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‘Yellowstone’ boom pits lifelong Montana residents against wealthy newcomers

“Yellowstone” has become one of the most popular shows to stream. Filmed on location in the West, largely in Montana, the scripted drama tells the story of modern day rancher John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner, and his family dynasty.

The storyline is delightfully gripping, with backstabbing and family intrigue, high-stakes power plays and dramatic twists, but the cinematography is a major part of the appeal. Scenic vistas, snow-capped mountains, and charming little towns are captured throughout the episodes.

Still, ask the people of Montana what they think of the show and you’re likely to encounter grimaces and criticism.

Ginger Rice, a longtime resident of the state, said she initially vowed not to watch the series after seeing just one episode.

“It’s unreal,” she said. “That doesn’t describe life in Bozeman or Montana as far as I’m concerned.”

Yet Rice, who admits the show ultimately sucked her in, also acknowledges that the show makes her home country appealing to viewers: “Do you see what our state is like? Mountains and grasslands, and who doesn’t can’t like that?”

The production itself has a significant economic impact on the state, according to a University of Montana study. When season four was filmed on location last year, the production spent $72 million in the state, with businesses in the state getting another $85 million economic boost. The study was funded, in part, by Paramount, the show’s owner.

This study did not quantify the impact of all the free advertising Montana receives from “Yellowstone”. But it’s clear that the fictional John Dutton and his fictional sprawling ranch gave wealthy townsfolk an idea of ​​what it would be like to become a true baron of the Wild West.

An image from the Paramount Networks television series Yellowstone which is set in Montana.

Courtesy of Paramount Networks.

“We’ve had an influx of all kinds of wealthy people looking for ranches,” Robert Keith, founder of investment firm Beartooth Group, told CNBC. “They’re looking to own some really amazing big properties.”

As demand for land and homes soared, prices followed.

Around Bozeman, the median cost of a single-family home has risen from less than $500,000 before the pandemic to nearly $750,000 according to the Gallatin Association of Realtors. Areas around Missoula and Kalispell have seen even more dramatic price increases. Rents are so high that even working professionals struggle to find affordable housing. And some landlords, seeking higher rents, are not renewing leases with tenants.

Huge demand in Big Sky

Big Sky Country’s population boom had taken years to prepare. Montana, the eighth smallest state by population, now has more than 1.1 million people. From 2010 to 2020, the state grew by 9.6% according to the US Census Bureau.

Then came Covid and remote work. In 2021, Montana has become one of the fastest growing places in the country, according to the US Census Bureau.

“A lot of our clients during the pandemic have come out and found refuge on the ranches, somewhere safe and no one around,” says Tim Murphy, a longtime Bozeman broker and partner at Hall & Hall.

Last year, Chris Kimbrell, who lived in Georgia, joined the mass migration to Montana, for a job as a veterinarian in Bozeman. From his very first visit at age 9, he said he was addicted to the state and kept going fly-fishing back and forth in college.

But he carefully weighed the soaring cost of living.

Montana housing prices skyrocket: 55+ community in Bozeman.

Countess Brewer | CNBC

“If there wasn’t a family member letting me live on their property, I would have to really think things through before moving here,” Kimbrell said. “Rent and housing are getting extremely expensive.” The support staff at his veterinary practice is overpriced, he added.

Rice, a lifelong resident of Montana, said her daughter and son-in-law were recently notified that their landlord would not be renewing their lease on a three-bedroom home they had rented for more than a decade. It was a mad scramble even to find a two-bedroom apartment at three times the rent they were paying, she said.

“My daughter says we can never afford a house,” she said. “We tried to save but everything goes up and up and up.”

Some families, even those with full-time jobs, are moving into RVs or tents. Local roads are now strewn with people in motorhomes who can no longer afford to pay rent or own a home. Habitat for Humanity calls this a housing crisis. “Montana has quickly become inaccessible to those who live and work here,” said the nonprofit, which is pushing lawmakers to prioritize housing affordability.

Fly fishing and designer jeans

Longtime residents also criticize the cultural divide between newcomers and longtime Montanans. They disapprove of newcomers who buy property but refuse to participate and engage in their communities.

“I liked that you know your neighbors. We still know our neighbors, but we’re not really friends with our neighbors,” Rice said.

She quietly complains that Bozeman is full of “highfalutin people” wearing fancy clothes that make her feel uncomfortable around them. And she says downtown has become almost unrecognizable.

“I don’t like how busy it is. I don’t like the traffic. And it’s too expensive,” she said.

Longtime residents told CNBC the changes were also evident in Missoula and Kalispell. Foreigners, they say, are always in a hurry and make too much noise with their unrealistic demands. Rice said that in her former job at a dry cleaner, a customer insisted that paint splatters be removed from designer jeans. “What were they doing painting in those pants anyway?” she wondered.

The “Yellowstone” effect reminds residents of another culture shock, which developed when Hollywood portrayed Montana in the movie “A River Runs Through It.” The film, directed by Robert Redford and starring a rising movie star named Brad Pitt, was shot on location in 1991 and released in 1992. It won the Oscar for Best Cinematography.

“At that time fly fishing became all the rage,” ranch broker Murphy said, “because a huge number of people wanted to buy fly fishing properties in the area.”

As a result, the fly fishing industry grew 60% in 1991 and 1992, according to Forbes.

He is seeing the surge again, he said, even as uncertainty clouded the economy. “When the stock market becomes unstable and there is turbulence, it feeds our market because the land market is quite stable,” he said.

Many of the newcomers arrive with deep pockets and entrepreneurial aspirations that fuel Montana’s growing economy. Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office said in May that the state’s economy grew 6.7% in 2021, the fastest pace in more than 40 years, making it the seventh state economy to grow. fastest growing in the country..

Montana housing prices soar: Robert Keith, founder of the Beartooth Group, rehabilitates damaged land and sells restored ranches to conservation-minded buyers

Countess Brewer | CNBC

The Beartooth Group is betting that investors not only want a financial return, but also a legacy. The company specializes in rehabilitating degraded land – such as old mines, feedlots or ranches – and then selling it.

Keith, the founder of Beartooth, showed CNBC a creek that had been restored to a meandering waterway perfect for trout. Generations ago it had been forced into a ditch to be used for agricultural purposes. But now fish attract birds. The ospreys have built a nest and the parents have been seen feeding their young.

It’s the kind of property that appeals to potential buyers with notions of Montana’s wilderness, Keith said. They want to see deer, bears and butterflies.

“I think we can all agree that there aren’t enough dollars being spent on conservation,” he said. Wealthy, conservation-minded buyers often invest even more in restoring the land once they own a property. He said Beartooth’s speech is unique: “By doing something good for the world, we make it more valuable financially and environmentally.”

The state also hopes to attract former residents to the Big Sky State with a marketing campaign, “Come Home Montana.”

“No matter how long you’ve been away, now is the time to come home to rural Montana,” the campaign says. “Embrace the life you really want to live.

But if you want to live there, bring your checkbook. Former residents will find their home state to be much more expensive than when they left.

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