Rents climb, vacancies drop for apartments

Thurston housing market tightens as more return to work force and look for place to live

rboone@theolympian.comApril 3, 2013 

New and recent real estate data show it has become harder and more expensive to find a place to live in Thurston County.

Average apartment vacancy rates in the county fell to 4 percent in March from 6.2 percent in March 2012, according to Dupre + Scott Apartment Advisors of Seattle, while the total number of single-family residences for sale has recently slumped to new lows.

The inventory of homes for sale in the county dropped below 1,000 units before the end of the year, a mark last set six years ago, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data.

And it has remained low since then: Single-family residence inventory fell more than 20 percent to 1,034 units in February from 1,307 units in February 2012, the data show.

The result is higher apartment rents and single-family median prices.

Thurston County rents in March rose to an average of $854 from $845 in March 2012, according to Dupre + Scott, which has tracked the Puget Sound apartment market for 30 years.

The following are rents and vacancy rates for the county’s three largest cities in the year-over-year March period:

 • Olympia: Average rent rose to $855 from $840; vacancy rate fell to 3.9 percent from 6.5 percent.

 • Lacey: Average rent rose to $846 from $839; vacancy rate fell to 4.4 percent from 4.8 percent.

 • Tumwater: Average rent fell to $863 from $866; vacancy rate fell to 3.5 percent from 7.3 percent.

Zach Kosturos, president of the Lacey-based commercial real estate company Prime Locations, which participates in the Dupre + Scott survey, said apartment rents are higher and vacancy rates lower because people are going back to work.

And finding work again means that some no longer have to live with someone else or their family, but can move out and find a place of their own, he said.

Also, renting an apartment remains less of a barrier to buying a house, especially when lending standards have become more stringent.

“You have to put money down and that’s difficult in these times,” Kosturos said. Prime Locations manages 1,000 to 1,100 apartment units, he said.

Single-family median prices, meanwhile, rose more than 3 percent in February to $219,500 in February from $211,500 in February 2012. Inventory decreased because the slower pace of new construction and banks have held off from listing bank-owned property, waiting for prices to rise even further.

Dupre + Scott President Mike Scott said that 86.8 percent of all 20-unit or larger market rate apartments in Thurston County participated in his spring survey.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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