home construction

Workers build a house in a subdivision on Monday in Logan.

Housing prices in Cache County have increased at a faster rate than the four Wasatch Front counties over the past 10 years as a housing boom has swept the Beehive State in the wake of the Great Recession.

According to numbers from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, the median sale price of single family homes, condos and townhomes, adjusted for inflation, has increased by 11 percent in Cache County from 2007 to 2017 compared to a 7.8 percent increase in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties.

James Wood, Ivory-Boyer senior fellow at the policy institute, said the higher growth rate in Cache County is all about affordability. Housing in Cache County has always been cheaper than the Wasatch Front, and as Utah’s population and job market have surged, so has the demand for housing.

“In Logan and Cache County where prices are affordable, in a really hot market there’s room to really move them up,” Wood said. “And that’s what’s happening. Buyers are putting the price up and people want to get in.”

Those rapidly increasing property values have posed some challenges for Cache County Assessor Kathleen Howell. It’s her job to value all 46,000 properties in the county within 10 percent of what they would sell for.

“That’s the hard part,” Howell said, “is keeping up with the market and the rising house prices and property prices.”

In a presentation to the Cache County Council last month, Howell said the number of building permits has grown exponentially since 2010, the year that local property values first began to dip due to the recession. At that time, 980 building permits were issued throughout the county, compared to 1,271 in 2015 and 1,950 in 2017.

“We have lots of new growth,” Howell told the council. “All you have to do is look out the windows, and if you haven’t seen it, I’m here to tell you.”

While the housing market across Utah has boomed, incomes have not. Wood said very low interest rates have helped make up for stagnant pay, allowing more people to get into homes. But during a housing boom, he said, there are always losers. Particularly at risk are renters making less than the median income.

“If you’re trying to get in, it can be really tough, and you feel like you’ve been left out and the train has left the station,” Wood said.

Cache County has been a strange place in recent years for renters, according to Kent Watson, housing assistance and human services director for the Bear River Association of Governments.

He said he’s seen apartments in Logan that were renting for $700 three years ago now renting at $1,000 a month.

“More people than apartments,” Watson said. “Supply and demand. And so landlords are just jacking up the rents.”

Just within the past 18 months, Watson said he’s seen the rental market really tighten up. Besides higher rents and fewer units available, he’s seen new ways for landlords to squeeze out a few more dollars from tenants.

“They’re charging lease initiation fees of a couple hundred bucks — we’ve never heard of that before,” Watson said. “Lawn maintenance fees, parking fees even. You don’t even get a free parking spot when you’re renting.”

Higher property values, Watson said, could also mean more renters forced out of their existing units. He said he’s seen a few cases recently of property owners deciding to sell their rental properties upon realizing they can cash out now and not have to worry about renters.

Ultimately, the housing boom means it will take longer for renters to become homeowners, Wood said. For those who do eventually want to own a home, he said there are two key ingredients: Having 10 years of experience in the labor market and having two incomes, from a partner or spouse. So single people out there — put a ring on it.

Fortunately, Wood said, it doesn’t appear Utah’s housing boom will bust like it did during the Great Recession. He said he expects the current “significant upward pressure” to continue on housing prices over the next 18 months, through the end of 2019. By then, he said Cache County could see housing prices closer to 20 percent above 2007 levels rather than the 11 percent in 2017.

sdolan@hjnews.com Twitter: @RealSeanDolan