Bakersfield apartments filling up fast
| Sunday, Apr 08 2012 09:00 AM
Last Updated Sunday, Apr 08 2012 09:00 AM
Lori Blattenberg didn’t expect to find herself looking for an apartment on her own again.
But because she and her husband are separating, she was at a downtown property management office Friday morning, looking through the listings.
“It’s tough,” Blattenberg said of her apartment search. She’s been online and through the newspaper, up and down city streets, looking for the perfect place for herself and her 6-year-old son.
“To get in a decent area, in a good school district, it’s a little bit higher than what a single mom can pay,” Blattenberg said. She’s looking for something below $800 a month and which, ideally, would allow her son to keep his dog. She hasn’t found that yet, but she has found waiting lists at some apartments.
It’s the same story all over Bakersfield. Apartment complexes throughout the city have extremely low vacancy rates. Those that are vacant are snatched up. And some complexes have waiting lists.
Housing crisis refugees explain some of it, but that’s not the whole picture.
While local foreclosure rates remain extraordinarily high — 328 last month alone — they’ve actually fallen consistently for a couple of years now. Last month’s foreclosures were down 48.7 percent from March of 2010.
“The economy is pretty strong here, so there’s been more hiring, and as people are feeling more optimistic they’re moving out from their parents’ homes and leaving their roommates,” said Marc Thurston, senior vice president, investment services at ASU Associates.
Blattenberg said her parents offered her a place in their home, but she wants her own place.
“They have a house that would’ve been more than accomodating,” she said. “But I just feel like I need to be with my son and he needs his own space and I need my own space.”
There have been waiting lists off and on for the last six months at the Villa Mondavi and Polo Villas apartment complexes in northwest Bakersfield.
Property manager Robin Coleman hasn’t seen a lot of applicants fleeing short sales or foreclosures. It’s generally traditional renters coming from other apartments, but they’re finding a tough market.
“We just don’t have a lot of turnover,” Coleman said.
The local multifamily housing market has been strong at least since last spring, which has given landlords the confidence to demand higher deposits from tenants with less than stellar credit, and raise rents across the board.
Last month, the average apartment rent within 10 miles of Bakersfield was $891, up from $729 in March 2010, according to housing search engine RentJungle.com.
But recently some apartment seekers have discovered they can’t find a place at any price. There just aren’t any openings.
Rafael Gonzalez, a high school teacher of English as a second language, said he’s been looking for an apartment for himself and his two children for three months. But he’s not been finding exactly what he wants.
“That’s because I’m being somewhat selective because of where I want to rent,” he said.
Gonzalez is looking for a place in northwest Bakersfield that will allow his 9-year-old son to stay in the same school district, but also will be cheaper than the $1,500 a month he pays now.
“I’m looking for another location (in the northwest), a little bit less pricey. It’s tough to find,” he said.
Gonzalez was switching tactics on Friday, driving around town to look at apartments during his midday break, because looking online hadn’t netted solid results.
About a year ago, Gonzalez sold his home through a short sale. He’d prefer to buy a home again.
“I have to wait another two years before I can actually apply to get another home,” he said. “I’d rather be paying into a home than be paying rent.”
At Canyon Creek Apartments in northeast Bakersfield, assistant manager Alex Parker said it’s been a busy week. But that’s not surprising to her.
“During the holidays, people aren’t generally wanting to move and uproot,” she said. Post-holidays, people have a little more money from tax returns or because Christmas shopping is long done, and “then it picks up,” she said.
Of the 112 units in the complex, a couple are expected to open up next month, she said. Those currently vacant are already spoken for for next month.
Part of what’s fueling demand is corporate relocations, said Richard Chapman, president of the Kern Economic Development Corp.
“We’ve finally got the economy running on all four cylinders now, so that’s helping,” he said.
Particularly in the oil and health care sector, some of those newcomers are contract workers who aren’t interested in buying, Chapman said.
But even those who want to buy may not be in a position to.
Since the housing market crash, lenders have strengthened credit standards, among other things requiring larger downpayments. That’s put homeownership out of reach for some.
Even if home shoppers have a downpayment and good credit, they’re competing with real estate investors who can pay cash for limited inventory.
The supply of existing single-family homes in the Bakersfield area dropped 7.3 percent to 1,430 from February to March, a decline of more than a third year-over-year, according to the Preliminary Crabtree Report.
However, that is not a true picture of what’s available.
The supply of active listings — excluding homes with contingent offers awaiting bank approval — dropped 21 percent for the month to 583.
Even as inventory contracts, demand is rising, driving the median price of a Bakersfield house up 9.2 percent from February to March to $131,000.
Melissa Baca, resident manager at Whispering Meadows in north Bakersfield, says the 240-unit complex is about 96 percent full, but the few vacancies generally last less than a week.
“I love it,” she said, barely able to contain her delight. “I’ve got 12 applications on my desk that I’m processing right now.”
It’s a far cry from 2008, when local occupancy rates got pretty lean.
“Everybody was getting laid off then and they moved out of the apartments and in with their family,” Baca said.
Her advice to frustrated apartment seekers is to check in regularly about new openings, and look presentable when handing in an application.
“Don’t walk in with your just woke up look,” Baca said. “Now that it’s a landlord’s market, we can be choosy, so you want to be prepared when you go in and dress your best.”