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Dream Castle 

Maybe pricey real estate has been too expensive all along.

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Just across the lake from Sandpoint, high on a hill it sits like a fairy-tale castle — a turret juts into the sky and a wall of windows reflects the sun. If you sat on the deck up there above it all, you could survey your kingdom, from the peaks of Schweitzer on down the run of the Pend O'reille River.

Just don’t turn around, because if you look at the home itself, you’ll find the opulence seen from afar is a mirage. The home is not finished — weeds have overtaken the grand entrance, and building materials have been left scattered around the interior. The online listing reads: “An estimated $2.8 [million] has been spent on this property. Ready to be finished & claim its place as one of the finest homes in the area.”

You can buy it — and the task of finishing all 6,000 square feet of it — for just $1.225 million.

In all the range of America’s real estate woes, the upper end is hurting the worst — it had the farthest to fall. While there is almost a year’s supply of all homes for sale in Spokane and Kootenai counties — six months too many, experts say of the supply — the number of $1 million-plus homes for sale is mind-boggling.

Today there are 233 listings for homes priced at $1 million or more on the market in Spokane and Kootenai counties, according to local MLS records. (That’s 45 in Spokane County and 188 in Kootenai County.) Yet so far this year, only 13 of those homes have sold — 10 in Kootenai and just three in Spokane, where, in 2009, only a single $1 million listing was purchased.

So depending on how the year finishes out, we may have a supply of as much as 18 years’ worth of luxury homes.

It’s easy to say the rich people who went out on a limb for these trophy homes can hold on, but, local realtors say, the recession is hitting everyone. “There are a lot of people whose jobs are gone, or downsized,” one veteran Realtor told me. “I don’t know what to tell people anymore. It’s hard to be an agent.”

Another says that, yes, most of his high-end clients have been able to hang on through their savings — but that is starting to wear, and he predicts more luxury properties will wind up in bankers’ hands.

“What we went through was not real,” he says of the real estate bubble that popped two years ago. “It’s gone. The new economy is all about adjustments, and we all have to adjust to the new normal.”

And maybe part of that new normal is to recognize reality — that (almost all) people just can’t afford to live in $1 million homes.

So don’t be fooled by that shining turret across the water. It was never real anyway.

Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.

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