Housing Costs Outpace Local Middle Class

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David Engelman walks his dog twice a day. And twice a day, he's astounded by the asking prices for some of the aging manufactured homes in his north Payson neighborhood.

"There's one that's going for $169,000. It's a little double-wide trailer, no garage, no landscaping," he said. "I think the prices are growing too much. It's insane."

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Real estate broker, Cliff Potts likens the current real estate market to a balloon. "The balloon is expanding as market forces act on it. Some air might come out, but not a lot."

Even some real estate agents and brokers are shaking their heads in disbelief.

"People are climbing over each other for property," said Cliff Potts, former mayor of Payson and real estate broker.

Potts pointed to Pinon Ridge, the area above Payson Regional Medical Center, where escalating prices underscore Payson's heated real estate market.

"The asking prices for lots have doubled," Potts said. "A month ago they were $40,000, now they're $80,000."

And if you've been looking for a house, it seems the cost of housing in Payson has increased almost overnight.

According to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) the average price of a home in Payson in the first six month of 2004 was $177,023, in the first half of this year, that number has increased to $263,526.

Some people talk about real estate like it's a bubble about to burst. But many Realtors in Payson said that just isn't the case.

"I think a bubble is when things are overpriced and it reaches a peak and people just won't pay that price anymore," said real estate broker, Steve Cantrill.

But buyers continue to pay premium prices for property in the Rim country while back up bidders line up, willing to make offers above and beyond the asking and appraised values.

"It's a buyer's frenzy," said appraiser Larry Everhart. "They're asking some unbelievable prices for these things. Lots of time I can't say it's worth it."

The dollar amounts reflect the disparity of values in Payson's housing market. According real estate broker, Will Dietz, the number of homes sold in the first six months of this year as compared to last year are about the same -- around 220.

But, cumulative sales are not: In 2004 at the end of May, $38.9 million worth of housing had been sold. As of May 25 of this year, the real estate market ‘s revenue has increased 15 percent to $59.8 million.

"I don't see any slowing down yet," said Everhart. "I see a slowing of listings, but they're asking some unbelievable prices."

Everhart said listings are slowing down because people are sitting on their properties. But, when homes do go on the market, they're gobbled up by outside investors.

"Eighty-five percent of the people come up from the Valley," said Cantrill. "People that have the money will pay the premium to be here."

Meanwhile, the American dream of owning a home is becoming an impossibility for the average Payson resident: Local wages are not commensurate with the soaring prices of housing.

"First-time home buyers are in direct competition with investors who have the cash to buy houses outright," said Potts. "A couple working at Wal-Mart with no debt would have a difficult time qualifying for a house."

And that's just where Michael and Jodie Fain found themselves when their rental home was about to be sold from under them. They had a few months to get out and find another place to live -- but they didn't want to rent.

"It was difficult to find a house," said Jodie. "The first house we could settle on, every window was broken, every door was off. It had no yard, and they were asking $135,000, and the appraisal came in $11,000 more. It had so many problems we couldn't get financing."

The Fains looked for a home nearly every day for a couple months. Their search turned up only two to three listings a week for their $140,000 budget.

"In our price range, we were looking at $900 to $1,000 a month," said Jodie. "(The high prices) are forcing people into these crappy old homes that are scary. So many homes had fire and safety issues."

The Fains eventually found a well-maintained, three bedroom, two bathroom home. Their agent snagged the house before it went on the market.

"Get a good Realtor," said Jodie a 28-year-old stay-at-home mother. "The market is too crazy right now, and (houses) are sold. And if they're not sold, there's a reason they're not sold."

Jodie said she and her husband ran into financing issues too. As a homemaker for the past three years, Jodie got a better interest rate than her husband who had a steady 10-year employment record, but average credit.

"It would have been hard to get financing if I didn't have good credit," said Jodie. "(Michael) would have gotten a higher interest rate and our payments would have been unaffordable."

Citizens Awareness Committee secretary, David Engelman blamed the spike in housing prices on the real estate industry, local politics and the chamber of commerce.

"Stop promoting Payson from all over the country," said Engelman. "The people who buy properties are investors and it's getting out of hand. If you live here, you're stuck."

Because as much as property values are increasing in Payson, Potts said this area has plenty of catching up to do with neighboring municipalities like Sedona, Flagstaff and Prescott where average homes prices hover in the mid- to upper-$300,000 range.

"We're lagging behind those markets," said Potts. "We're limited by available land and then ultimately, we'll be limited by water. If you factor in out the Rim Club and Chaparral Pines, there are only 16 vacant lots for sale in Payson."

Before you decide to sell your property, Potts said to do your homework. Even though your house may have doubled in value, a new purchase in a different region may yield less property for more money.

"I see people here taking the opportunity to take the cash out of their home," said Cantrill. "Most people don't move up. Unless you want to move back to a farm town in Missouri, the prices are going up."

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