A city of refuge

It’s not easy being in a city of refuge, for that’s what us “locals” have begun calling Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. When I arrived six years ago, those who’d moved in twenty years prior were still newcomers. Now, if you’ve been here longer than twenty-four months, you practically homesteaded the area.

In case your grumbling about my grumbling, here’s a few sobering realities.

Finding healthcare is almost impossible. It took me over five months to find a provider for my mother, three months for myself, and when I did, my atheist-like husband literally proclaimed it was divine intervention. Name dropping and referrals from my close friends (surgeons to boot) were no good. The scheduling supervisor told me thirty people had called just that morning, and the previous month, 900 new families were trying to get primary care. (Of course the Kootenai healthcare center is close, robust and has a heli-pad, so that’s a bonus).

The hotels are at capacity. No, this isn’t because of the seasonal tourists. That doesn’t happen for another month. It’s because many residents decided to sell high when city-dwellers were in a panic, fleeing unrest and uncertainty. The prices quadrupled in many cases, the sellers pocketing the cash only to find everyone else had the same idea. No available apartments, condos or home rentals have pushed people flush with cash to the hotels. Those fortunate enough to get a room at the famed Coeur d’Alene Resort (with the floating green and host of American Idol where Katy Perry famously trashed the penthouse, and made it reek of pot), are complaining that they have to wait for room service–albeit with a nice view of the water. My heart bleeds for them. Really.

Like the Hilton, the Marriott sits on the river

No contractors/builders available. Those who bought land and want to build are now in a pickle, the combination of no builders and outrageous lumber prices. In a town of 20K which swells to 40K in the summer, only so many builders exist–like six reputable ones. All the  others are former landscapers—including the guy who dug out the hole for our pool five years ago. Last year he reinvented himself as “a high-end builder,” and within two months, had three custom home contracts. Yikes. Just last night (Thursday), a young couple who lives two homes from informed us they were selling their 10 acre property because their builder poured the foundation, then bailed to take a higher-end home build across the lake.

And let’s talk construction material costs shall we? A 14 foot 2×4 use to be $9. Now it’s $34, and if it’s available. A sheet of press board was $8. Now it’s $29. Our dear friends from Seattle moved over, bought land in Rathdrum, but their contractor didn’t use a materials (wood) contract. Their costs for wood skyrocked from $27K to over $75K in the four months it took for permitting and HOA approval. But with no end of price increases, they flipped the property and made a $40K profit for those 160 days of waiting. They also extended the contract for their lovely, 3,500 square foot rental home in Spokane Valley (20 minutes across the border in Washington), which is only costing them $2,000 a month.

Permits. When we constructed our out-building (a stand alone structure typically housing farm equipment, or in our case, snow removal rigs and toys), permits took two weeks. Two years ago, it was a three weeks, but twelve months ago, just around Covid hitting, it reached six months. Last month? Almost a year.

Dirt made of gold. Two years ago, a ten acre plot right next to us with 360 views sold for $100k. Today, a 1/3 acre is now between $695-995. Where are we, Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas, living by billionaires and Celine Dion?

Homes… Five years ago, we looked at properties for my parents for retirement. CDA was a little slice of heaven: 2,000 square foot rambler on 3 acres was $125,000. Three years ago, that same property was up to $175K where homes of that sort hovered…right up until BLM and the “exodus.” That very home was removed, relisted for $375K and two days later, taken off the market and relisted for $600K. It sold. All the quaint little homes that were moderately priced are selling at San Francisco prices, owned by people who don’t even live here, but want the security blanket of a place of refuge. In another case, our engineer friend moved here four years ago from Sacramento California. The total cost for a three-acre plot and building a 3,200 square foot semi-custom home with a detached outbuilding for his toys was…wait for it…$410,000. He felt like he’d won the lottery. Mid-BLM, his neighbor sold his similar home for $1.8M. He’s now at the Best Western Hotel, out of his mind that he can’t afford to replace what he sold. What’s he going to do and where is he going to go? It’s a serious question. The outdoors, overall lower cost of living and safe environment haven’t changed. (To wit: Ghiradelli’s chocolate baking bar is $2.98 here. Over the border in Washington, that same bar is $4.35. Same store–Alberton’s, but different prices).

A few other tidbits: The area has one, count it—1- Costco. It serves about seven towns, because I’m just not sure little enclaves with 14K residents counts as a city. We have one—again 1, Target. Two natural grocery stores. A single drive-through car wash. The lone German food restaurant went out of business three years ago because business was so slow. Does this sound like a thriving metropolis? Now, when you go to one of the few marinas, the wait list is nearly three years according to the GM, who had too much to drink at his partners’ birthday part and was spilling the beans.

Am I annoyed? Not really. I’m more pragmatic than anything.
Growth and moving are a part of life. I don’t begrudge people moving away to a better place that to them (e.g. Californians and Arizonians) CDA is practically free. I’ve directly benefitted in strange ways. The hot yoga studio I attend now has a wonderfully gifted yoga instructor from Portland. What irks me is that non-retired folks who own or employed in shops, are cops or firefighters, game wardens or nurses, are so completely priced out of the market forever more, they are being shunted to the middle of nowhere.

Even so, there are over three dozen lakes in a forty-mile radius of CDA, the Canadian border is 89 miles north, and if you get on I-95, you can drive straight down to Las Vegas, going through the amazing fishing and whitewater experience of Hell’s Canyon and other world-famous sites. Heck, just thirty minutes from our home in the St. Maries-St. Joseph’s recreational area which hosts international fishing and hunting groups every year. Hint: if you’re from out of town, call it St. Joe’s area–no one calls it St. Josephs. A sure sign your from out of town.

Lots more to do than hunting or golfing

All waves must come crashing down

If you listen to the real estate agents (nearly 4,000 in a town of 20—yikes!) they’d love you to believe that you must buy now! But what’s to buy? The flood of properties on the market were snapped up at extraordinarily high prices. Today, twelve months later, it’s a different world. The homes are fewer, in less desirable areas and for those of us who watch the market, a definite downward trend of prices is evident. It’s as though the buy-and-hold mentality is being augmented with a realization that a) cities are not burning to the ground with Biden as President, b) a second home near the Canadian border isn’t really required and c) it’s darn cold and lots of snow here in the winter.

The rest of the community members (ergo, those not in real estate) are likening this to what happened in 2008/2009. That’s when many homes in golf course communities like Blackrock sold at record highs, where they remained until just this last year. We looked at a home listed for $1.9M sold and sold in a week for $3M, all cash deal. It was flipped and sold within another week for $6M. The general consensus is the panic-buying spree is over, everyone who purchased will never get their money back and in another decade, will eventually sell underwater.

View from the course at Blackrock

But what about us, you ask? We are staying put, despite receiving unsoliticed offers of 12X what we paid for this place 6 years ago. One can always create more homes (given money and time) but not views and mountains. Besides, where would we go? We’d have more money in the bank and be homeless.

So to all those still looking to escape to a gorgeously wonderful, safe and amazing area, I say come. Just make sure you bring a tent, a water purifier and food storage and some reading material and lots of patience.

End note: As to finding a primary healthcare provider, I was told that me and Rog just happened to have small problems which apparently pay well but don’t take a lot of time (migraine RX and shoulder injury). In and out, otherwise we’d have been turned down. And yes, healthcare providers are now profiling potential patients, but that’s another blog.

Photos: feature photo- the floating T at the Coeur d’Alene golf course. Photo gallery left to right: a pic from Silver Mt. Ski Resort, elk in our back yard, fly fishing, and a bunch of deer that were tired from trying to swim and rescued by a local fisherman.