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Southern Oregon’s Rental Market is Now Worse Than NYC’s

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02.15.NEWS.VacancyRates.For-rent-sign

In December of last year, financial blog Nerd Wallet published a report on the 10 best cities for renters in Oregon. Topping the list was Ashland. Number 5 was Medford.

The perennially oblivious analysts at Nerd Wallet ranked Ashland so highly because it’s cheaper to rent there than to buy. Of course with a median sale price of $351,000 and prices on the rise 3 percent last year and another 2 percent this year, it better be.

A better analysis was arguably found on a July Craigslist posting that advertised a charming cottage in the heart of Ashland for rent. The catch? It was a paper dollhouse measuring four square feet for an obscene price.

It was funny because it was true. Though Portland’s end-of-Hamlet-esque rental market has been getting most of the press, Southern Oregon’s is facing the worst conditions for renters in more than a decade.

A recent survey from the Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association measured the rate of vacancies in Rogue Valley rental properties at a staggeringly low 1.5 percent. Of the 46,004 units the survey checked in on, only 60 were available across all price spectrums.

For context, census numbers from 2013 put statewide vacancy rates closer to 6 percent, with national numbers pushing towards 12 percent. The old joke about New Yorkers skipping the classifieds and searching the obituaries for an apartment might apply, except New York City’s current vacancy rates are nearly triple the Rogue Valley’s at 3.45 percent.

And it was only two years ago that census data put local vacancy rates at 5.84 percent.

What happened?

The first problem is that Oregon remains a destination. United Van Lines has ranked it as the number one destination of its rentals for two years in a row, and says that 66 percent of its Oregon rentals are for in-state moves. In addition to those moving here for the beer and outdoor recreation, it remains a popular destination for retiring baby boomers.

Ashland broker and radio broadcaster Pete Belcasto pointed out another major contributor on the blog for RealEstateShowOregon.com.

As the economy has improved, many young people who moved in with their parents, are beginning to move out,” he wrote. “They become renters before they become homeowners.  More pressure on rents.”

More pressure means fewer vacancies, and higher costs. The problem is compounded by recent research from real estate think tank Trulia, indicates it’s likely that they’ll be renting for a lot longer. The reason why? Out of control student debt.

Imagine an individual who earns $50,000 and is shopping for a $200,000 home (the median U.S. income and house price),” the report wrote. “This person would like to put 20 percent down. If he or she follows the popular financial advice to save 10 percent of his or her annual pay, it’ll take him or her about eight years to have that down payment ready to go. If that same person has $26,000 of student debt, which means monthly payments of $280 based on a 10-year repayment plan, it’ll take this person closer to nine years.”

And that’s if they make $50k (which ain’t nobody fresh out of college making) and if they’re shopping for a $200,000 home (which is far below Ashland’s $351,000 median cost). According to Zillow, Medford’s median price is $215,000, far closer to national numbers, but it spiked 8.3 percent in 2014, and is likely to go higher as the housing crunch lingers. Hints of that can be seen in the insane price hikes in investor and first-time buyer neighborhoods. West Medford median prices grew by 22 percent and White City saw its housing prices go up by 18.8 percent.

Markets that saw the greatest declines in home values [during the recession] are also the markets that are now seeing the greatest increases in home values,” ExpertProps.com wrote on its blog in January of this year.

For an owner it’s getting better,” says Craig Horton, owner of property management company Medford Better Housing. “For the residents not necessarily.”

Horton’s company is one of the larges in the valley, operating 217 units across multiple properties. Horton says their vacancy rate is about 2 percent, three points below the 5 percent he says appraisers use as a baseline number. Horton says that though there are ebbs and flows for as far back as his company has data, it’s been a steady decrease in availability for the last several years.

As long as the supply is low, this could go on for awhile,” he says. “Unfortunately, the costs are so high to build that no one’s building anymore.”

Horton puts most of that on fees and regulations. And while even Horton admits that opinion might just be because of the perspective he’s looking at the problem from, it was only a year ago that the city of Medford hiked building permits 20 percent to help fund its ailing building department.

Horton says the only people building right now are the housing authorities, because they get grants to cut down the costs. For everyone else, it’s too expensive, leaving demand to outstrip supply.

Realistically speaking, what it’s going to take, is that the public sector is going to have to get together with the private sector and come up with some incentives,” he says.

Horton thinks that’s possible, but that doesn’t mean he sees anyone actively working to fix the problem.

I really think it’s going to be tight for awhile,” he says.

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