Nevada's boom ends in record number of empty homes

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 12:29 PM

LAS VEGAS -- The promise of palm tree groves and low-priced real estate lured Alan and Katherine Ackerly across the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Nevada in 2004, where thousands of new houses beckoned brightly as any neon sign.

They came to buy their retirement home. But the real estate bust took its toll, with a flood of short sales and foreclosures in the market, and last month the Ackerly's dream home was foreclosed on, too.

"I pretty much gave it back to them," said Alan Ackerly, a 57-year-old electrician who stopped paying his mortgage because he owed more than the house was worth.

The Ackerly's home is now among a swelling number of abandoned houses in Nevada. There were 167,564 empty houses in the state last year, according to newly released U.S. Census data, more than double the number in 2000. The number of vacant homes represents about one out of every seven houses across Nevada.

The figures are another striking example of how the housing crisis has pummeled Nevada, casting a new light on the severely weakened market after years of boom.

One result is an increase in code violations. In Clark County, home to Las Vegas, such complaints nearly doubled from 2008 to 2009 and the median price of resale homes dropped to $115,000 in January.

Neighbors call to complain of abandoned houses, stagnant pools, wild yards and unsecured doors, said Joe Boteilho, the county's code enforcement chief. But the neighborhoods of newly constructed homes are not facing the same blatant signs of disrepair seen in other foreclosure-ravaged states such as Florida, Michigan and California.

It has been a deep plunge for Nevada. Once a leader in job creation and construction, the state had the highest foreclosure rate in the country in January. Delinquent mortgages, meanwhile, are on the rise, with Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City all in the top eight cities per capita in a national real estate study published last month.

More than 16 percent of Nevadans relocated to new residences within the state in 2008 alone, the highest mobility rate in the nation, the Census data shows.

"We were the hottest market in the nation in terms of the shape of the bubble, how fast it went up," said Nasser Daneshvary, director of the Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "And, of course, when something goes up, it comes down hard, too."

The growth fueled by tourism and the gaming industry has yielded few winners. Short sales and foreclosures have slashed homes prices, ravaged neighborhoods and fueled unemployment in the construction sector, one of Nevada's primary industries. The jobless rate is 14.2 percent, and the state's estimated budget gap starts at $1.5 billion.

In Fernley, the fastest growing city in Nevada from 2000 to 2010, the only sign of construction in recent months was a new Walgreens and a Catholic church. One in 49 homes is in foreclosure.

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