WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee Valley’s rental market is so tight now that some out-of-town workers building the area’s newest, largest apartment complex can’t find a place to rent.
“Some of them will likely have to wait months to find a really decent rental,” said Sandy Herring, a property manager and broker for Century 21 in Wenatchee. “Workers are arriving for construction projects, medical jobs, data center work in Quincy — and our waiting list for rentals just keeps growing.”
In 2013, Wenatchee’s always-squeezed rental market has shrunken an additional 30 to 60 percent from last year, depending on the type of rental, as the economy improves and workers in a variety of industries take up temporary residence. Add families and retirees eager to relocate here, and scarce rentals become prized commodities — which means rents rise, too.
Vacancy rates in the Wenatchee market traditionally float between 4 and 6 percent, according to figures compiled monthly by Pacific Appraisal Associates, a Wenatchee-based consulting and appraisal firm.
But in recent months the rate has hovered at 1 or 2 percent for apartments, at 1 percent or less for single-family homes and in August dipped to 0 percent for rentals of upscale condos in nicer neighborhoods.
Pacific Appraisal surveys seven local property management companies that handle about 1,050 apartments and 520 single-family homes in the Wenatchee market, which includes Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Malaga, Orondo and Rock Island.
Some relief is expected next summer with completion of the first phase of the Wenatchee Valley’s largest-ever apartment complex — a 312-unit behemoth on the city’s waterfront.
But until then, the $30 million project, called Ninth & Riverside Apartments, is expected to draw hundreds of workers to the area during its two- to three-year timeline — and they’ll all need a place to live.
“We get dozens of calls from workers needing short-term rentals,” said Valerie Priestly, co-manager with her husband Paul of the Cedarwood Apartments, a 120-unit complex in north Wenatchee that’s set for expansion next year. “Carpenters, road builders, medical staff, professors, fruit people — all here for a few months and desperate for a nice place to rent.”
Demand for rentals is so high in the area, said Priestly, that Cedarwood long ago gave up offering short-term rentals and quit keeping a waiting list. “No need for either,” she said. “An apartment becomes vacant, and it often rents the same day.”
Wenatchee Valley College students from out of town — Spokane, Tri-Cities, Yakima — grab many of Cedarwood’s apartments, said Priestly. Next year, the complex plans a 16-unit expansion of one-bedroom apartments partly aimed at the student market and the first in a 120-unit project planned for build-out over the next few years.
Loretta Watson, president of the Rental Association of Wenatchee Valley (an organization of landlords and property owners), said more people might be searching for rentals due to post-recession woes — the loss of a job or foreclosure on a house — and a failure to qualify for a home loan. “That would be one factor in our tight market,” she said.
But for years many renters in the area have also had to go through a fairly rigorous application and approval process, said Watson. That application can include personal and income information that could screen a potential renter from some properties.
The tight market has also pushed rents higher, said Herring, who’s managed rental properties in the area for 15 years. “And, of course that’s a huge benefit for landlords.”
The Wenatchee Valley’s long-time median monthly rent of around $750 has climbed to $900 or more for newer, more modern apartments in popular neighborhoods, said Herring. And single-family homes? For well-kept properties, the price has shot above $1,500 per month — sometimes $2,000 — for a 3- or 4-bedroom home.
“It all comes down to supply and demand,” said Herring. “Small, lower-priced rentals in not-so-popular neighborhoods are available, but not everyone is ready to compromise in that regard. So we add their names to our waiting list.”
Right now, she said, “We just need more places available. This market is screaming for new rentals.”