Rising home prices push Idahoans farther from Boise. But they still commute to the city

Since February, William Nyhuise has put 18,000 miles on his car. On any given day, he spends nearly 45 minutes commuting each way from Mountain Home to Boise for work.

But there’s no doubt in Nyhuise’s mind that he is saving money by choosing to live outside the Boise metropolitan area. “I view myself as coming out way ahead [financially],” Nyhuise told the Statesman in a phone interview.

Nyhuise is one of what appears to be a growing number of people moving farther from the state’s capital to escape rising home prices, traffic congestion and big-city feel. Local real estate agents say interest in “bedroom communities” like Mountain Home, Homedale, Parma and Emmett is on the rise.

Treasure Valley residents have been commuting into Boise for years from places like Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell. But experts say they see buyers moving farther and farther from the city while keeping their metro-area jobs.

Cristina Drake, who’s worked as a real estate agent in Mountain Home, population 14,227, for two years, can tell where potential buyers are viewing listings from through realty software. Lately, most viewers are coming from Boise.

“You’re seeing a trend where people are selling in Meridian, Kuna, Boise and Nampa, and they’re selling at a good price,” Drake said. “But they turn around and prices are way too high to buy.”

She knows from experience: She and her husband, Greg, sold their Meridian home and soon found that buying a new one would be difficult.

Christy Devinaspre is a Caldwell-based real estate agent who has worked around Canyon County and in communities like Parma and Emmett for 12 years. She has worked with clients who shared Drake’s experience.

“Unless you’ve got a lot of equity to move up, you can’t do it on wages here,” Devinaspre said. “Idaho’s been discovered. It’s affordable — well, it was affordable.”

Part of a trend

In 2016, Nyhuise was living in Indianapolis. He said “life was kind of plateaued.”

“I’d lived in a big city my whole life, and I wanted to get away. We sort of took a leap of faith,” he said. “I knew I would be working in Boise, but I didn’t want to live in the city, for several reasons.”

He and his wife transferred their positions at Multiquip, a construction-supplies manufacturing company with a warehouse on Gowen Road.

“It’s 41 miles door-to-door. But I talk to people who live all over the Boise area. I hear people say how much they pay in rent,” Nyhuise said. “[The benefit to Mountain Home] is not the distance, it’s the lack of traffic and the ease of travel.”

Nyhuise said he almost never hits traffic near Boise, and the 85 mph speed limit on Interstate 84 between Gowen Road and Mountain Home helps speed the commute along even more.

It doesn’t hurt that for $840 a month, he rents a four-bedroom home with an attached garage. His family is buying the property from the current owner.

In comparison, the average monthly rent for a four-bedroom home in Ada County is $1,656, according to the Southwest Idaho chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers.

“That really made a 41-mile commute worth it,” Nyhuise said. “I have one co-worker who lives in Nampa. He would always ask, ‘Why would you live in Mountain Home? It’s so far away.’ It took him 45 minutes to get home. I told him, ‘By the time you get home, I’m already in Mountain Home, showered and relaxing.’ ”

Drake, who previously worked as a property manager in Meridian, agreed that living in Mountain Home means you can “get more house for your buck.”

“You’re getting a better house, and you get the land,” she said.

That’s part of what drove Kaitlin Purdham and her family to Mountain Home. Her husband is stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base. With a career in information technology, Purdham knew she would likely end up working in Boise.

“We would have been paying so much out of pocket for our rent. The military gets a certain allowance for housing, and you wouldn’t be able to live in Boise with it,” Purdham said via Facebook messages. “The cost of renting a decent apartment in the Valley is almost double what our housing allowance is for the area. We bought our house in Mountain Home before the prices skyrocketed out of control.”

In mid-November, Drake showed the Statesman a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,699-square-foot home priced at $194,500. In Boise, Drake said, the same home could easily fetch twice the price.

Is the commute worth it?

“My house is larger and newer and less expensive than any of my peers’ in Boise,” said Kasandra Bessey in an interview over Facebook Messenger. “I didn’t want to rent forever, and I didn’t want to get squished into a smaller house.”

Bessey, who grew up in Mountain Home, said she moved back after living in Boise because she felt she was being priced out of the metro area. And Canyon County, while closer, still wasn’t the right fit.

“Caldwell and Nampa have a longer drive [to work in Boise], depending on the time of day,” Bessey said.

Devinaspre said her clients in Parma, Homedale and Emmett weigh those costs.

“The biggest hangup is the commute. I’m seeing all of a sudden a surge in the Mountain Home area, because people want to go against the traffic flow,” she said.

An average of 25,000 vehicles travel I-84 between Mountain Home and Boise each day, according to Idaho Transportation Department data. In contrast, more than 100,000 vehicles travel the interstate between Nampa and Boise daily.

Nyhuise said that in Indianapolis, he could spend the same amount of time commuting 10 miles to work as he does now. He knows the constant driving can be hard on his vehicle, but he said the choice was still obvious.

“Wear-and-tear, to a point, does scare me,” he said. “It’s made me more strict on regular maintenance. I did go out and buy a brand new vehicle for the commute. It wasn’t the exact vehicle I wanted, but it was perfect for commuting.”

He bought a 2017 Ford Focus SE, brand new.

Drake, the real estate agent, used to live off Eagle Road in Meridian. For several months after moving to Mountain Home, she and her husband continued commuting to the city.

“On Eagle Road, you’re in head-to-head traffic for an hour,” she said. “Thirty-eight minutes [on the highway] is nothing.”

But some commuters disagree. Purdham, the IT worker, said the drive from Mountain Home to her Downtown Boise office is “really boring and exhausting. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.”

Plus, she said, it’s dangerous: “It seems like there’s a deadly accident at least once a week that will slow me down. ... I’m nervous about this winter. On the days that it was snowing [last year], it would take me about two hours to get to Downtown,” Purdham said.

Finances and friendly communities

Affordability is a huge element driving people to rural communities, said Devinaspre, the Caldwell real estate agent. Her inventory below $250,000 is shrinking, and many listings in places like Parma and Homedale stay on the market fewer than 10 days, she said.

Last month, median home prices hit $321,398 in Ada County and $220,000 in Canyon County.

“I feel like until our wages move up, this will keep happening,” Devinaspre said. “But I think most people in the outlying area are wanting to get away from the hustle [of the city] as much as the affordability.”

That was true for Drake, who said she and her husband “feel more effective” in community life in Mountain Home than they did in Meridian. And it’s true for Nyhuise, who said the slower pace of life in Mountain Home has reduced his anxiety to the point that he has been able to stop taking medication prescribed for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“One of the big things that solidified [the decision] for us is the speed of life,” Nyhuise said. “It took me awhile to actually adjust ... but my day-to-day stress levels have just gone away.”

He touts that line to co-workers and friends who are in the market for new homes. Drake said her home-buying clients feel similarly.

“We’re looking at selling a community, so the wear and tear, the gas, the commuting ... that makes it all worth it,” she said.