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‘It’s insane. It’s crazy. It’s unprecedented’: Inside Utah’s place in the West’s raging housing market



PROVO, Utah – They went through the pain 10 times.

Ten times, Matthew and Bethany Clewett found a house they could envision themselves making their home, where they would raise their now almost 1-year-old daughter, Nellie. Ten houses they liked enough to put in an offer.

But each time, one by one, their offers were passed over. One after another, the young couple started to lose hope, getting increasingly frustrated with each rejection. Even though their “bulldog” of a real estate agent was persistent and aggressive, each time they lost, and it became increasingly heart-wrenching.

And they weren’t picky. They were willing to buy anywhere along the Wasatch Front — an area of between 80 miles and 120 miles in length, depending on which northern and southernmost communities one claims. They were open to buying in Stansbury Park in the west, to Saratoga Springs farther south, to Syracuse up north.

They were offering above asking prices — $20,000 to $30,000 over. They were competitive bidders, but in some cases not competitive enough. Matthew Clewett — who himself is a housing wonk as the public policy director for the Salt Lake Board of Realtors — said their real estate agent told them one house they lost out on went for $60,000 to $70,000 over asking price. That’s not even the highest some Salt Lake real estate agents have seen in other cases, with some bids up to $100,000 over asking price, though that’s not too common.

“It was absolutely insane,” Matthew Clewett said.

Again and again, it wasn’t enough.

“There were plenty of times where we were really frustrated with the process, being denied and having been told, ‘Hey, you had a great offer but we found a better one,’” Matthew Clewett, 26, said, “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

“And then it’s just like the thought of, ‘Well, should we just give up?’” said his wife, Bethany Clewett, 27. “Should we just live in my parent’s basement forever?”

The Clewetts’ struggle to buy a home is what thousands of Utahns have already faced in 2021 — a year that’s already shaping up to be one like no other for real estate in Utah, on the heels of an already record-shattering year for Wasatch Front home sales in 2020.

“It’s absolutely unheard of,” Dave Robison, president of the Utah Association of Realtors, said about Utah’s record-breaking housing trends. “I mean, it’s insane. It’s crazy. It’s unprecedented.”

The data

Consider these figures from the Salt Lake Board of Realtors:

  • Wasatch Front homes were on the market a median of five days — a slim five days — in the first quarter of 2021, a huge drop from 28 days in the first quarter of 2020. Buyers are now having to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives in a matter of hours — without the luxury of waiting a few days before deciding to submit an offer.
  • The year 2020 shattered records for home sales in Salt Lake County, Utah’s most populous county. In the year of the pandemic, a whopping 19,194 Salt Lake County homes sold, breaking the previous all-time record of 18,907 homes in 2005, before the market crashed and sent the U.S. spiraling into the Great Recession.
  • Wasatch Front home prices are skyrocketing by double-digit percentages. In Salt Lake County, the median single-family home price climbed to $468,000 in the first quarter of 2021, up $68,000 or 17% from a year earlier when the median price was $400,000. In Utah County, that price is up to $450,000, up an even bigger 20% from the first quarter of 2020. In Davis County, that price is $430,000, up 21%. In Tooele County, it’s up to $360,000, up 18%. And in Weber County, it’s up to $340,000, up 23%.
  • Meanwhile, inventory is struggling to keep up with demand. Across Utah’s five-county Wasatch Front, there were 7,703 overall home sales of all housing types in the first quarter of 2021, down from 7,978 sales in the first quarter of 2020. In Salt Lake County, single-family home sales were down 1% year over year. Tooele County sales were down 4%. Utah County saw a bigger fall in sales, down 7%. In Davis County, an even bigger drop of 16%. Weber County, Davis County’s northern neighbor, saw the biggest decline at 18%.
  • With demand at an all-time high, buyers are getting increasingly aggressive. Some Salt Lake real estate agents have seen home offers up to $100,000 over asking price. Bidding wars are now the norm.

Now zoom out.

National rankings

The housing market is red hot just about everywhere in the U.S., still boiling over in wake of the strange year that will forever be marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Beehive State in particular — a state that, even before the pandemic, not only ranks high in population growth, economic health and low unemployment rates, but is also seen as an attractive place to live due to its outdoor recreation opportunities, proximity to world class skiing and hiking, and a thriving tech sector at Silicon Slopes — ranks high in numerous lists analyzing the U.S. housing market.

Utah, with its Salt Lake metro area, is a contender for having one of the hottest housing markets in the West. Its big competitor is Idaho, which has also seen major housing price increases as more and more people, spurred by the pandemic, moved from big cities — from San Francisco on the West Coast, to New York in the East — in search of homes with more space at much lower price points.

To Robison, Utah’s long track record of strong population growth and economic health, even before the pandemic, puts the Beehive State at the top of the list in the western U.S. for its housing market, excluding outlier markets like California.

“I think we’re No. 1 in the West,” he said, pointing to Utah’s top-of-the-nation population growth and low unemployment rates as “big indicators” that also influence Utah’s appeal to homebuyers.


  • Salt Lake City metro ranks third-highest in nation for housing price increases, with a spike of 15.9% over the past year and 6.5% over the last quarter, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. That’s behind the Tacoma-Lakewood metro area in Washington, with housing prices that spiked by 16.3%. Boise, Idaho, ranked No. 1 in the nation, with a 23.4% rise in housing prices.
  • Now consider more than just housing prices, but also economic conditions. Utah topped’s Housing Heat Index published in March 2021, topping five states the site reported as the having the strongest housing markets in the fourth quarter of 2020. In that ranking, Utah beat out Montana, Nebraska, Idaho and Indiana.

To arrive at that ranking,’s analysis used six metrics from the fourth quarter of 2020 — annual home price appreciation reported by the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Home Price Index; share of mortgages past due as reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association; unemployment and job growth from the U.S. Labor Department; the cost of living index from the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness; and state-by-state tax burdens as reported by the Tax Foundation.

Utah’s home values jumped 15.4% in 2020, third-best among the U.S. states, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Utah also had the second-strongest job growth in the nation from December 2019 to December 2020, according to a Bankrate analysis of Labor Department data. Plus, Utah’s tax burden is among the lowest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation.