Housing opportunities still low at Tahoe's South Shore

Many who have landed a job in the land of opportunity and scenic beauty may sing "Gimme Shelter" when they find the tilt of housing in Lake Tahoe favors vacation home buyers.

From the casinos and ski areas to the property managers and real estate agents, Tahoe community and business leaders on both North and South shores have noticed a housing squeeze that may rival cities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Locally, reports of buyers purchasing homes sight-unseen have turned the housing market on its side.

Homes are scarce. And the value of those homes has gone up considerably.

"No question about it. Values have spiked upwards in the last 12 to 18 months. So naturally, the market heavily favors vacation home buyers," said Doug Rosner, broker and owner of Century 21, South Lake Tahoe.

Bay Area dot-comers and stock-option recipients, who scored on the soaring stock market in its boomtime, have driven the market up and accounted for 75 percent of sales, Rosner said.

"Unfortunately, the spike in prices has taken local homebuyers out of the market," he said.

The price of a home valued a year ago at $150,000 rose to $225,000.

Where's it all leading?

"If I had to speculate, I would say that real estate like any commodity cycle, would level out to some greater level of sanity," he said. Rosner estimated the point of saturation would occur between six to 12 months.

His theory: The Lake Tahoe region has been undervalued as a resort town for a while.

"We're finally catching up to our friends in Aspen, (Colo.)," he said.

Even rentals have been affected, as Tahoe turns into a seller's market.

Many homeowners who traditionally rent out their structures are deciding to sell, thus tightening the rental market.

"It's very tight. I have very little (number of rentals)," Alpine Real Estate broker Bobbi Cole said Monday. At that time, Cole said she had one 1-bedroom available.

"The market is really good for a lot of the people I manage property for. They've decided to sell," she said.

Adding to the scarcity, seasonal workers are holding their places throughout the year. One renter who left on a sabbatical paid on a vacant place for two months, Cole noted.

"People used to leave; not as much anymore," she said, adding the need for affordable housing in Lake Tahoe.

Ditto, says Squaw Valley Human Resources Director Jim Brady. His staff keeps an eye on rentals and homes for sale for new employees.

"There's no affordable housing for low-end, low-income employees," Brady said. "Even our managers can't afford to buy at (list) prices."

How bad is it?

Diamond Peak Ski Resort now offers free season ski passes to local residents who rent out rooms to resort employees. According to resort spokeswoman Bee Ferrato, the resort is having a tough time finding accommodations for the 40-plus employees needed this winter.

Whether rentals or buys, the housing squeeze has caused ski areas on both sides of the lake to take notice. Some build or secure their own dormitories or employee apartments, an idea Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar-at-Tahoe have embraced and Brady would like to see Squaw get behind.

"We have to build it," he said.

If you build it, they will come is the notion in the Bay Area.

There, the housing affordability is lowest, where the supply is tightest and prices are the highest, according to the California Association of Realtors.

The state association conducts an affordability index that fell to 29 percent in August, indicating that only a third of the state's households can afford to buy a home at the median price. It found that homes were the most affordable in the high desert region in cities such as Lancaster and east of Los Angeles in communities like Rialto.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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