Hurricane, economy have affected rental market

Published 12:23 am Sunday, January 23, 2011

A decade of storms –– both literal and economic –– have left at least one facet off the housing market in high demand locally — rentals.

“After Hurricane Katrina is when the occupancy started staying full,” said Ann Pickering, site manager at The Mark apartment complexes.

“We stay at 100 percent, and we have people calling and asking every day if we have vacancies.”

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Site managers at apartment complexes including Camelot, Bienville, Riverbreeze and Covington are at capacity and even have waiting lists.

Kristi Ketchings of Natchez manages commercial and residential rental properties on Franklin Street where she said turnover is quick. Ketchings said she used to do the books for local complexes before she started managing apartment properties 10 years ago, and even then, the complexes stayed at capacity.

“It’s a good problem for the leasers, but bad for renters,” Ketchings said.

Glenn Green, managing broker and owner of Paul Green and Associates said he doesn’t know the complete answer as to why rentals are sparse, but he thinks the lack of new construction and the economic downturn might be the culprits.

“There has not been much new construction in the last few years is one reason,” Green said. “The rental market, apartments and free standing homes’ vacancy rate is low across the board.”

Green said concerns about the economy in general might prevent people who might buy or build to keep renting until they see the economy improve. He said people are wary of the obligation of a mortgage, even if they can buy for less per month than renting.

The possibility of big projects coming into Natchez will bring with them dozens of potential renters, Mayor Jake Middleton said.

“We have a few projects on the burner for economic development, like Rentech (a coal to diesel operation),” Middleton said.

The temporary construction jobs that would come with the startup of the plant would provide motivation for developers, Middleton said.

“I think there are contractors wanting to do those projects, but it’s hard to just go out and do that without knowing it’s going to happen first.”

Georganna Berry, housing coordinator for the City of Vidalia, said city leaders are aware of the issue, and they are working toward a solution.

“There is a need for rentals, I know they are very hard to find,” Berry said. “We are making plans to bring something into the city in the future.”

Sue Stedman, broker and vice president of Crye-Leike Stedman Realtors said local residents are fortunate to find a rental in Natchez right now.

“As far as houses go, they have always been few and far between,” Stedman said. “If you find one, you’re kind of lucky. People are coming in on construction projects, so that fills rentals. And the economy has bearing on it too.”

Stedman cites the basic economic rule of supply and demand as the main reason for the lack of rental availability.

“When that demand gets to a certain point, the supply will change,” Stedman said. “People aren’t buying because right now that type of investment is fairly risky and the money’s hard to get for it. Hopefully that situation will change.”

Some local property owners only advertise rentals through word of mouth, Stedman said.

“A lot of your downtown apartments, like the apartments that are above retail, are managed by individuals, and they may not ever advertise or turn it over to a Realtor,” Stedman said. “They just let their friends know, and because of the demand, someone turns up.”­

Erin Fournet, a doctor of physical therapy at Promise Hospital in Vidalia, said she thought that finding a rental home would be no problem when she moved here from Florida in May.

“When I moved here, the apartment complexes I checked said, ‘Sorry we’re full until June,’ and things like that,” Fournet said. “I needed something right away.

“I just happened upon the place I found a place in Natchez by driving around and calling homes that were for sale that would possibly rent,” Fournet said.

“It was tougher than I expected it to be for sure, but it worked out in the end to say the least.”