Realtors, developers struggle to meet housing demand

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Louise and Richard Weber of Clovis inspect a home Friday on Benjamin Davis Drive.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Even with their daughters in college, Richard and Louise Weber search for a lot of the same amenities in a home that younger families do — storage space, a good neighborhood and proximity to public schools.

But there are some dealbreakers for Richard, an Air Force retiree — like electric fireplaces.

“For $240,000,” he joked, “a house should be able to burn wood.”

Richard’s been in Clovis for six months. His wife is finishing up her job in Alamogordo. Richard’s looking for a home while staying in a small apartment to do his new contracting position associated with Cannon Air Force Base.

Multiple listing services have 419 homes available in Clovis and Portales — 351 resales at an average price of $173,734 and 68 new homes averaging $212,032.

For homebuyers like the Webers, there are options throughout Clovis and Portales. But they’ve had days in which they had a check ready to hand over in the afternoon, only to find another buyer brought in a check that morning.

“When I came here six months ago, there were about the same number of new homes as there are now,” said Richard Weber. “But all the homes I was looking at then are gone.”

And most incoming military personnel are nothing like the Webers — with 28 1/2 years of military service, an ability to stay somewhere long-term, some capital and previous home ownership.

Instead, they’re likely on their first or second assignment when they come to Cannon, which expects to move from its current base population of 4,300 to 5,500 by 2015.

City leaders have been told by Cannon officials, including commander Col. Stephen Clark, the city can expect a younger population to arrive for the base’s transition into Air Force Special Operations Command.

Younger means members on their first or second assignments, with lower ranks, lower salaries and lower housing allowances. Add it up, it means homes in the $120,000 to $180,000 range, and it means mostly rentals.

“We are working with the community through the Housing Task Force to ensure that safe, affordable housing … is being built for our airmen in the surrounding area,” said Lt. Raymond Gobberg of Cannon’s public affairs office.

“Additionally based on feedback received from our personnel, apartment complexes, townhouses and condominiums are attractive and affordable options for our younger airmen.”

Those are the options in short supply, said Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield. In her realty business, about 400 properties are rentals. And how many are available?

One, Brumfield said … maybe two.

Similar-sized cities, she said, usually have 92 to 94 percent capacity on rental properties.

“I think the rentals are in short supply, there’s not any question about that,” Brumfield said. “I think that’s really our problem area.”

But she said she believes the private sector is stepping up to the plate.

She points to a series of duplexes being built near Bob Spencer Field on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and “as they’re building them, they’re being rented.”

Brumfield is also hoping a 200-unit rental complex planned for the northeast side of Clovis could be fast-tracked. She wouldn’t identify the out-of-town builder, but noted it has built similar complexes for other military communities with one-, two- and three-bedroom units available with rent in the $700 to $1,100 per month range.

The company is hoping to break ground next January, but Brumfield wants to see it happen a few months faster.

Portales might not be building anything close to that range, but Mayor Orlando Ortega is happy with how builders have responded.

“There’s a demand for both” rentals and homes to own, Ortega said. “Definitely, having Eastern New Mexico University there, it fluctuates with rentals, but there’s always a demand.”

He remembers five years ago, during his first term, builders were just averaging eight to 12 new homes per year. As he gets ready to step down from his second term, Ortega said he expects 60 new homes to be built in Portales this year.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” Ortega said. “The numbers are moving up, the population is growing. I’m very proud of our local builders who have stepped up to the plate.”

The Webers like Clovis for the activities it provides, but said that some weekend activities end up competing against each other. But they just as easily could pick Portales, where their daughter Leslie attends ENMU.

Ortega knows the shopping and restaurant options are less than Clovis, but Portales has its own appeal.

“We have a great community with a wonderful university,” Ortega said. “It’s a very safe community, and we work every day at improving the quality of life”

But nobody wants to strike out.

• There are younger military members who don’t want to be broke.

“To a typical airman, affordable housing is defined by how much of an allowance he gets,” Col. Steven Kimball, mission support group commander for the base, said in February. “If he can pay for his housing and utilities, without dipping into his salary, that would be considered affordable.”

• For the Webers, it’s an investment. If you’re spending $240,000 on a house, you have to figure in a 6 percent fee to the Realtor, and you’ll probably have to sell the house for $260,000 to break even down the road.

• And for builders and property owners, it’s trying to build without having empty buildings. Brumfield said she built a duplex three years ago for about $195,000.

“To get your return on that — most people would want at least a 6-to-8 percent return, you need to get $12,000 to $13,000 a year (from each renter),” Brumfield said.