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Clark County welcomes newcomers

Many drawn by absence of income tax, low home prices, pros say

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Published: January 18, 2011, 12:00am

More people moved to Clark County last year than the previous year, even though fewer houses were sold.

That has caused the market for rental units to tighten as newcomers continued to find the absence of state income taxes attractive. Real estate experts also say the county boasts some of the lowest home prices in the Portland-Vancouver metro area, which could be another reason Clark County attracted 22 percent more out-of-town arrivals in 2010 than in 2009.

Year — residents

2010 — 15,008

2009 — 12,283

2008 — 12,655

2007 — 13,296

2006 — 16,072

Source: Washington State Department of Licensing

The majority of the 15,008 newcomers who last year turned in out-of-county driver’s licenses for local ones came from Oregon. California drivers were the second-largest group, according to the Washington Department of Licensing. In December alone, of the 1,103 county newcomers, 587 were from Oregon, along with 90 from California, 42 from Michigan, 25 from Arizona and 23 from Texas, among other states.

Newcomers from Oregon made up more than 51.7 percent of new Clark County residents, or 7,769 people, in 2010. Californians made up 11.8 percent, or 1,772 of the drivers who transferred to Clark County for the year.

The two West Coast states consistently bring the highest influx of home buyers to Clark County, said Mike Lamb, a real estate broker who works for Windermere/Stellar Group in Vancouver.

Year -- residents

2010 -- 15,008

2009 -- 12,283

2008 -- 12,655

2007 -- 13,296

2006 -- 16,072

Source: Washington State Department of Licensing

“There are still lots of tax refugees coming, especially retirees and people who don’t have to live in any particular place,” he said.

Oregon residents pay income tax of 9 percent if they earn more than $7,601 a year, and 11 percent on earnings above $250,000. California’s state income tax rate is 8 percent for people earning between $37,234 and $47,055 annually. It is 9.3 percent for those who earn $47,056 or more.

“People who have options say to me, ‘I won’t live in a state that has an income tax,’” Lamb said.

More renters

Despite the higher population influx, home sales declined by 5.3 percent in 2010, when 5,190 new and preowned Clark County houses were sold, according to the “benchmarks” report issued this week by Vancouver-based Riley & Marks appraisal firm.

That could account for an increase in rental activity, said Dea Pittman, assistant property manager of the Fishers Mill apartment complex off Mill Plain Boulevard near 164th Avenue.

“We have seen more people coming in from out of state within the last year than in the past five years,” said Pittman, who tracks where renters come from based on their online inquiries.

A similar increase has occurred at Key Property Services Inc., which manages 2,500 Clark County apartment rentals and 100 single-family homes for rent, said Eric Johnson, the company’s vice president.

“Our occupancy rates are great, both with apartments and houses. We rent those (houses) as soon as we get them vacant,” Johnson said.

He said vacancy rates increased early on in the recession, which began in December 2007. Since then, occupancy rates have rebounded.

“It’s back to what we would consider normal. We’re at 5 percent or less vacancy at pretty much all of our facilities,” Johnson said.

Doubling up

Economists have said the recession officially ended in June 2009, despite persistently high local and national unemployment.

But the recession is far from over for some new residents who moved here to stay with family or friends, said Lamb, who also owns rental properties.

“Maybe they have a friend here who has a job, so they’re going to come here and look for work. That’s one of the reasons you don’t see it in the home sales,” he said.

Johnson said his company also is noticing more people are doubling up than before.

“There are now more people per unit, living in our apartments,” he said. “The economy is causing more people to share dwellings than we have traditionally seen.”

Other real estate agents say they’ve heard from a few people who moved to Clark County to take advantage of lower starter-home prices, said to be among the lowest in the Portland-Vancouver metro area, said Tracie DeMars, a Vancouver-based broker with Re/Max Equity Group Inc.

She recently listed a three-bedroom home for $135,000 in Vancouver, near Southeast 164th Avenue.

“Home prices are still low and the schools here are better than a lot of other places,” she said.

Plans prompt activity

DeMars also thinks the highly publicized hiring plans of a few new Clark County companies has prompted some relocation activity.

For example, in its merger with Southwest Washington Medical Center, Bellevue-based PeaceHealth has said it expects to employ between 640 and 740 people at its proposed Clark County headquarters by the end of the decade. California-based Fisher Investments already employs 325 people in Clark County, has broken ground on a $30 million office complex and expects operations here to grow by about a third in 2011.

“If you know that there is a huge employer coming in, you’re going to want to be established in the area,” DeMars said.

The number of newcomers arriving in Washington also increased for the year, with 159,501 out-of-state drivers obtaining Washington driver’s licenses, up 23.3 percent over 2009.

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