If you have $2.4 million burning a hole in your pocket and want a Foothills home with four bedrooms, eight bathrooms and a panoramic view overlooking Boise, real estate broker Brett Hughes has the house for you.
Located in a gated community near Table Rock, the house at 5480 E. Wildhorse Lane offers more than 7,300 square feet, seven garage spaces and a media room with a TV screen about 7 feet across. By the pool there’s an outdoor kitchen, complete with several grills, a dishwasher and a big-screen TV.
Every agent in the Treasure Valley would love to have the Wildhorse listing. But there are only so many homes priced over $1 million to go around — 46 in Boise, Meridian and Eagle from March 2016 to mid-March 2017.
For Hughes, it took 12 years to land this, his first big listing.
“We have 5,000 agents in the Valley,” he says. “Not many million-dollar homes sell every year. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”
There have been a few more needles to pick out lately. Forty-six homes listed at $1 million or more sold in the past 12 months in Boise, Eagle and Meridian, up from 25 in 2015 and a world away from 2010, when only one high-end home changed hands.
A literal castle, complete with turret and rampart, overlooks the high-end market. Located at 1700 E. Warm Springs Ave., the castle house, with five bedrooms, six-and-a-half bathrooms and a geothermal radiant floor, is priced at just under $3 million. Its dark wooden front door weighs 220 pounds. A suit of armor stands in the entryway.
The castle was originally listed at $3.4 million last July. Agent Missy Coman of Group One Sotheby’s International Realty in Boise says she receives regular calls on the property, though many are from people thinking it is a historical building offering public tours.
The castle was built in 2010. It is not open to the public.
Expensive homes with distinctive features can take years to sell, Coman says.
“There’s only one downside to it,” she says: “Not everybody wants a castle.”
In today’s seller’s market in the Valley, homes priced up to $750,000 that linger on the market for two or three months indicate that an owner has overpriced the home or that there’s something wrong with the property, Hughes says.
When the days-on-market number rises too high, owners either reduce the price or try again with a fresh listing.
For multimillion-dollar listings, however, the days-on-market statistic means almost nothing. The Wildhorse Lane house hit the market on May 11, 2016.
“It’s vastly different,” he says. “In the lower range, there’s a glut of buyers who can afford it. Up here, it’s like 20. Not 20 percent. Twenty buyers.”
Sandra Braley, another Sotheby’s agent, is working to sell a 6,200-square-foot home on West Highland View Drive sitting on six acres in the Foothills for $2.95 million.
Braley says most high-end buyers are from out of state and are picking between homes in Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Montana. She’s worked with several buyers moving from Alaska.
Wealthy buyers are picky and detail-oriented, she says.
“They are a bit fussier,” Braley says. “They look for the perfect picture, and if a house doesn’t fit, they move on to the next.”
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
The median selling price of an Ada County home was nearly $257,000 in February. Homes in that price range often receive multiple offers and often for more than their listed prices. Multimillion-dollar homes do not.
Prices for the homes listed above by Braley and Coman have all fallen at least once, which is typical. Prospective buyers often see listing prices as a starting point for negotiation.
Hughes says he negotiated a $1.3 million listing down to $1.1 million on behalf of a buyer.
“That’s a $200,000 savings, but it took two months,” Hughes says. “It was a grind.”
Not all sellers entertain negotiations, especially if the house is their primary home and they aren’t being forced to move by plans to relocate outside of the area.
Coman says a buyer she represented was considering making a lowball offer on a home priced around $1 million on Harrison Boulevard in the North End. That house had been listed several times over six or seven years because the sellers were in no hurry to cash out and leave.
“The other agent said not to bother,” Coman says. “The seller won’t sell for less than this, period.”
Perhaps the best-known agent in the local million-dollar market is Lysi Bishop, whose signs are posted in front of high-end listings all over the North End and Foothills. She is affiliated with Keller Williams Realty Boise.
On March 31, Bishop had four listings for more than $1 million.
Since March 2016, Bishop had sold four listings in Ada County for more than $1 million for a total of nearly $5.7 million, according to the Intermountain Multiple Listing Service. Two other agents sold three million-dollar homes apiece during that time, two agents sold two each, and 25 agents each sold one.
Bishop entered real estate in the early 1990s. Since then she has built a referral network and a team of about 30 employees and contractors who specialize in each aspect of buying and selling, starting with four employees who rotate answering calls to her office from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. She has her own marketing director.
With others handling scheduling, staging, cleaning windows, printing fliers and running everything else, Bishop says she can focus on showing and pricing homes and negotiating deals.
“I started on my own as an agent,” she says. “I learned very quickly that it’s almost impossible to do everything at once. I don’t fill flier boxes anymore.”
While upper-end listings tend to linger, Ada County sees the occasional flurry of activity, Bishop says. As of March 31, seven homes had been sold or were pending for more than $1 million. The days on market for the last four: seven, three, seven and four.
Surges like that sometimes happen when news breaks of big companies such as Albertsons expanding or relocating to the Valley. Bishop says possible causes for the recent surge include Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s hospital systems hiring high-earning specialists and Lamb Weston relocating its executives to Eagle.
“We’re in a hot spell right now,” she says.
SPARE NO EXPENSE
Not every agent listing a home in the low end of the market springs for professional photography. That’s a mistake, Braley says. And for million-dollar homes, images that make the property sparkle are essential.
That includes drone photography and videos allowing buyers to take virtual tours of the home.
Agents spend thousands of dollars on advertising, which in Braley’s case means paying for space in Outside Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, and targeting big cities where retirees are looking for a quieter lifestyle.
Boise Premier Real Estate launched a series of “Boise Cribs” videos showcasing million-dollar properties on YouTube with marketing firm This Is Boise. Several videos received more than 7,000 views each.
Hughes shot a Facebook Live video showing off a historic Downtown house by highlighting the old building’s ghost story. The video has been viewed more than 7,800 times.
Hughes says his 120 agents share videos with Facebook groups in Washington, Oregon and California.
“We’re trying to show what you can get here for that price, because in those places, and especially in California, you get 1,700 square feet for $2 million,” Hughes says. “Here, you can have so much more.”
COURT AGENTS, NOT THE PUBLIC
You don’t see many open houses for multimillion-dollar homes. Open houses mostly draw locals with a deep curiosity for luxury homes, not those with big bank accounts prepared to make serious offers.
But real estate is a networking game, so agents hold showings for the people who serve as the connective tissue to potential buyers: other high-end agents.
Coman has held three agent- and broker-only showings of the castle. She often provides food and wine to help lure top professionals. Once there, they see the hand-hewn ceiling beams, the rooftop hot tub, the tile shingles.
Hughes and Braley do the same.
“I invest in feeding and entertaining brokers,” Braley says. “It’s important they see the homes so if they have a client come through, they can recall that home.”
Zach Kyle: 208-377-6464, @ZachKyleNews. This story appears in the April 19-May, 16, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on residential real estate.