With Blaine County’s total taxable assessed value reaching $18.9 billion this year—an increase of 70% since 2020—the median residential sales price in Blaine County has also increased, from approximately $600,000 in 2020 to $775,000 in 2022.
Blaine County’s median price of $775,000 was the product of a 29% increase over the two years. Nationally, the median price increase over the same time span was 34% (to $440,300 from $329,000). It is noteworthy that Blaine County’s median price is $334,700 over the national median home price.
Fiscal year 2020’s assessed valuation of Blaine County’s nearly 20,000 parcels of land came in at $11.1 billion, which was followed by a 23% increase in 2021 to $13.7 billion.
According to Blaine County Assessor Jim Williams, the assessed property values continued to skyrocket in response to a steady demand for housing from a massive influx of new, out-of-state residents who left their home states at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When Sun Valley was discovered by people in other areas trying to get out during COVID, a lot of people came from other states and were paying cash for a lot of the properties,” Williams said. “The increase in demand caused the value to go up.”
Blaine County’s increasing housing values have affected the availability of housing units, the ability for residents to purchase property and the ability for residents to rent property, contributing in part to the region’s housing shortage.
The increase in values has had a beneficial effect for government entities and taxpayers across the county, however. An increase in taxable property value allows governments to collect more money from property tax at a lower rate. In 2022, every city in Blaine County, with the exception of the city of Sun Valley, increased their budgets significantly compared to previous years. Blaine County passed a $40 million budget in 2022 while touting a lower property tax rate.
The county’s tax levy to fund its budget decreased 24.4% as values continue to rise. The levy rate dropped from $92 per $100,000 in market value to $69.5 per $100,000 in market value. For example, the Blaine County School District received a go-ahead from voters on a $25 million plant facilities levy in August 2022. The increase in total assessed property value will enable the district to collect the $25 million for facilities renovations and updates at a lower levy rate.
These lower rates may be viewed positively by homeowners of the county, which make up about 69% of households. However, there is a significant portion—approximately 32%—of the population that is renting residences. The influx of residents that has affected homebuyers and sellers has also affected the availability of short-term rentals since the pandemic began, according to Sun Valley Economic Development’s Harry Griffith.
“What’s changed is that the post-COVID inventory is down,” Griffith said. “I think it’s down for certainly the short-term and possibly the medium-term, and the reason for that is we’ve had a number of people who have decided to move here full-time for remote work and have pulled their short-term properties off the market.”
Active listings for short-term rentals took a dip at the beginning of the pandemic, with around 1,100 available rentals in January 2020. This number eventually took a dive to just under 800 in October 2021. As of June 2022, the number of available rentals has climbed back to 1,000 active short-term listings. Realtors across the area anticipate an increase in total units in future years.
These total short-term-rental properties are still lower in number than at other ski resort towns, and there is very low availability of short-term rentals that can be rented for a year or more.
“When you look at a number of short-term rentals we have versus other communities like Jackson, Summit County, we have a disproportionately low number of short-term rentals,” Griffith said. “The majority of the short-term rentals are of shorter duration rather than professional properties that are rented or available for 270 days a year or more. There are a significant number that are available for only 90 or 180 days. That’s because people who own these properties want to use them. They use this opportunity to get a little more money.”
In addition, Griffith explained, “There’s not a lot of rentals that are smaller, like one-bedroom studios or two-bedroom studios. A lot of the inventory we have is three-bedroom, four-bedroom, five-bedroom homes,” Griffith said. “The majority of that inventory are people’s trophy second homes. They aren’t going to become long-term rentals—let’s put it that way. Nobody is going to take a $4 million, five-bedroom home and convert that to a crash pad for a group of young lift operators.”
These forces have made it difficult for teachers, health-care workers, resort workers not living in Sun Valley Resort’s dormitories, and emergency personnel to find adequate and affordable housing. Blaine County School District Superintendent Jim Foudy said that the lack of affordable housing has made it challenging to find eligible candidates for many of the district’s needs.
“The lack of affordable housing has impacted staffing at every level,” Foudy said. “The primary impact is related to our ability to recruit and hire candidates. We are seeing this in critical positions, like bus drivers. We are also seeing it in leadership positions, like the director of human resources and the special programs director position.”
The School District board of trustees recently took matters into their own hands to address the issue. In 2021, the board approved a $1 million emergency employee housing relief fund to help meet the needs of teachers and staff dealing with rising housing expenses. In addition, a fundraising event in the summer raised nearly $900,000 to support the first phase of affordable workforce housing development on properties in Hailey. The project is in conjunction with the ARCH Community Housing Trust.
The increase in home values and the decreased availability of housing post-COVID has affected almost every facet of the real estate business in the area. The growth in assessed value, however, was not initially anticipated, according to Williams, the assessor, and was exacerbated by the lack of availability of the necessary materials to construct new homes.
“During COVID, we expected values to go down,” Williams said. “We weren’t sure what to expect initially, but when there is something going on worldwide, my first thought was, “Wow, what is going to happen when all of these values go down?” and that didn’t end up happening. Instead, we saw these values go up.
“During COVID, when there were shortages of lumber and people were waiting for material, the price of lumber was going up and the price of material was going up. This made houses that were already built more valuable because you could either buy this now or spend a lot of extra money to build it on your own and not have things delivered for six months to a year.”
Material prices, however, have seen some significant decreases since the beginning of the pandemic, but the access to lumber and building materials still has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s still hard to get things,” Williams said. “We hear anecdotal stories of people waiting for a year for a refrigerator or an oven. All the components of a home, based on availability, may have a variety of costs, or wait times on getting these products in.”