Wall Street Journal Visits Wilson WY
Posted on November 27 2016
Recently the Wall Street Journal came to Wyoming and spotlighted Wilson- we were excited to see some of Home Again Jackson Hole's design work featured in the article. We also smiled when some images showed of some great pieces they snatched up from the Mountain Dandy Showroom.
In the tiny town of Wilson, Wyo., residents eat trout and eggs at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn. On Sunday nights, they head to the Stagecoach Inn for a secular yet hallowed event called Sunday Church to dance to the same swing band that’s played there 47 years. For bread and milk or other staples, they visit Hungry Jack’s General Store, which still rents movies on DVD.
The folksy vibe belies Wilson’s affluent side. Teton County, where the town is located, ranks No. 1 in the U.S. in average adjusted-gross income ($296,778), according to IRS data.
Real estate in Wilson comes at a premium. According to Teton Board of Realtors data, the average price of a single-family home sold over the past year was over $2 million, about twice as high as Jackson, Wyo., its better-known neighbor across the Snake River. The number of homes sold in Wilson grew 11% between August 2015 and August 2016, while sales everywhere else in Teton County fell.
“It’s absurdly expensive to live here,” says Scott Kirkpatrick, who in August bought a 4,372-square-foot, four-bedroom house on 1.3 acres for $2.3 million next to a small creek in a neighborhood by the Wilson elementary school. The 51-year-old private-equity investor, his wife, Carrie, and their two daughters had been living in a house on the outskirts of Wilson they bought for about $1 million in 2006 when a real-estate agent called to say that a prospective buyer had made them an unsolicited offer for almost twice that.
Mr. Kirkpatrick, who was working at an investment bank in New York, moved to the area in 1991. He had visited Wyoming as a kid and loved it. He expected to stay only one year while he applied to business school. Instead he took on a series of finance jobs, eventually starting his own hedge fund. He stuck around, in part, for the outdoor recreation. Wilson is close to the ski area of Jackson, but a river separates it from throngs of tourists who come through Jackson en route to Yellowstone National Park every summer.
As a result, Wilson has retained its small-town vibe that’s part cowboy, part hippie. Here, Mr. Kirkpatrick says, his daughters can have a childhood away from the rat race. “There aren’t the same socioeconomic layers as New York,” he says. “I have a variety of friends, some of whom are still pounding nails.”
Chicago native Ethan Steinberg hitchhiked to Jackson Hole in 1996 after graduating with a degree in psychology from Brown University. He got a job with the multimillionaire financial investor and Republican donor Foster Friess, whose daughter is married to Scott Kirkpatrick.
The Steinbergs—Ethan is 43 and Emilie is 40—finished building a six-bedroom, 9,960-square-foot contemporary home this year just north of Wilson’s downtown. The barnwood, cedar and steel house has a metal roof, walnut floors and huge sliding glass doors and windows. An expansive lawn leads to the rushing Fish Creek. Mr. Steinberg declined to disclose the price of his property, but local real-estate agents estimate the house cost about $5 million to build and the property, including its two, 6-acre lots and a historic Hardeman barn in addition to the house, cost about $12 million in total.
Construction took about 22 months, partly because of competition for building materials and labor in Wilson right now, Mr. Steinberg says.
“It’s not ostentatious, like Aspen,” Mr. Steinberg says of the town. Some people ride horses to school, he adds.
It may not be ostentatious, but Wilson is certainly exclusive, says Tom Evans, a broker with Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty, whose recent listings include a $53 million, 264.6-acre ranch and a $9.5-million, 13.29-acre property along Fish Creek, both of which are under contract.
That exclusivity is currently causing some tension in the community. To maintain its historic character and protect wildlife, Teton County has strict building regulations. Some 41% of the land on the west side of the Snake River is either in conservation easements, zoned as common land or under water.
The projected waiting time for government-subsidized housing is four to five years, and even low-cost teacher housing is about $400,000, according to the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust. A third of the workforce has to commute from more moderately priced bordering towns, often over mountain passes that get dangerously icy in the winter.
Proposals for developments that include higher-density and affordable housing are inevitably met with opposition. A current battle, which has been raging for three years, involves a longtime landowner’s plan to replace his Bar J Chuckwagon dinner show with 49 homes with market-rate prices and 20 affordable units on a 21-acre parcel.
The wealth started pouring into Jackson Hole in the 1920s after John D. Rockefeller Jr., the son of Standard Oil’s co-founder, started purchasing land there. His wealthy friends started doing the same. Even today, the biggest seller of real estate is word-of-mouth, saysDavid Viehman, associate broker and editor of the Jackson Hole Report, which covers the real-estate market. He estimates that about 70% of buyers have been there visiting friends or family in the area before deciding to purchase.
Wilson, along with all of Jackson Hole, is currently at a 25-year low in inventory, which is driving up prices, says Mr. Viehman. A big part of his clientele consists of baby boomers looking for a place that their grandchildren will want to visit. Another perk of the area: Wyoming has no income tax, real-estate-transfer tax or estate tax on out-of-state retirement income.
Karen Horstmann, 49, and her husband, a technology entrepreneur, were living in St. Louis when they decided to try a smaller town for a year. In 2009 they rented a house and started looking for a home in Wilson that was near a bike path, had enough acreage for cattle and enough room for their seven kids.
It took two years and seven turned-down offers (they were used to lowballing the asking price in St. Louis—something that doesn’t fly in Wilson) to find that house, which sits next to a 100-acre land easement and has all the requisite mountain views. They declined to disclose the price, but it is valued at $6.5 million, according to public records. Now their four boys still at home (ages 7, 10, 15 and 17) raise cows and chickens, make fly-fishing lures, plow the driveway, mow the grass and work at a ranch in the summers.
“There’s a great culture here,” says Ms. Horstmann. “It’s a little tiny town that has everything you need.”
As more high-end homeowners discover Wilson, the locals worry that the town will become even more stratified. “There are a lot of people with a lot of money now. It has changed the feel for us now,” says Leah Corrigan, 38, who has listed her 2,800-square-foot, four-bedroom house on a half-acre for $1.3 million. Ms. Corrigan, an attorney, and her husband, Ben Shortledge, a stay-at-home dad to their two children, moved to the area nine years ago because, as she puts it, Wilson is the epicenter of easy recreation in a beautiful place.
Now they’re moving to McCall, Idaho, where they bought a slightly bigger house on 3 acres that’s near town for $300,000. “It’s like Wilson was 20 years ago,” she says.