Strictly Business: Spring, and recovery, in the air




It’s easy to overlook the encouraging buds of a spring recovery with so many reports focused on problems in Clark County’s real estate market.

But the signals are there for anyone who dares to compare this year’s green shoots with the beginning of 2011, when home sales were wilting, property sales drying up, and the construction dust seemed to have blown away for good.

Year-over-year home sales activity increased steadily in each of the past eight months and new-home construction started the year on a two-month strong note. The 53 permits issued in the first two months of the year represented a 39.5 percent increase over 38 permits handed out during the same period in 2011.

According to Mike Lamb, a broker with Windermere Real Estate Stellar Group in Vancouver, new sales activity is the best indication of market strength, reflected in 532 pending residential sales in February. Pending sales — which indicate a contract has been signed but not closed — were up 30.4 percent from 408 pending sales in February 2011.

Closed sales also improved in February, with 328 homes sold in Clark County, up from 274 sales in the same month last year. The number of mortgages in foreclosure receded as well, dropping 65 percent to 134 houses in February, down for the 10th month in a row, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

Still not convinced? I agree that it’s difficult to envision recovery when mortgages are underwater, the job market is still down, prices are rising, savings are dwindling and pay raises are still so darn rare.

What we’re talking about here are the signs of progress.

Yes, Clark County residents and businesses are still facing tough times, but a handful of commercial real estate transactions and projects clearly signal new growth.

Among the highlights:

• Empty industrial space is starting to sell and fill, driving the county’s vacancy rate to 13 percent, down from 15 percent at the end of 2011. Recent sales included the $1.8 million Hambleton Bros. Lumber Co.’s former Washougal wood processing site and the $1.67 million former BMG Building Materials site.

nCommercial properties are starting to sell and develop. They include the $2.1 million Salmon Creek Days Inn, expected to reopen this month, and a $5 million retail complex anchored by 7-Eleven, expected to break ground in east Vancouver in May.

nResidential construction is starting to make a comeback in projects such as Vancouver’s planned 2012 Parade of Homes, the 200-unit NorthGlen Villas apartment project under construction and the Vancouver Housing Authority’s newly opened Vista Court senior apartment complex.

With several more projects waiting in the wings — Stephen’s Place, a $10 million Vancouver community planned for adults with developmental disabilities, and Fisher Investments’ third campus building in Camas — one can’t help but sense the start of recovery.

It’s been a long winter. Let’s hope for a flourishing spring.

Cami Joner is a Columbian business reporter: 360-735-4532;;;