Looking to build a $150k house? Good luck

Affordable housing in Catawba County gets harder to find

Mike Kelly entered the real estate business as an agent in 2006.

“I got one good year and I thought, ‘Wow this is awesome,'” Kelly said.

Then in 2008, the housing market crashed. “Everything fell apart, and I had to adapt,” he said.

Kelly built his own business, Hickory Real Estate Group. The country’s economy rebounded but real estate still has some issues.

Affordable housing for working class families is getting harder to find in North Carolina, according to a recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the North Carolina Housing Coalition.

In the Hickory-Lenior-Morganton area, the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom home is $683. The hourly wage needed to afford this amount is $13.13, according to the report.

While this is less than the state average of $850 for a two-bedroom home needing an hourly wage of $16.35, it still has made housing more difficult to find for both first-time home buyers and families using a housing choice voucher for rental property.

There is very little on the market in and around Catawba County for first-time buyers looking to spend between $100,000 and $200,000, Kelly said.

Making this market even tighter is the increasing number of older, retiring couples ready to downsize into this price range.

“If the house is move-in ready and priced appropriately, you’re seeing multiple offers and even going over asking price sometimes,” Kelly said. “Within 30 minutes of Hickory it’s really difficult to find a house under $200,000 right now.”

He defines move-in ready as a home that may still need repairs, updating or has other cosmetic issues.

Finding a newly built home in the range is even more difficult.

When he first started building a spec house in Taylorsville, local builder Tracy Warlick knew he wouldn’t be able to list it at $250,000 but was hoping to be close to the number.

The further he got into the project and saw the increased costs to build, he knew the sale price would have to be closer to $300,000.

Warlick said construction materials have gone up 20 to 30 percent in the last couple of years, and it’s difficult to find workers and sub-contractors. When the recession hit, construction stopped so a lot of the sub-contractors and most of the builders went away.

“A good example is my electrician is working by himself. He just can’t keep good reliable help,” Warlick said. “Right before the crash, I had probably three or four different framing companies that we used. None of them exist today.”

The other problem is balancing a beer budget with champagne taste. Everybody wants all the amenities and the master suite and everything on one level.

“The great thing about construction is anything can be done. It’s just a matter of time and money,” Warlick said.

For $150,000 to $200,000 the biggest house you could build in this area is 1,200 to 1,400 square feet and put any upgrades in it, he said.

Stephanie Hanvey, Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG) Director of Regional Housing Authority, oversees the federal government’s housing choice voucher Section 8 program, and she sees the lack of housing as an issue for the families she works with.

In Catawba and Alexander counties, rental housing with two or three bedrooms is the most sought after and the least available, Hanvey said.

The other two counties WPCOG oversees, Caldwell and Burke, have more affordable housing options which include apartments, single-family homes and mobile homes.

Fair market rents for the program are governed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“Then we’re allowed to set our rent subsidies between 90 percent below the fair market amount or 10 percent above the fair market rents HUD publishes every year,” Hanvey said.

More landlords in the program would help with the number of affordable houses in Catawba County.

Between the four counties the housing authority pays between 500 and 600 landlords every month. “I’ve got the people. I just don’t have enough housing,” she said.

Hanvey thinks if some of the vacant homes and properties in the area were fixed up, they could help with the shortage of affordable housing.

In 2017, the housing authority worked with 1,067 total families, which is close to its yearly average the last few years. The housing authority is allowed to provide rental assistance to a total of 1,074 units.

This article provided by NewsEdge.