation-heavy communities have been heavily tilted toward construction and services. Many of the newest residents are self-made exiles from California cashing in on overpriced real estate. Make sure that if you are fortunate enough to cash in on real estate or stocks and want to relocate, that you are adequately prepared. Consider whether the job market is diversified enough to support you if you need to find work.

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