WASHINGTON COUNTY – Elim Valley, a housing development located just north of Dixie Springs in the Hurricane City limits, looks like it is finally going to rise from the quagmire it slipped into in 2008; its owner, Roland Walker, had the unwavering determination to survive the housing and development crisis, Elim Valley Controller Rob Robinson said. He even sold some trees.
Today, the subdivision’s trees that were planted five years ago are the main thing passersby notice, aside from some street signs, benches and garbage cans. The infrastructure is in place, but so far, only one house stands there.
Robinson said lots should start being sold in a month or two once the development completes its “punch list” with Hurricane City.
The development is an example of the boom-and-bust cycle of real estate in southern Utah.
Stephen Sheffield of Keystone Construction and Design experienced it as well.
“As a result of the mega recession, (we) cut back construction as we were sitting on unsold inventory of homes,” he said of the company’s situation five years ago. “As our lenders became impatient we were forced to sell many of our lots to satisfy debts.”
Carol Sapp, Executive Officer of the Southern Utah Homebuilders Association, said when interest rates rise, so do building permits. And that is exactly what is happening in Washington County now. Builders want to take advantage of the rising home prices, leading to more homes rising in southern Utah subdivisions.
But this time around builders are optimistic, but less bullish than in 2005, the peak of the last boom. They are still stinging from the 2007-2008 market collapse, she said.
These days, Sheffield said buyers are more price sensitive and that “the addition of numerous options and upgrades has all but disappeared.”
According to Vardell Curtis, Washington County Board of Realtors Chief Executive Officer, new developments are concentrated on the east side of the county, including Washington Fields and Hurricane.
“Washington Fields and Little Valley are growing very rapidly,” Charles Horsley of Innovative Builders said. “Houses are going up everywhere it seems like.”
“Hurricane is one of the most affected as land values are very affordable,” Bob Raybould, a realtor with Vista Real Estate which specializes in Dixie Springs, said.
But, Raybould warns the availability and affordability now could cause problems later, including overbuilding. He thinks too many homes are being built on speculation.
“Ideally, in a neighborhood, 6-12 homes of existing inventory is more than enough,” he said. “I think we’ve well exceeded that as I see about 25 homes (in Dixie Springs) on the MLS (and) not all those are built yet.”
Raybould says cities must pace growth better to sustain a healthy economy.
“More families would avoid hardship in the future if building permits were issued at a slower pace,” he said.
The reality is, as Sapp said, build-ready lots are still sitting vacant from 2005. Many previous owners sold lots at great loss but those who held onto them will reap rewards.
In Elim Valley, Walker has managed to keep the development and, Robinson said, interest has been strong. Premier contractors, he said, are waiting in the wings to build homes in Elim Valley, including AJ Construction, Richardson Brothers, and Rock Solid Builders. The development hopes to build British and Northern European inspired homes to complement its already tree-lined streets that will provide future homeowners with a canopy of shade. Scheurer Architects, a well-known, award-winning firm, designed some of the homes.
Robinson looks forward to seeing construction crews get busy.
“Once people see this product, we won’t quit building,” he said confidently.
Sheffield is feeling confident as well. Keystone Construction is now building more homes, concentrating its efforts in The Boulders and Boulders Springs Villas near the corner of 1450 South and River Road in St. George.
This rise in building seems to make the county feel somehow smaller.
As development continues, some subdivisions that felt “way out there” before are now feeling closer. For instance, Sapp said Stucki Farms, a subdivision at the south end of Washington Fields in Washington, felt like it was in Arizona two years ago when she first visited it, but now it does not seem so far away.
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Ed. note: First paragraph revised for clarity.
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