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Home rentals hard to find for prospective tenants

Staff writer

The demand for home rentals in Hillsboro remains strong, with would-be renters hunting for housing and sometimes renting a home sight-unseen in the area.

The rental market in many cities, including Wichita, has surged since the housing bubble burst in 2009, creating a large supply of vacant housing after many homeowners lost their homes. Moreover, the economy has not recovered for many Americans, including young adults with student loans to pay.

Lyle Leppke, a real estate broker in Hillsboro for 30 years, says rental supply is not keeping up with demand.

“We see a lot of people looking, but there aren’t a lot of rentals available,” Leppke said.

Over the last ten years, Leppke has witnessed an increase in investors picking up rental properties, but there still aren’t enough places to rent to satisfy the demand.

Leppke blames federal tax policies for creating incentives that turned renters into homeowners, unfortunately hurting the overall quality of renters.

“When people don’t take care of a house, the owner gets tired of it,” Leppke said.

Home ownership in the U.S. peaked in 2004 with 69.2 percent of occupied housing units owned by the people living in them, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Since 2004, home ownership has been declining.

Occupancy statistics for Marion and Hillsboro are not available, but the sight of vacant houses in both cities is not uncommon. