LAS VEGAS. If you’d like to learn about adapting to change, spend an afternoon with Jennifer Martin, Realtor. You might also buy a condo or house while you’re at it. Priced to insane levels at the top of the bubble, lots of Las Vegas real estate is now available, cheap. If Las Vegas is where you’d like to be, someone else’s disaster may be your bargain.
How big a bargain?
Try this. The National Association of Realtors says the median Las Vegas home price declined from $317,400 in 2006 to $181,700 by last December. The decline is confirmed by the Case-Shiller index for Las Vegas: It is down 44 percent from the 2006 peak. In fact, those figures understate the decline for the growing number of houses and condos that are now owned by lenders.
The city has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Jobs are disappearing. People are burning their cars for the insurance. If you live in Dallas and want to move to Las Vegas, it’s a cheap move— $777 at U-Haul. But leaving Las Vegas is more expensive, $1,183, because all the trailers are heading elsewhere.
That’s why Ms. Martin bought a bus— to bring new buyers in by the busload and tour the troubled bargains.
Is this a great country, or what?
The resourceful 35-year-old Realtor and mother of three has offices on the far west side of town at the corner of Sahara and Durango, names that suggest adventure. When I called, she was putting the tour together, previewing offerings to make sure they were worth seeing, could be accessed, etc. I asked if I could go along. She explained that the safari approach works. “We wear safari outfits. We wanted to do something that was fun— out of the box.”
While the foreclosure safari bus will hold 25 people, she limits the number to a maximum of 20 and has done tours with only a handful of people. Many, she explained, are second-home buyers. Others are investors looking for good rental properties or homes to fix up and resell.
And they come from all over. She said she had clients from Singapore, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, England, Canada, and Australia. As a consequence, she has also started to manage property for distant owners.
Our first stop is a west-side condo complex. It has two pools, is close to a park, and convenient to shopping. The condos are two-bedroom, two-bath units with about 1,000 square feet, a fireplace, and a relatively low-level finish-out. They sold, she tells me, for $250,000 at the peak. But these units are now offered at $54,000 to $74,000. They would rent, she says, for about $900 a month. She picks one where the Formica counters have been replaced by granite, priced at $61,000. Do the math, and the return would be high—if they rented. They would also make very inexpensive retirement homes.
Later, we inspect about a half-dozen older homes, all within 10 minutes of the Strip, all foreclosures, and all needing significant work. “I don’t usually put houses that are more than 10 years old on the tour,” she says. “People don’t want to get into big replacements.”
And still more are coming on the market. The next day I am walking in the Bellagio when I spot a crystal tower. It is the model for CityCenter, another massive condo project. A salesperson tells me that units start at about $500,000 for a studio— about $1,000 a square foot. Near the model a small plaque reads “The gallery are proposals, artist’s renderings. They are subject to change and need not be built.”
In fact, I am told, they will be completed by Christmas.
It wouldn’t be difficult to get into a dark mood contemplating this. But I think there is another interpretation. Here in Brandopolis, our national display case for every possible luxury good, you can see the beating heart of commerce. It never stops. It makes more offers than we can contemplate. It produces more than enough. It is always ready to offer more.
That’s not all bad.
On the web:Jennifer Martin Realty
Jennifer Martin Realty
CityCenter, Las Vegas
MGM Grand Residences
NAR median home prices
U-Haul moving prices
Car arsons for cash
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April 25, 2004: Gaming the Tax System
April 20, 2004: Blackjack Technology
“21”— the movie based on “Bringing Down the House”