Tim Blixseth could not care less whether the news on the overall housing market is rosy or bleak. The timber and real estate mogul just began work on a 53,000-square-foot stone and wood mansion in his exclusive Yellowstone Club, a members-only ski and golf resort near Bozeman, Mont., and he already has buyers lining up at his door. "I've never seen such a feeding frenzy," Blixseth told Forbes.com in "The World's Most Expensive Home." Features of the 10-bedroom, fully furnished manor include a private ski gondola to hit the slopes, an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, and a home theater. The asking price: $155 million. Blixseth says several members of the Forbes 400 list of the world's richest people have already expressed interest, despite the fact that the 1.25-mile driveway to the property–which itself will cost $2 million–is only 70% complete.
A $2 million driveway? "That's because it is heated," says Tim Simkins, president of Bozeman's Simkins Halin Lumber Co. "It's a heated driveway so you don't have to shovel it. That's what he is doing. Bill Gates already has a place up there with a heated one, and yeah, it is quite expensive."
Simkins says his company doesn't typically sell into the driveway work, but there are plenty of opportunities to provide lumber and building materials into the Yellowstone Club and other resort developments once the asphalt is laid. It's a situation you can find in many affluent spots across the country. While most dealers fret about the outlook for blue- and white-collar Americans, a few in areas that cater to old and new rich are doing just fine.
Of course, Bozeman has the amenities to keep the housing economy on the buy side. Skiing aside, Bozeman's natural beauty, strong economy, light traffic, and access to big-city attractions ranked it tops on Bizjournals' 2006 list of the 577 best "micropolitans" (regions economically dependent on central cities with 10,000 to 50,000 residents) to live in the U.S. That list, which also is based on cities' cost of living and proximity to first-class educational systems, notes other great micropolitans across the country, including Easton, Md.; Oxford, Miss.; Pierre, S.D.; and Hays, Kan. Crunching U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers, Bizjournals says more than 1.7 million well-heeled buyers flock to these dream towns each year.
Chances are, there's one within your delivery area, and some new market penetration now could offer some sweet payoff as those new-home sales turn around. The richest people "have to have the best," Blixseth said. For them, "price is not an issue." If one of the world's wealthiest real estate developers can say that in a so-called housing recession, perhaps the return of sunshine and roses on the housing market is not that far away, after all.