ELKO – Home sales are lively in Elko and Spring Creek despite the COVID-19 pandemic, partly because gold mines stayed in production, keeping miners and contractors working despite shutdowns that affected many businesses, including casinos, bars and restaurants.
Low mortgage rates also are a key factor for a busy housing market, according to real estate experts.
“Numbers are up, way up. There is actually a housing shortage in Elko County, with interest rates low, mining good and gold prices up,” said James Winer, owner-broker of the Coldwell Banker Excel agency. “Prices are trending up and pretty rapidly.”
He said the average sales price since January of this year for all homes ranging from the smallest to the largest and including modular and mobiles has increased 6.8% in Elko, which means roughly $20,000 more than last year.
The average price in Elko is $296,500, with 318 homes sold from January to Sept. 30, up 55 over the number sold last year in the same period. Elko has roughly 71 homes on the market, including new construction.
The average price in Spring Creek is $269,000, with 301 homes sold to date, up 22 from January through September 2019. The price is up 4.8%, or roughly $12,800, Winer said. Spring Creek has about 35 homes on the market.
The average price of a home in Elko in June 2019 was $281,000, and the average home in Spring Creek was $258,800, according to Elko Daily Free Press archives.
“We’re still working with buyers who are new miners coming into the community,” as well as those leaving because of retirement or jobs elsewhere, Winer said, also reporting that real estate agents are seeing people coming from states “where they have just had enough,” such as California, Washington and Oregon.
Elko County saw such an influx from out of state 15 years ago, and now it is happening again, he said.
Marcella Syme of eXp Realty LLC and president of the Elko County Association of Realtors said the market is improving. “It’s stable, and the days on the market are super low. It’s definitely a sellers’ market, and it is a great time to buy with interest rates at record lows.”
She also said those in real estate are grateful that Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak “made us an essential business,” so real estate agents could continue working, although under state guidelines. “We appreciate the public’s patience following the guidelines we’ve been given.”
The demand for affordable housing continues. Winer said that has always been an issue in the community, but Bailey Homes has been building smaller homes in Elko in the past half dozen or so years.
Sandy Wakefield of Sandy’s Castles said that along with her rental management she is selling homes, and has had “the best sales year.” She also said that “investors are looking at this as a good year to sell.”
Low mortgage rates are a key factor in housing demand, Wakefield said, citing as an example one renter who bought a house saw their monthly rent go down from $1,700 to a mortgage payment of $1,200 a month.
Bankrate showed the fixed rate for a 30-year mortgage at 3.05%; a VA loan for 30 years, 2.98%; and an FHA mortgage at 2.9% as of Oct. 7, but rates vary day by day.
The low interest rates are attracting buyers, said Tammy Bawcom of Spring Creek-based Bawcom Real Estate. “I have never seen them as low and stay as low as long as they have.” She also said people who bought when mortgage rates were higher are refinancing.
She said the housing market is “extremely good right now. If a house is in good shape and priced right, it sells right away.”
Bawcom also said the upcoming presidential election and who gets elected could have an impact on the housing market.
The Multiple Listing Service shows that the current average days on market for houses is 125 in Elko and 117 in Spring Creek, but Kaci Lynch of the Coldwell Banker office in Spring Creek and vice president and secretary of the Elko County Realtors Association said “most homes are under contract within five days.”
The days on market figures are from listing to closing. The closings, including inspections, appraisals and financing, are taking a long time, she said.
Michele Rambo, Elko’s development manager, said a lot of the construction going on during the summer and now fall is at subdivisions approved in 2018-2019, and “the amount of subdivisions approved so far in 2020 is down slightly due, in part, to the COVID shutdown. However, developers continue to approach the city with discussions of future subdivisions, so the current slump in applications does not appear to be permanent.”
She said subdivisions under construction in Elko include Autumn Colors Phase 5, almost complete; Tower Hill Phase 2, constructing homes now; Tower Hill Phase 3, installing public improvements for development; Great Basin Estates Phase 2, almost complete; Humboldt Hills, constructing homes now; and Cambridge Estates, installing public improvements.
“We have several subdivisions that have been approved recently but haven’t started construction yet,” Rambo also said.
These include Mountain View Townhomes, Townhomes at Ruby View and Aspen Heights, and at least three other subdivisions working their way through the approval process.
Elko County Building and Safety Department Director Thomas Ingersoll said most of the housing development in the county is in the Spring Creek area, including outside the Spring Creek Association borders, and the Hamilton Stage subdivision.
He also said the proposed Ruby Vista subdivision where the Big W Ranch was located across from Spring Creek High School is looking at beginning road work and infrastructure development by the end of this year.
“It will be more like high density housing,” he said, reporting the lots will be 6,000 to 10,000 square feet, “more like city lots.”
Home construction was able to continue during the pandemic, and housing permits inside Elko city limits are up from January to Sept. 30 to 63, compared with 37 in the same period last year, according to Elko Building Department figures.
There were 48 housing permits issued in all of 2019, “and we’ve already exceeded that,” said Kara Vera, technical assistant at the building department. There were only four applications for housing permits in September, however.
Elko County’s building department reported 16 permits issued for new homes in September, compared with 34 in September 2019, also showing a September downturn, but Ingersoll said housing permits are up so far this year.
He said the county has issued permits for 72 new houses from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, compared with 61 houses in the same period last year.
Winer said he understood there are shortages of lumber, and skyrocketing lumber costs are impacting the housing industry.
Homebuyers are booking for new houses into next May and June, Winer said.
According to Fortune magazine, state lockdowns due to the pandemic in the spring caused sawmills nationwide to close and leave trees uncut, at the same time as there was a surge in home renovations and projects. The shortage of lumber and increased demand has seen lumber prices jump 134% year over year.
Permit valuations in Elko for all types of work in September totaled $1.26 million, and valuations from January through September were up at roughly $52.25 million, compared with $39.32 million in the same period of last year.
Permit valuations for all types of construction in September in Elko County totaled $2.26 million, down from $4.71 million in the same month of last year, according to the county department, but Ingersoll said the county is “five weeks ahead as far as permit applications for all types of construction.”
Although housing is in demand, Winer said commercial land sales “have not been brisk this year,” and leasing for offices and retail shops has been slow.
With housing sales are doing well in the pandemic, real estate agents are taking COVID-19 precautions and they are still prohibited from showing houses while an occupant is in residence.
Syme said the latest restrictions from the state allow only four people to be in a house at one time during a showing. She also said some clients are buying homes after virtual tours with the contingency that they see the house within 10 days of accepting a contract.
Cheryl Henning, broker-owner of the new Next Home Infinity Realty and president-elect of the Elko County Association of Realtors, said “COVID really hasn’t affected us. Everybody has been pretty good about complying with rules and what we have to do to stay safe.”
Agents have masks and sanitizers available, too, Bawcom said.