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Missoula by Mica Sheldon_Flickr

New West Daily Roundup for Aug. 15, 2016

Today in New West news: Missoula’s “unprecedented” real estate market, construction begins on Bozeman solar project, business advice from Qualtrics’ CEO, and Boise native makes it big in Seattle.

According to the Missoulian, home prices are skyrocketing in Missoula, Montana—to the eminent surprise of veteran real estate agents. Brint Wahlberg of Windermere Real Estate called it “unprecedented,” with a glut of buyers and not as many sellers. From the Missoulian:

Over just the last eight months, the median sale price of homes in the Missoula urban area have surged up 4 percent from $239,500 to the current price of $249,900. That’s a jump of over $10,000 since the end of last year and a $53,000 increase since 2011.

“It’s pretty wild,” said Wahlberg, a past president of the Missoula Organization of Realtors. “Especially for homes priced under $350,000, the options for buyers are smaller than we have ever seen since we started statistical tracking.

“It’s unprecedented as far as the number of listed homes,” he said. “Buyers are being forced to pay as close to full price as we’ve ever seen. In many cases they’re forced to pay over asking price. There are a lot of buyers and not a lot of houses.”

The picture Wahlberg and other real estate professionals paint of a market that is extremely favorable to sellers will be familiar to anyone who has been trying to buy a starter home in Missoula recently.

“A house comes out that a buyer likes, but they’re competing with four, five, six, seven other buyers right away,” he said. “They can’t come in with a low-ball offer and play the negotiation game. They have to make an offer right out of the gate. That’s one big reason why the median sales price has gained so quickly.”

Wahlberg said that sellers are realizing they can raise their list price.

“It’s based on what they are seeing in the market and what Realtors are coaching them on,” Wahlberg said. “The Realtor is telling them, ‘You are the only listing in this price range, so let’s go $5,000 or $10,000 higher.’ You’ve got buyers sitting on the fence waiting and they’ll go for it.

“The numbers we track show sellers are getting as close to the list price as they ever have before the real estate bubble.”

Wahlberg adds that part of the reason Missoula has become a seller’s market for the under $425K crowd is the lack of recent construction. He also told the Missoulian part of the problem is that, as home prices have gone up, wages have stayed stagnant.

Keeping with Montana, construction on a pilot solar program is underway north of Bozeman. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the Bozeman Solar Project is a collaboration between the city, NorthWestern Energy, and Montana State University, designed to generate 533,000 kilowatt-hours per year—enough power for 54 hourseholds. The program will not affect Bozeman-area consumers. From the Chronicle:

The up to $1 million solar photovoltaic system — funded entirely by NorthWestern — will be built by Bozeman company OnSite Energy on 2.3 acres of city land off Moss Bridge Road, near Springhill Road. The project is set for completion in late September.

The project is part of NorthWestern’s $3 million investment in “community-based” renewable energy infrastructure. Currently 60 percent of the power the company supplies to Montanans comes from water or wind-based sources.

“This is a new area for us and we’re interested in exploring the possibilities of this sort of project,” said NorthWestern spokesman Butch Larcombe.

The university’s role will be to study customer usage habits to understand the implications of large-scale solar installations.

“We are looking at how they could use the energy from a community solar project like this. How does this fit into how do people consume energy?” Larcombe said. “We’re trying to get a sense of how solar works out in the real world.”

Over in Utah, late last week, businesses convened at the Taking Utah Tech to the World Seminar in Utah’s World Trade Center in Salt Lake City to discuss “going international” with brands. According to Utah Business, global markets are “ripe for export,” especially among burgeoning international middle classes:

Across Latin America as a whole, birth rates are dropping and wages are rising, Adams said.

“The disposable income in Latin America is higher than across Asia,” [Craig Perry, a shareholder at Parr Brown, Gee, and Loveless] said. “There’s a lot of opportunity in those markets.”

Europe, too, is still a good bet, said Cody Broderick, founder of inWhatLanguage, though only time will tell how the Brexit vote impacts the European Union.

When a business is looking at expanding into a specific area, it can be useful to find local investors, people who know the area and have good local contacts that can also help the business grow, Adams said. When Alta Ventures expanded into Latin America, he said, the company invited 30 local families to invest in the company, which in turn provided the company with further opportunities beyond monetary support.

“It’s a lot of block and tackling. It’s a lot of hard work,” he said of expanding internationally.

The seminar also included an interview between Owen Fuller (Chief Evangelist of Boombox) and Ryan Smith (co-founder and CEO of unicorn company Qualtrics). You can listen to it here.

Finally, way up in Seattle, Washington, a Boise native is making his mark in the financial-technology sector as the head of startup Remitly. According to the Idaho Statesman, Matt Oppenheimer, 34, is making a name for himself in the Emerald City. Indeed, Matt is descended from a long line of illustrious Idaho businessmen; his grandfather founded Oppenheimer Cos., which does food processing, sales, marketing, and commercial real estate. Matt’s father currently serves as Oppenheimer’s CEO. From the Statesman:

Oppenheimer had the idea for Remitly while working for Barclays Bank in Kenya. He noticed how much people relied on outdated methods such as wire transfers to send money between countries. Remitly’s mobile and desktop transfer system offers a more efficient and affordable way for foreign workers in the U.S. to send money, or remittances, back to their home countries. The cost to use it is free for transfers that take three days or $3.99 for an instant transfer.

“Living in Kenya and seeing how remittances went … this was a problem that I not only felt like I could build a big business, but also thought I could make a big impact on the world,” Oppenheimer says.

Boise startup guru and investor Mark Solon, a general partner in Highway 12 Ventures, took Oppenheimer under his wing, laying the path for Remitly to ramp up at the Seattle offices of Techstars, a Boulder, Colo., startup training and development program in which Solon is managing partner.

Although Matt ruled out returning to Boise (and Idaho) in the short term, he nonetheless professed his love and admiration for both the state and his hometown.

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