realtor diaries

The Montana Broker Whose Listings Suddenly Won’t Sell

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock

In this biweekly series, “Realtor Diaries,” we hear from the people at the center of a wilder-than-ever market. Today, an hour-by-hour glimpse into the working world of Chad, 58, a power broker in southwestern Montana.

6 a.m. I get up and check my phone, have my first cup of coffee, and respond to people who were up at midnight emailing me. I have no issues with late-night emails or any contact whatsoever from my clients. My husband sometimes rolls his eyes, and I’m like, “What?! Maybe there are a few inconvenient phone calls, or midnight emails, all for a … $30K check!” I mean, come on. I am more than fine with it!

9 a.m. I am on the phone with a nervous seller trying to explain the latest crazy shift in real estate here. In the last few weeks, it’s like someone turned the tap off. Things in Montana went from absolutely insane to kind of dead!

This particular client is in a panic because her neighbors’ house — a mid-century ranch near Bozeman — sold in a day, for $200K over asking price, all cash, just three months ago. And now, listings just aren’t selling.

I try to tell them that you can’t just sit around and sulk. You have to come up with a plan. You host a broker’s open — where it’s like, “Stop by for lunch and a raffle drawing!” You go old school and market your house really creatively to try and make it stand out.

Everyone wants to blame the Realtor. But I turn it back to the house. Let’s reevaluate price, condition, location, and marketing. Also, curb appeal. How do we make it the nicest looking house possible? Over the last two years, we didn’t have to use stagers at all. Houses sold without lifting a finger. But considering the state of things today, I suggest we stage this house, or at least stage it virtually — which means you have your photographer come in and take pictures of the house without anything in it, and then the stager Photoshops in furniture. My seller is open to that idea.

10 a.m. I’m on the phone with another seller, and I have to be honest with her that her house smells like a litter box. If I can’t tell clients the truth about these things, then who can? We decide to move all things cat-related to her garage. It might help, but I’m not sure. Cats are tough when you’re a broker. Sometimes they poop in the bed because they’re mad you’re showing their house.

11 a.m. We have an office meeting. No one is worried. We’re all seasoned brokers and we’ve all been through some recessions. The truth is, people are still buying and still selling, it’s just not as frantic. And maybe that’s a good thing. You can actually take a client to lunch now.

Noon I send my assistant down to the Department of Natural Resources to find a well log — when a house has a well instead of town water, you need to get all the information on it so the buyer knows the condition. I always try to find different things for him to do, tomorrow I might send him out with an appraiser.

1 p.m. I show a house to a family visiting from L.A. This would be a second property for them. A lot of folks from California come here to look for a second or third home. Everyone wants a rustic but luxurious log cabin up in the mountains — but they also want someone to remove the bears and protect them from real life nature.

Or else they want an all-glass, mid-century, high design concept, where you can see sprawling land and mountains and forests from every window. That type of house will generate a bidding war unlike any other.

This house is kind of like a basic modern McMansion. It’s 5,000 square feet for $5 million, near Bozeman. My clients want to walk around the acres and the creeks. They keep calling it a ranch, but you really can’t call a property a ranch unless there are cows. It’s kind of funny because this client is wearing a cowboy hat and is not a cowboy. The real cowboys usually wear baseball hats.

I have another family from L.A. who like to fly in private, land right on the property I’m showing them, then let their dogs out to run wild. This usually isn’t a problem, unless the property has rabbits — and that happened once. I thought I was having a heart attack. Luckily, no rabbits died.

2:30 p.m. These clients aren’t feeling this house, but I know they’ll find something. We get back in my car. I still personally drive people around. I still take my past clients out to lunch to touch base with them. We still try to add that small town touch.

3 p.m. I drive them past a few more options, even though these homes are all 25 minutes from each other. There’s so much inventory that’s not moving. Night and day from this time last year. This time last year, we had people flying in every day on their own jets, or sending personal assistants to come look at homes for them and then offering all cash based on their personal assistant’s opinion. Some people were buying more than one property at a time, then deciding which one they wanted after they owned them both.

Now, crickets. I don’t know why, exactly. I don’t think it’s the bump in the interest rate because these are mostly cash buyers. But Montana will always be hot. Things changed in real estate after A River Runs Through It came out; after Yellowstone, we saw another big surge. The movie stars and musician types live privately here, there are so many who live around here that no one even knows about. Nothing compares to the star power in Big Sky — an exclusive ski resort with properties for sale as well. Everyone who works there or has to sign an NDA so civilians like us don’t find out what goes on inside. But the celebrities are in nearby college towns like Bozeman and Missoula, too. They buy the megamansions with the acreage.

4:30 p.m. It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m the only person in the office, all because I screwed up someone’s name on contract. Everyone in Montana wants to be mountain biking, fishing, or hiking, not working. It’s just how we’re wired.

5:30 p.m. I happen to have an evening showing at a log cabin tonight. The clients are locals with some family money — which sadly is the only kind of local who can afford housing out here right now. You need at least $700,000 to get a decent place — 3- or 4-bedrooms — in these parts.

Small little log cabins have specific problems. For one, they attract flies. The flies lay their eggs in the cracks. They come in when it gets cold outside and it’s warm in the house. So I already know, before I show this house, I’ll have to vacuum out some flies.

5:45 p.m. Ah, it seems I also have to remove a dead mouse from the bathtub.

All good with me! This is not unusual out here. There are lots of little corpses around.

6:30 p.m. I think my clients are interested. They were a lovely young family. Usually, the only people who are rude or angry in Montana are the ones that are from here, and are upset that a Californian can come in and buy a house when they can’t. It’s unfortunate, although I suppose I empathize.

7:30 p.m. It was a long day, but I like to work. I’ve never found something I like to do as much as selling real estate.

8 p.m. My phone buzzes. My husband shoots me a look. I’m like, “Oh please! It takes two seconds to answer someone’s questions. Get over it! So they need a pep talk after 7:30 p.m. at night. So what?! Go watch some TV!”

10 p.m. I go to bed at 10 p.m. every night. Every night. I used to worry about not working late into the night, but recently decided that whatever it is, I can deal with it tomorrow.

The Montana Broker Whose Listings Suddenly Won’t Sell