Homebuilding heating up in Clark County

Permits more than double in first quarter

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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Clark County homebuilders and their subcontractors are getting busy again, after a series of lackluster years for the industry, according to a report issued Monday.

Home permits to build single-family houses more than doubled in the first three months of the year in unincorporated parts of the county — 193 this year compared with 92 during the same period a year earlier — the county's Community Development Department reported.

"We've been getting a real good reception," said Jon Suomala, a business accountant for Vancouver-based Aho Construction I Inc., which is building detached, single-family houses at the High Meadow community in the Minnehaha area. Located in the unincorporated portion of the county, the subdivision now is down to about 30 available lots, after starting the year with 50, Suomala said.

"We've made a real good start to the year, in terms of activity," he said.

The area's dwindling supply of existing homes for sale is one of the major forces behind the homebuilding resurgence, said Terry Wollam, a broker with Re/Max Equity Group in Vancouver who specializes in selling new-home product.

Wollam said more of the county's distressed properties have been sold to willing buyers, such as investors who aim to build up real estate equity and turn a profit from rents that increased by about 15 percent this year, compared to last year.

"One of the strongest aspects (of the housing recovery) is the investor market," Wollam said, describing the group as investors seeking houses priced around $220,000 and less.

"That's where it's easy to purchase a home and make a cash flow," he said.

Wollam also is seeing fewer bank-owned houses and fewer short sales — in which the sellers negotiate with their lender to sell the house for less than is owed.

Interest rates that have remained low — at less than 4 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate loan — also are enticing buyers, Suomala said.

"People are comfortable buying with rates where they're at and the range of upgrades we're able to offer," he said.

Homes in the company's High Meadow community are priced from $209,000 to $270,000, with floor plans from 1,400 to 2,850 square feet.

Suomala also pointed out that rising rent payments are partly responsible for the resurgence in buyers who are also becoming more confident as consumers.

"When people look at the rental market, they say, 'Now I can buy what I want,'" he said.