Going Long on Packwood

I find it interesting to reflect on the shifts in consumer wants and needs after a sudden societal upheaval. I don’t suppose I need to tell you what societal upheaval I mean.

At first toilet paper was scarce. I still cannot make sense of that one. You could not buy a Nintendo Switch last spring because apparently everyone wanted to shelter in place with the soothing cottagecore aesthetic of Animal Crossing. I know this because I tried to find a Switch. (For my kids!) Did you try getting your hands on a camper or RV over the summer? Yeah, everyone had that idea. Used cars reached insane values since automakers shut down manufacturing temporarily. Bored, nascent investors artificially cranked up the price of GameStop stock far beyond what the company’s earnings justify. That one makes as much sense as the toilet paper.

The quirky little town of Packwood, WA also comes to mind in this conversation.

My wife and I have been going to Packwood a lot lately to hike and snowshoe. We always liked those things but this year they became a coping strategy akin to the Nintendo Switch. In getting to know the area better we discovered their real estate market is every bit as hot/challenging as ours in Tacoma. Why Packwood? Why now?
Before I attempt a plausible explanation, let me tell you a little bit about this place.

Packwood, WA

Packwood sits in a unique spot surrounded by National Forest, state parks and wilderness areas. It is close to the Stevens Canyon entrance of Mount Rainier on the southeast side of the mountain. Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams are also nearby. The town is convenient to White Pass Ski Resort which recently expanded its downhill terrain and whose Nordic Center offers groomed terrain for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. A Gig Harbor friend opened Packwood Brewing a few years back, which to me really signals a shift in the town’s overall vibe. Hip ski towns have breweries. Is Packwood becoming that?

I see several factors converging on this town and driving its real estate sky high. First, it is landlocked by gorgeous natural areas, so there isn’t much room to expand. Supply is fixed. Second, the pandemic has existing cabin owners using their cabins again. This is why we see not only low inventory in Packwood, but also slightly lower than usual sales volume. People who might have otherwise decided this was the year to unload an underutilized asset have found a reason to hold. Then you have demand from people who are discovering nature during a pandemic, some of whom want campers and RVs and some of whom desire cabins. Lastly, people are working from home! And that is something that won’t fully shift back when things return to normal. If you are working from home, does it matter if home is five minutes from the office or two hours? I think a handful of people realize they can work from anywhere, any elevation!
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Several of the factors I mention are pandemic driven and may not hold long term, but right now I believe they’re having a big impact on the average price, up more than 30% since last year. So if you are interested in a little cabin in Packwood you have two choices. First, like today’s Tacoma buyers, you can slug it out in bidding wars, or you can wait until life returns to something like normal and see if this cabin buying frenzy subsides like the toilet paper rush of 2020 eventually did.

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