Vancouver rental market remains hot

Numerous factors drive up rates in Vancouver, including renters getting priced out of Portland

Apartment rentals signs

Although an Internet search for rental housing in Southwest Washington may appear to show a variety of potential options, actually finding and securing a place to rent these days is complicated.

In Vancouver and the surrounding areas, the housing market is tight. So tight in fact, that during the month of July, Vancouver sat atop the list of the cities in the nation with the fastest growing rents, according to Apartment List. The online rental marketplace said that rental prices in the city for a two-bedroom apartment have increased nearly 10 percent (9.8 percent) since July 2014.

According to the most recent Census data, nearly 40 percent of Vancouver’s 70,005 housing units are in multi-unit structures. However, to those in the housing industry, it is becoming clear that 39.1 percent is just not enough.

“It’s very tight,” said Lyn Ayers, president of the Clark County Rental Association, a nonprofit organization that strives to educate landlords about issues and to advocate on behalf of the 350 members of the organization.

There are several reasons for the tight supply, not the least of which, Ayers said, was the lack of construction following the Great Recession, which didn’t begin to pick up until 2013. Today, the construction of new properties is “going like gangbusters,” he said.

However, as new apartment complexes currently under construction begin to open to the public, demand may normalize. Even still, projects continue to come down the pipeline.

“Developers are only limited by the number of skilled construction workers they can find and hire,” Ayers added. “The speed of the permitting process is another issue, but that is one Clark County is working on.”

Another factor driving rental prices in Vancouver is that when compared to Portland, prices are lower. That fact, Ayers said, is attracting residents who might otherwise live in Oregon.

“Even with the Interstate Bridge fiasco, people are moving up here, which drives up demand and costs and congestion,” he said.

Rates are increasing

While Apartment List points out that rental rates increased in Vancouver by 9.8 percent, their report fails to distinguish between normal increases for continuing tenants and increases that occurred due to turnover. That’s an important distinction to remember when discussing the rental market, said Terry Phillips, president of the Phillips Group, a Vancouver-based property management company.

Phillips’ property management company specializes in an upper income demographic, and he noted that over the past year or so, there have been rent increases of up to 20 percent on turnover (when an occupant moves out of an apartment or single-family residence and a new tenant moves in), but most of those occur in properties that weren’t renting at market value. For those that have been renting at market value, rent increases have been in the three-to-five percent range, he said.

Not all property management companies we contacted have seen huge increases in their rent figures. For example, Lomand Phillips, sales and marketing manager for REAL Property Management Vancouver, said that while he’s heard the reports about Vancouver having one of the highest rent increases in the country, his company hasn’t seen it – at least, not across the board.

“We’ve raised the rent on our newer properties, but we haven’t raised the rent on our existing properties,” he said.

L. Phillips has, however, noticed how ferocious competition is for a rental home in Southwest Washington.

“We can’t keep them,” he said. “Many of our properties are gone before they hit the market, or once it hits the market it’s gone.”

Real Property Management Vancouver has seen the number of available rentals decrease of late, not just because they are being filled, but because they are being taken off of the rental market altogether.

L. Phillips said his company has lost several rentals in the past few years, particularly single-family homes, when the owners decided to sell the property to a buyer who had a plan to occupy the residence instead of renting it out.

Renting v. buying

In recent years, according to Ayers, the thinking that it’s cheaper to rent than to buy has been turned on its head.

“It’s kind of interesting,” he said. “People have been saying that millennials would rather rent than buy, but now it’s cheaper to buy than to rent.”

Of course for some, renting versus buying may be an issue of preference, but for others, being able to afford a down payment on a house or having a high enough credit rating to qualify, remains an obstacle.