The local real estate market seems to be on the climb since April of this year, that according to a sampling of real estate brokers and agents in the local area. While there are some minor glitches that exist with the current housing stock, home prices and interest rates remain low and buyers are finding good deals on property. Following is a detailed report on today’s market conditions.

Desert Mountain Realty

Kenna Almberg

Kenna Almberg

The real estate market in Ely is gaining ground and looking hopeful, according to broker Kenna Almberg of Desert Mountain Realty

With 22 open escrows in the last month, Almberg said her office has been really busy during the summer, a time she felt was just right for homebuyers.

Almberg, who’s been selling real estate in the Ely area since 2002 and who took over as broker of the 36-year-old Desert Mountain Realty in 2009, said she has seen the industry cycle through good times and bad, and feels that the market began to stabilize over the course of the last two years since the decline of the real estate market that began in 2009.

“I’ve watched it go up and down and mining has a lot to do with what drives the market,” she said, though she was unsure as to what was propelling the current market. “I’m not seeing a lot of transactions due to people coming in from mining right now. It’s just a little of everything — some people upgrading and just your regular turnover. It’s been a busy second half of the summer so far.”

Almberg, who grew up in Lund, moved to town in 1999 when the mine had just closed, then watched as the business restarted in 2002. The market moved slow with buyers from the mine but other sources of home buying that came from outside the area, folks looking to retire, others looking to escape the city, and buyers that were looking for a second home as an investment, added to the pace until the market peaked in 2007 or 2008, prior to the crash. Almberg said that the local market tends to follow one or two years behind the bigger cities like Reno or Las Vegas.

At the time, Almberg estimated the average home price in Ely to be about $175,000, a price she figures dropped some 15 percent since the market collapse, with homes now running in the $150,000 range.

Another issue that hurt local real estate prices during the recession was a lack of financing forthcoming from banks for land and construction.

“Our land sales have not been that great for the last five years due, primarily, to the banking industry,” she said. “When the government bailed them out, they quit doing any kind of risky loans due to the high foreclosure rate.”

Almberg said the result was a slowdown in building due to buyers having to have cash in pocket to buy land.

“Now we’re starting to see a lot more banks start to loosen their belts and more money become available for land sales and construction,” she said.

Almberg cited the new Love’s truck stop being built on Great Basin Highway as an example of construction money being approved but said the majority of money being spent locally was going towards the building of custom homes. She said there has been a lot of talk over the years about the need for rental property in the area and the possibility of building some apartment complexes, but even the local rental market has seen a decrease in customers.

“Many people looking for rental property don’t realize they can buy a home for less than they can rent,” Almberg said. “They’re often in better shape than they think they are.”

She said that in the past, buyers were being swayed by media reports that assert lenders have cracked down on providing home loans, a myth she claimed is not necessarily true for first time homebuyers.

“There’s a lot of really great programs that help qualified homebuyers, especially in rural Nevada” she said, noting the USDA has programs that provide up to 100 percent financing with very competitive interest rates.

“All a buyer has to come up with is the closing costs,” she said.

Almberg said there is a fairly stable market supply of homes available now and encouraged buyers and sellers to take advantage of the summertime market.

Silver Rio, LLC

Kathy R. Smith

Kathy R. Smith

Kathy R. Smith is almost a newcomer to the local real estate market, having opened her Silver Rio, LLC, real estate office just four years ago. But Smith isn’t a newcomer to Ely; she graduated from White Pine High School in 1975, then attended the University of Nevada, Reno, where she graduated with a civil engineering degree.

She lived in Reno for 13 years before relocating to Las Vegas where she ran her own civil engineering company, overseeing some 80 employees, before selling it and returning to Ely where she still had strong ties to family and friends.

The time in Las Vegas really benefitted Smith though in that she estimates probably 90 percent of her customer base are cash buyers from the Vegas metropolitan area; buyers looking to trade the crowded, sometimes dangerous urban neighborhoods of southern Nevada for the more peaceful environs of Ely and White Pine County.

“The weather, the stress level, and the pace is much slower,” she said, describing the reasons people are buying homes in the area. “A lot of people in Vegas buy property here and go back and forth.”

Smith bought a ranch about 45 minutes north of town and now, in addition to selling properties, raises cutting horses there. Ideally, as a real estate broker, ranches and larger properties are Smith’s specialties and a market she’s been having a lot of success in.

She said the market has been up and down, slowing in the winter months when residents tend to stay indoors, and gaining in the summer when buyer and sellers are looking to make lifestyle changes. The moderate summertimes temps in the Ely area are another prime selling point to buyers from Vegas that are forced to endure sweltering temperatures that can reach into the upper 100s and higher for weeks on end.

“There’s a lot of people looking to escape the heat,” she said.

Smith said the many summertime activities, such as the Fourth of July parade and festivities, the horse races and golf tournaments were also luring new buyers to the local market.

“There are a lot of events going on to get people in here,” she said. “The key is when people come here and experience it; they really like it here. It’s a desirable place for people that live in the city.”

But while ranches and other larger properties are being gobbled up by outsiders, business is brisk amongst locals as well during the summer, with residents buying up smaller regional properties, either upgrading or downgrading, depending on their station in life.

