Missoula mixes college community with western lifestyle

The Ranch Club in Missoula, Mont.

The Ranch Club in Missoula, Mont.

If you fancy the Western lifestyle but don’t want to sacrifice life’s creature comforts or have the means to spend seven figures on a home in a private golf community, Missoula might be just the ticket.

This college town of 67,000 residents is bisected by the Clark Fork River, famous for its fly fishing, and at an elevation of 3,200 feet, it has a relatively temperate climate. For that reason, locals sometimes refer to the city as being a part of Montana’s “banana belt.” There’s a strong outdoors ethos here, whether it be biking along the city’s extensive trail system or hiking in the five surrounding mountain ranges. That’s complemented by a bustling collection of restaurants and bars, particularly along and near Higgins Avenue, close to the University of Montana. There’s also a large medical community, which local real estate agents say enhances the city’s appeal to older buyers.

Missoula is bracketed by two semi-private golf communities – The Ranch Club to the west and Canyon River to the east – with housing priced in the low-to-mid six figures. Both courses are well-regarded. The Ranch Club, designed by Canadian architect Les Furber, is ranked No. 3 among Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in Montana. Canyon River, a Lee Schmidt-Brian Curley design, is No. 4.

The Ranch Club sits in a part of town, about a 12-minute drive from the college, that only recently has been developed.

“About 10 years ago all of North Reserve (the area around The Ranch Club) was a field,” said Jason Suchecki, a broker for Windermere Real Estate who sells property at The Ranch Club. “So there’s nothing that’s over here that’s newer than that.”

The town’s appealing location and cultural assets haven’t insulated it from market realities, but Suchecki said he sees signs of an improving market. That includes new construction on two spec homes, which he takes as a positive sign. Median prices hover around $400,000 in the community.

“Our market has probably come up 7 to 10 percent (in volume) since last year overall,” he said. “There’s more new construction at The Ranch Club than in the five years that I’ve been here.”

At Canyon River, about a quarter of the 270 homesites have been sold, with prices ranging from $89,000 for Meadows lots to $200,000 for Estate lots. Meadows buyers have a perk: the golf maintenance staff provides year-round maintenance, whether it be mowing in the summer or snow removal in winter. Meadows homes have set floor plans that can be modified, while Estate homes require community approval.

Tory Dailey, an agent with Lambros Real Estate, said she has seen an improvement in sales recently at Canyon River, “with lots of boomers retiring and looking at this kind of quality, relaxed environment.” As with Suchecki, most of the enquiries she fields come from prospective buyers with local ties.

“Whether you golf or don’t golf, the great open space is really appealing, as is the medical community and shopping and the ease of getting around,” she said.

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