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Nevada County’s rental market remains tight

House for rent
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Danielle Scallin wasn’t expecting her family’s house-hunt to be this difficult.

She and her husband both grew up in Nevada County, and had been homeowners in the area before they moved to Texas about a year and a half ago.

They recently moved back to Nevada County, and have been looking since May for a home to rent.



They’d like something in the $1,600 range with at least four bedrooms to accommodate their four children and one dog.

“There has been little inventory. Most everything we have gets rented within a short time.”— Dick Law, owner and a broker at Paul Law Property Management

Scallin’s taken a proactive approach to the search, scanning rental listings daily.




She emailed a flier with photos of her family and their housing needs to local property management companies, and has references and credit reports at the ready.

Despite her efforts, the family has been unable to secure a home.

“We’re sort of starting all over,” Scallin said of her family’s move back to Nevada County. “And to be presented with this home rental market, it’s really discouraging.”

The rental market in many California cities has been white-hot — and shows no signs of cooling off soon.

According to data compiled in June by online rental marketplace Apartment List, California rents are growing almost twice as quickly as the national average.

The median price for a one-bedroom apartment in California in June was $1,350 per month, up 8.2 percent from last June; the median price for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,550 per month, up 5.4 percent from last June.

Prices may not be that steep in Nevada County, but rental units in the county are in high demand, with a high number of renters competing for a limited number of available properties.

“It is definitely a landlord’s market right now,” said Dick Law, the owner and a broker at Paul Law Property Management in Grass Valley.

Law said that rental rates in the county have been growing incrementally, rather than skyrocketing; most one- or two-bedroom units range from $750 to $1,000 monthly, he said.

The biggest problem is that there’s simply not enough of them.

“There has been little inventory,” Law said. “Most everything we have gets rented within a short time.”

Law points to the housing market crash of 2007 as part of the cause; when that happened, he said, construction on any new housing units stopped, and, as the economy recovers, development has been slow to catch up.

Though people are once again buying houses and turning them into rental properties, it’s not happening often or fast enough to keep up with the demand. Nevada County is still a desirable destination for retirees and families, Law said.

“It comes back to our schools and our quality of life,” Law said. “It is a great place to live.”

That quality of life attracted Brenda Gillarde to Nevada County. The Sonora resident decided she wanted to relocate to the area after retiring from her job in the energy efficiency field.

Gillarde wanted a one- or two-bedroom detached cottage near downtown Grass Valley or Nevada City. She recently found a place after a nearly year-long search in which she estimates she looked into more than 80 rentals.

“I knew it would take several months (to find a place), but not like this level of effort for this extended period of time,” Gillarde said.

During the course of her search, Gillarde decided to increase her budget from around $900 per month to about $1,200. But even after doing that, she often found herself at the back of a long line of applicants for many places, despite her good credit and ample references.

The competition shocked Gillarde.

“One person I talked to about her place, she said, ‘Well, I knew I had it priced too low because people were offering me $200 or $300 over asking price,’” Gillarde said. “That’s the extent people are going to to get a place. That reminds me of Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, San Francisco.”

At Olympia Garden Apartments on Sutton Way in Grass Valley, owner Alan Kilborn said his 44 two-bedroom, two-bathroom units have been “100 percent full” all year.

Each unit rents for $925 monthly — $900 for seniors older than 75 — and includes satellite television.

“I’ve had people move out, but usually there’s someone right behind them ready to take their place,” Kilborn said.

Kilborn said he generally receives at least a couple inquiries a week from people looking to rent an apartment. While he has a set of standards that qualify a tenant for one of his units, he doesn’t hold a waiting list; for those looking to rent from him, timing is everything.

“If you’re the first to turn in an application and you’re quality, I take you,” he said.

Kilborn said he used to take out an advertisement in the newspaper when an open unit went more than a couple of weeks without filling up, but he hasn’t done that in more than a year.

“That happens every once in awhile, I go on long runs without having to advertise at all,” Kilborn said. “And right now I’m on that long run.”

Law said the current housing climate doesn’t leave a lot of room for renters to be indecisive.

“If they see something that’s going to work for them, they need to act on it,” he said.

Scallin plans on doing just that. She’s gathering more references, offering to pay several months rent in advance when she can and is planning on sending out more fliers through the mail.

“I feel like I’m having to market myself, above and beyond what I’ve ever had to do for a job or to get anything, really, in life,” Scallin said.

Still, she’s optimistic her family will find a place — and the search hasn’t dampened her sense of humor about the situation.

“I told my friends yesterday, ‘I don’t know, I’m just looking at maybe starting my own tent city,’” Scallin said, laughing.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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