She said she foresees a future market, one not too distant down the road, where more and more younger people make life changing decisions that include leaving the metropolitan areas for the more friendly confines of Ely and the surrounding rural area.

“I see it growing and growing as time goes on, especially with younger people,” she said. “They want the quality of life that Ely has to offer — a safe place to raise their children. That’s the key.”

Smith said she has met people who have moved here that have purchased an existing businesses and have a mindset that they want to create employment and grow their business.

“I think that is the future, along with the tourism,” she said.

She feels family ties and the safety of the area would feed the market in the coming years, a desire that led to her own return to the area after a successful career in Las Vegas.

“Family and friends are the things that bind you to Ely,” she said, noting many of her friends that had left the area when they were younger to explore other opportunities, were now of an age where they wanted to settle back in the hometown they were raised in.

While Smith lamented the current lower per square foot prices of properties and the effect they were having on sellers wishing to market their homes, she said it’s a buyers market and the market is what dictates prices. With home prices lower than they have been in the past, and interests rates low enough to take advantage of, she said she is seeing a lot of first time buyers who are getting assistance with down payments, and that she has even run into many first time buyers who, after 20 year or more of living in the county, have recently made the decision to purchase a home.

“They feel comfortable now and they want to stay here and retire here,” she said. “This summer has been very good, there’s a lot of movement.”

She said if the interest rates stay low and the market continues doing well, people looking for a home this summer that haven’t found it by winter, might drive prices up. She said that while there are a number of older, fixer-upper homes on the market, there’s a real gap in available newer homes.

“People in newer homes tend to stay there,” she said.

She said oftentimes, the older homes are primarily two bedroom, one bath with no garage, and that even single buyers are looking for three-bedroom, two bath homes. When she was a child, she said, her father added a bedroom every time a new baby was born. This was the way of many of the early inhabitants of Ely, thus explaining the hodgepodge of neighborhood homes and styles that make up the town.

While providing, in part, for Ely’s unique neighborhood character, in the everyday world of buying and selling real estate, the add ons and catch up brand of home building can create mayhem for an agent trying to market a property. But Smith just rolls with the obstacles, creating a positive experience for her clients.

I love people, I love being a broker,” she said. “I meet a lot of people I would never meet — even locals — and I get to use my brain. To me this is a great place to live.”

Keller Williams

Angela Simpson

Angela Simpson

For seven years, Angela Simpson has been the broker at Keller Williams real estate offices in Ely. While business slowed considerably during the winter months, sales began to increase in April and the office has been busy since.

Simpson said there was a strong market for homes under $150,000 and the office was seeking out new, first time buyers, though they were still producing sales from other sectors of the market.

“We’re mostly taking listings and working with new home buyers — first time buyers,” she said. “The market has been improving.”

Finding homes that meet bank lending requirement was a problem the office has struggled with, with many sales being pushed out of escrow after major faults are located upon inspection.

“That’s probably one of the biggest problems,” said Jami Brinkerhoff, a realtor in the office. “Too often the condition of the home doesn’t meet lender requirements for financing. Keeping your home well maintained is important in this market.”

Simpson suggested if you want to sell a home in a small community such as Ely, a community with very few buyers, it’s important to make sure the home is in “tip top condition” to sell.

“First impressions are last impressions,” she said. “Clean up before considering putting it on the market. If I show a home in poor condition, chances of me showing that home again are quite slim.”

Betsy Lopez, another Realtor in the office, agreed home maintenance was an important issue when competing to sell a home in today’s market.

“Spend your money on your roof,” she said, suggesting that homeowners save for such an expense so they’re ready when the time comes to sell.

“It’s not a priority until it’s too late,” she said.

She also suggested new paint and visiting the local hardware stores, finding ways to decorate the home and update maintenance projects.

Another issue hindering sales at Keller Williams is the local gossip mill.

“It didn’t help much with people spreading the rumor that the mine was going to close down,” Simpson said. “It seemed like a ghost town. In a small town, it just take s a few people to get the word out and have things slow down.”

Simpson said when the rumor was at its strongest, it scared people into putting their homes on the market but at the same time, made buyers afraid to make purchases.

Lopez said everyone was wondering if the mines were going to be able to secure the next year’s budget and remain open.

“It’s just rumors,” she said. “People don’t understand what’s happening. Really, it’s not as bad as people say.”

Lopez said if the mine shuts down, it would be “devastating” in that homeowners would owe more than their homes were worth.

“With the closure of the mine, it would rock the market,” she said.

She said another issue, sage grouse habitat, could possibly have a negative effect on future home sales and suggested that residents become educated on the issue and become involved, making their feelings known to politicians that represent the area.

“I think that all of us need to be informed and not let these things slide under our nose,” Lopez said.

Despite the obstacles though, Both Simpson and Brinkerhoff agreed the market was moving in a positive direction.

“Over the last couple of years the market has been slowly improving,” Simpson said. “We have people from Las Vegas come up here to escape the heat and the traffic and people wanting second homes — vacation homes.”

Brinkerhoff said that it was a good year for tourism and that when people visit, many take an interest in moving to the area.

“People come here, they see it and like it,” she said.

She said that they were seeing a lot of “move up” buyers as well.

“It’s continuing to improve and we’re going to need more homes to sell,” she said.