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Mining growth fuels boom in Winnemucca

Rob Sabo

Harold Hawkins says the strength of the residential resale market around Winnemucca has him feeling like he lives on a different planet from the rest of Nevada.

“It is crazy up here. I am working 10 to 12 hours a day, and then I go home at night and hear on the news about the bad economy. It is unbelievable how good the market is here right now,” says Hawkins, who has been selling homes for more than two decades in Humboldt County as the broker-owner of Vision West Realty.

Hawkins calls it a mini-boom. Home sales have remained strong in Humboldt and surrounding counties due to the influx of miners to the region over the past four years, and talks of mine expansions has led to new waves of miners and construction workers descending on the community 165 miles northeast of Reno.

Rentals ranging from traditional homes to hotel rooms increasingly are in short supply, and new construction to meet the demand is just coming over the horizon.

Patrick Gray, broker-owner of Century 21 Sonoma Realty, says sales are brisk on stick-built and manufactured home sites. There are roughly 95 site-built or manufactured homes for sale in the Winnemucca area, Gray says but inventory levels are shrinking.

The four primary homebuilders active in the Humboldt County area are building at a modest pace. For the first six months of the year, there were 12 sales of new homes in the county at prices from $185,000 to $300,000.

“All these builders have lots and properties and are building one or two at a time,” Gray says. “The absorption rate is about two houses per month on new construction.”

Values have regained some of the ground lost over the past few years.

Gray says in 2004, when he bought the Century 21 office, home prices in Winnemucca were about $100 per square foot. They escalated to $145 during the peak of the housing boom, but softened to about $120 to $130 a square foot in 2008-2009. Since then, home values have inched their way back up to $130 to $135 a square foot.

To find an exception to the trend, Astrid Inga Schweigert, owner of Cattle County Realty says buyers need to look to two small subdivisions far from the Humboldt County seat. Sales are relative slow in subdivisions near Orovada and by Rye Patch Reservoir in Pershing County.

Stick-built inventory in Winnemucca is declining, and rental properties simply don’t exist, Hawkins says.

“We do have quite a few manufactured houses, but site-built houses there is a definite shortage,” he says. “There are no rentals in this community whatsoever. I get between 10 to 15 calls and email for rentals each day, but they do not exist in this community. Every rental is filled up.”

Gray says temporary workers in the region are taking space in the town’s RV parks, and most of the limited hotel and motel rooms in town are constantly booked.

“We are at point where there are no rentals,” Gray says. “People are really hunkering down in their rentals. There is a lot of project and construction work going on, and there are a lot of people looking and we are just not able to meet that need.

Many of the miners living in Winnemucca are bussed to mine sites southeast of Battle Mountain, such as Newmont Mining Corporation’s large Phoenix mine. Newmont recently received approval from the Bureau of Land Management for a copper heap leach expansion at its Phoenix site that would employ several hundred construction workers over the next few years and between 40 and 50 miners once the project comes online.

Developer Alan Means hopes to address the shortage of homes in Winnemucca with the development of Frontier Village, a planned community of 111 single-family homes and 136 townhouses.

The development between Highland Drive and Great Basin Street has been OK’d by the city planning department, Hawkins says, and is scheduled to go before the City Council this month.

If approved, the first home sites would be available in April of 2013.

“A lot of these townhomes be rental properties,” Hawkins says. “One issue we run into is an affordability a lot of people coming into town are coming from a depressed area, and they can’t get rid of their homes, or they have lost their homes. They can’t qualify for loans, so rentals are a big thing.”