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More people look to small towns near GF, EGF for homes they can afford

With housing prices rising in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, many are looking at surrounding bedroom communities for more affordable options. The three closest towns -- Manvel, N.D., Thompson, N.D., and Fisher, Minn. -- have all seen more inte...



With housing prices rising in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, many are looking at surrounding bedroom communities for more affordable options.

The three closest towns - Manvel, N.D., Thompson, N.D., and Fisher, Minn. - have all seen more interest from people who work in Grand Forks or East Grand Forks, town officials said.

In Fisher, a town of 432 about 12 miles by road from East Grand Forks, City Clerk and Treasurer Amy Theis said she’s seeing houses sell faster.

Homes seem to stay on the market about three to four months, she said, which, on average, is comparable to Grand Forks. She also said she receives a couple of calls every month from people looking to rent in Fisher.


But while Manvel and Thompson have seen some new housing development recently, there hasn’t been any building permit issued in Fisher for at least four years, town officials said.

Manvel with a population of 365 is about 11 miles by road from Grand Forks. Thompson, with a population of 998 is about nine miles from Grand Forks.


Cheaper housing

On average, Manvel, Thompson and Fisher all had less costly homes than Grand Forks in 2013, but Thompson’s average price was higher than East Grand Forks that year, according to analysis of data from the Grand Forks County and Polk County assessing offices.

The average sale price for a Thompson home in 2013 was $184,833, which was higher than East Grand Forks’ $179,209, but still lower than Grand Forks’ $190,647.

The average sale price in 2013 was significantly lower in Fisher, at $94,057. Manvel’s average sale price was $103,429.

Robert Wagner, Polk County assessor, explained that there are many older homes in Fisher, which provide less coslty options for homebuyers. Prices of the seven houses sold last year in Fisher ranged from $24,500 to $200,000.




But despite the growing demand, there hasn’t been any new construction in Fisher, Theis said. She hasn’t seen any new building permits, commercial or residential, since starting her job at the city four years ago, she said.

Much of Fisher is blocked from expanding by U.S. Highway 2 and the Red Lake River, Theis said. “It’s definitely a complicated situation.”

“But it’s a great problem to have that people want to live here,” she said.


New homes

On the North Dakota side, both Thompson and Manvel have seen new housing developments as demand rises.


“It’s welcomed,” said Thompson Mayor Karyn Hippen.

There are new single-family homes being built, and she said the city is open to more development.

People also have inquired about renting in Thompson, but there are not as many options, Hippen said. The city’s two apartment buildings are either full or almost full, she said.

There haven’t been any proposals for new apartments, but she said “it isn’t out of the question.”

Thompson’s growing population has increased business at the town’s convenience store, and “it will keep our schools going strong,” Hippen said.

In Manvel, most of the new residential construction is just outside city limits, said former Mayor Robert Hatt. “We’re kind of running out of lots in town, but right outside they’re being built.”

And houses have started selling quicker there, he said. “When a house comes by for sale, it doesn’t last long.”



Small towns

All three towns have a history as bedroom communities, according to town officials.

Theis described Fisher as “an extreme bedroom community” with residents working as far away as Thief River Falls, a 53-mile drive.

Hippen said that someone once figured that more than 80 percent of Thompson’s population worked elsewhere.

But, while many people look to the towns for cheaper housing, officials there said the towns have much more to offer than that.

Smaller schools tend to draw people to small towns, they said. Thompson and Fisher both have K-12 schools, and Manvel has a K-8 school.

And many just like living in small towns.

“They like the smaller town atmosphere,” Hatt said.



Housing markets compared

Below are the 2013 average sale prices for homes in the Grand Forks area:

  •  Grand Forks: $190,647
  •  East Grand Forks: $179,209
  •  Thompson: $184,833
  •  Fisher: $94,057
  •  Manvel: $103,429

Source: county assessors in Grand Forks and Polk counties.


Elite homes

While many are looking to other communities for more affordable housing than Grand Forks, price is no issue for some. Check out Sunday’s Herald for a look at the upper end of the Grand Forks housing market.


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