The largest city in Montana at 106,000 people, Billings has 10 percent of Montana’s population. The economy is strong, driven not by one industry but by several, including agriculture, retail, medical, mining and the oil industry. Yellowstone County has three oil refineries in operation.
The quality of life consistently puts Billings in top categories for the most livable city. In 2016, Livability.com listed Billings as No. 39 in its Top 100 Best Places to Live. Affordable housing and amenities like numerous locally owned restaurants in the downtown area were cited by Livability in naming Billings one of the best places to live. Billings offers more than 25 miles of biking and walking trails.
Popular parks, include Zimmerman Park and Swords Park, which provide stunning views of the city. Riverfront Park is situated along the Yellowstone River with opportunities to bike, fish, walk or cross country ski in the winter months.
Billings often lands on lists for craft beer, with six locally owned craft beer pubs, five of which are within walking distance of each other in the downtown area. The Trailhead moniker refers to Billings being a travel hub along I-90 and I-94. Yellowstone National Park is 120 miles south over the Beartooth Highway, which has been named one of the most scenic roads in America. Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area 60 miles south provides downhill skiing opportunities between Thanksgiving and Easter, and the mountain town of Red Lodge, provides access to camping, hiking and fishing. Towering over the town is Montana’s highest point, Granite Peak at 12,807 feet. The Beartooth Absaroka Wilderness area near Red Lodge is almost 1 million acres in size.
Billings is the kind of town where people say hello to you as you pass on the sidewalk, even if they don’t know you.
That’s one of the reasons that Billings realtor Darwin George returned to town after living in the Seattle area for 20 years.
George, who returned to Billings in 2007 and started selling real estate in 2008 after earning his realtor’s license, said people in Billings are easy to be around. “The people here are down-home, solid, caring people,” George said. “They are just real people, genuine.”
It’s a sellers market in Billings right now with houses in that sweet spot of $190,000 to $220,000 selling in just a few days, as long as they priced right and ready to go, George said. Higher-end homes selling for $350,000 and more are having a harder time selling in the current market.
“For the last four or five years, the real estate business has been good,” George said.
And the interest rates are at all-time lows, with some at 23/4 percent. That means, you can afford to buy more house because the low interest rates keep the mortgage payments down. The average selling price for homes in Billings is $220,000.
George points out that he is not a financial planner or a mortgage lender, but a realtor with the client’s best interests in mind. Before he started selling real estate, George managed businesses and sold insurance.
“I am available for my clients,” George said. “I want them to feel like they’re my only client, yet I don’t put a lot of pressure on people.” George describes himself and his style as laid-back. His goal as a realtor is to educate his clients.
“I sit back, we have coffee and we go over all of the buying process from start to finish,” George said.
He makes sure to communicate with clients the way they prefer. Millennials prefer text messages, older folks like a personal visit, and middle-age clients usually like phone calls. Learning how to deal with each client helps make the whole experience better for the clients as well as the realtor. That’s why George recently received the SRES certification and has been named the Reader’s Choice top realtor in The Billings Gazette poll for several years.
George likes to use the metaphor of the farmer and the hunter to describe his style.
“I’ve always planted seeds. That’s the different between the farmer and the hunter. I have always been a farmer,” George said.
George’s office is located at 1550 Poly Drive. You can reach him by phone at 406-794-4663.
Another important service for Billings residents is property management and preventative maintenance.
A Superior Property Management and Maintenance, 1332 N. 27th St., is a locally owned service business that provides help for home owners and renters alike. Owner Andrew Dutierrez said he provides help for property owners who are renting out property and for home owners who need a hand in keeping up with the maintenance on their homes. To contact Superior Property Management, call 406-318-0740
“I will collect rent, do maintenance work, advertise, take care of background checks, and clean homes,” Dutierrez said. “It takes the hassle out of it for home owners.” Senior citizens, single moms, or busy households were dad doesn’t have time to do maintenance work can appreciate the fact that Dutierrez will complete all those chores like cleaning the gutters and checking the smoke detectors.
“I just noticed there is a need for this in Billings,” he said.
Dutierrez is confident that home owners who take better care of the maintenance on their home will save in the long run, possibly saving on their insurance premium. Ed Melcher, who owns Frontier Insurance Solutions, Inc., 2331 Lewis Ave., has been an insurance man his entire adult life. You can reach Melcher by phone at 406-656-1452.
Learning the ropes from his late father Hank Melcher, Ed is adept of dealing with people. Always looking out for his clients, Melcher decided to become an independent agent several years ago so that he could find the best insurance fit for each client. Frontier Insurance deals with home, car, health, life, and other types of insurance. They also offer a senior auto discount.
Earlier this summer, Melcher was concerned about the increase in hailstorms in Billings, damaging roofs and siding on many homes. The summer season turned out to be relatively free of the damaging hail storms that have blown threw Billings for several years in a row. Melcher encourages clients to read their policy and to understand the conditions presented in it. He can help clients shop around, looking at different insurance companies, to find the best fit. He always recommends to clients when it comes to their roofs to purchase the highest quality product they can afford. He used a 50-year shingle on his roof because it is more impact resistant than a 30-year shingle. “People say, “I’m not going to be here for 30 years,” but I’ll tell them, “You’ve had two roofs in the last few years, maybe it’s time to think about a higher quality shingle,'” Melcher said. A reminder for homeowners who are using an insurance settlement to make repairs to their homes, is they can always upgrade the materials used, and pay the extra amount between what the insurance company pays and the price of the material. “They have to rebuild it to what you have in it,” Melcher said of the insurance company’s responsibility.
He points out that if you replace the flashing with steel, for example, you will never have to paint it again.”If you damage your siding, do you upgrade to metal?” Melcher asks clients. “We didn’t have too many houses with steel siding needing replacement.” Always keep receipts from work done on your house, especially the roof.
“Most companies, if you have a roof that is 15 or 20 years old, will look at the actual cash value,” Melcher said. Melcher also cautions homeowners to check with the contractors to make sure they have the property certificate of insurance to cover Worker’s Comp, otherwise the homeowner is liable should a contractor get injured working on their home. Do you have questions about your coverage? Ask your agent.
It’s his or her job to answer questions about things,” Melcher said. Your insurance agent is a good resource to help you find a qualified roofer. It’s always better to use a roofing company that is based in Billings. That way, if issues arise with your roof, you can find them again. If somebody is walking down your street, knocking on doors and looking for roofing jobs, you might want to look elsewhere for help. “When there’s a storm, contractors come in from all over the country,” Melcher said. Another important business for homeowners is a safe storage unit.
48th Street Storage, 1455 S. 48th St. W., is situated about a mile from Shiloh Crossing, a convenient locations for homeowners living in West Billings. Manager Elmer Spiedel said the storage facility has been open for almost two years.
Security is a big issue for clients who need extra space to store items that are not in use. Spiedel said they have security cameras in place, operating 24/7 and clients can only enter the facility using a pass code. The facility has 126 units in two sizes, 10 X 10-feet and 10 X 20-feet. There is also outdoor storage spaces available.
Most of the storage units are full, but there is turnover in the units as some clients use the space to store their furniture and household goods when they are in between houses. The units are well protected and available to clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For information on the availability of a unit, call 406-876-4661 if you are looking for self storage in Billings, Montana.