On a single Friday in late May, real estate agent Sheila Smith closed deals on two houses on the Boise Bench. And she was busy preparing for two open houses on the Bench, including one place she renovated.
“If it’s priced right, it won’t last a week,” she said of homes in the neighborhood.
The Bench real estate market is bound by the Connector, Interstate 84, Federal Way and the Boise River. And that polygon is one of the fastest-appreciating markets in Boise, with bidding wars and multiple offers on houses.
“I’ve sold homes for $80,000 back in 2010 that I’m now selling for double that,” Smith said. “Granted, they fixed it up, but that’s just insane.”
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The dynamic is a familiar one: Wealthier people moving to Boise from out of state are gobbling up property in pricier neighborhoods. That pushes even more demand to the Bench, which has long been seen as a more affordable Boise alternative.
And with the pressure on housing in the Treasure Valley — costly rentals, low vacancy rates and too few homes for sale — that increased demand is making the Bench a hot market.
Five years ago, a buyer with a $150,000 budget and a desire to be close to Downtown Boise would have to hustle to find a small house in the North End. But at that price, the same buyer would have a long list of addresses to check out on the Bench.
Fast forward to this week, and there were just 14 single-family homes and townhouses priced under $200,000 on the Bench.
“For years, we’ve talked about the Depot Bench being on the cusp of great growth, and I think we’re finally there,” said Jen Visser, president of the Depot Bench Neighborhood Association.
“Boise is booming right now, and I think with the ‘Boise Boys’ show, people are going to want to move here.”
Starring: The Bench
HGTV showed a pilot episode of a possible series, dubbed “Boise Boys,” in May. The show follows the Boise owners of Timber and Love — Clint Robertson and Luke Caldwell — as they buy, renovate and sell homes in the city. More than 1 million people tuned in for the pilot.
Although its address wasn’t disclosed, the property in that episode was a midcentury split-level home on the Bench.
Robertson and Caldwell paid $156,000 cash for the house — $7,000 over asking price. They sold the renovated home for $339,700 after it spent six weeks on the market early this year. The duo made a $55,000 profit after renovation and closing costs.
“The North End, when I was a kid, was a lot like how the Bench is now,” Caldwell said. “You’ve got some really great homes mixed with some sketchy homes. Even the first property we did on the ‘Boise Boys,’ we got emails from people saying, ‘Who do you guys think you are, trying to sell a home for that much, for a house right around the corner from a mobile home park?’”
Those comments didn’t faze Caldwell. The house sold for more than others in the area, but the buyer believed its upgrades made it worth the price, he said.
If HGTV picks up the show for a full season, viewers will be seeing more of the Bench, they said.
What’s the allure?
The Bench has traditionally offered more bang for the buck than other areas close to Downtown.
It has established neighborhoods, trees and sidewalks, midcentury houses with character, a short drive to the airport and I-84 — and, unlike much of the North End, the typical Bench home has a big backyard and a garage.
Visser, the president of the Depot Bench Neighborhood Association, had always rented on the Bench. She started looking around for a place to buy in 2013. She says she spent “a good year” on the hunt for a house on the Bench that was in her price range and wasn’t in bad shape.
“I got really lucky, in that I knew people who were selling,” she said. “That was a fluke situation.”
Recently, Visser has noticed more homes in the area being remodeled, then immediately sold or leased for a higher rent. Some homes are being turned into vacation rentals, she said.
As prices climb, so may the barrier to entry for working-class or low-income residents.
“I think a lot of people are concerned about the gentrification — that you’re going to be running out that diversity” in the neighborhood, she said. “We have refugees, we have the [wealthier] Crescent Rim, we have college students renting, people buying their very first home.”
Visser hopes that enough residents are committed to staying in the neighborhood that the Bench will hold on to its diversity.
One recent buyer and a hopeful buyer told the Statesman last month that competition was fierce as they looked to buy on the Bench.
Kelly Stanley is moving from North Carolina to Boise this month to begin a residency at the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho.
“We only had one weekend to come out and try to buy a house,” she said. “I think that day, we probably looked at about 10, and we were looking mostly in the Bench. We just heard from friends that the North End was super nice but out of our price range, and the Bench was a great up-and-coming neighborhood.”
She and fellow Family Medicine Residency of Idaho resident Jeffrey Pennings were first-time homebuyers in their mid-20s.
They had a few criteria: three bedrooms, a big yard for dogs, a nice neighborhood within a bike ride of the local hospitals, priced up to $250,000. They made an offer on a house that had been on the market less than 24 hours — an updated midcentury ranch that had everything on their wish list. They were one of seven hopeful buyers that day.
As the winning bidders, the couple offered $11,000 over asking price and wrote the seller a letter about themselves with a photograph. They also promised that if the house didn’t appraise at their offered price, they would make up the difference. (It ended up appraising for more than their offer.)
That kind of offer has been pretty common in the North End, Smith said. But she’s starting to see it more often on the Bench — a sign that sale prices are climbing extremely fast.
Does that mean buyers are overpaying? Is it a sign of another bubble?
Smith and others don’t think so. The buyers tend to be people moving to Boise like Stanley and Pennings. Or longtime local renters like Visser. Or renovators like Caldwell and Robertson, picking up dilapidated homes and fixing them up to sell at a higher price.
That demand isn’t artificial, she and others said; it’s just really out of balance with the supply.
Boise resident Christina Palazzo is feeling the pressure from that imbalance. She just sold her house in Northwest Boise, and her boyfriend is in the process of selling his house in the same area.
Their wish list pointed them straight to the Bench: a central location, easy access to the freeway and Downtown Boise, a house with character, four bedrooms, a big backyard, a garage and a price tag of up to $360,000.
Selling a house in this competitive market was “really exciting,” she said. Being on the other end, now, is less fun.
“You put an offer on the house, and there’s like 10 other people putting in an offer,” she said.
Boise median home prices
Between January and March of this year, 682 existing homes sold in Boise. Here’s the median price for each area:
- Northeast Boise: $369,000
- North Boise: $367,000
- Southeast Boise: $243,000
- Northwest Boise: $238,500
- South Boise: $234,500
- Southwest Boise: $217,900
- West Boise: $189,000
- Boise Bench: $188,000
Source: International Multiple Listing Service Inc.