ST. GEORGE — Few people other than Vardell Curtis, CEO for the Washington County Board of Realtors, know just how tight the local housing market is.
Curtis addressed a sizable group of his peers during Thursday’s Economic Summit at the Dixie Center.
“There is life below Utah County,” Curtis said, igniting several belly laughs. “Here we have a vibrant economic life that we all get to enjoy, appreciate and share together.”
Our economy, Curtis added, is multifaceted … but there are trends that demand our attention.
“Some (trends) are better than others,” he said. “What do the signs mean to us as business people in Washington County, specifically in this part of Southern Utah.”
Curtis started his presentation with the bad news first.
“I think everyone is hearing the same whisperings I hear,” Curtis said. “Overheating, recession. Job growth is up, but I think we need to pump the breaks on it a little bit.”
On the plus side are a strong stock market, job creation and home values on the rise.
“Why is a housing collapse unlikely,” Curtis said. “It is because the flip market is under control with proper lending practices. It’s not going to be a 2008 repeat.”
In three of the last five recessions, homes actually appreciated in value, Curtis said.
“If a recession does happen, it may not crush housing,” he added.
The one sticking point, and it’s no secret to real estate agents and home buyers, is the lack of attainable housing in Washington County.
“There are simply not enough homes on the market for buyers,” Curtis said. “At a price point of $180,000 to $250,000, we do not have adequate inventory. This is where the bottleneck is. It is at this price point.”
Curtis believes the area is several years away from having a good enough supply of homes, especially starter homes. He added that currently there is a 3.6-month supply of available homes for sale in Washington County.
“What this tells me is if not a single new home is built, if not a single resale home comes into the market, in less than four months we are out of business,” he said.
To put it into context, he added, realtors are already out of business at lower price points.
“What is pushing the prices, it is the supply,” Curtis said. “It’s not about builder confidence … home builders appear to be increasingly focused on entry homes. This is good news, but they are in business to make money.”
Curtis’ message did not fall on deaf ears.
Kade Ence, director of the board of realtors with Keller Williams, said that the takeaway of the summit is that the speakers always present useful information.
Although Ence agrees with Curtis that home values will continue to increase, attainable rental housing will remain difficult to find.
“I don’t anticipate rent prices come down at all,” Ence said. “The cost for homes might come down a little, but this is cyclical. They tend to go up and down.”
Whether homes are affordable, Ence added, depends on interest rates which he doubts will change a lot this year.
“Rates are very affordable right now and consequently housing will become less affordable over time unless we have wages go up,” he said.
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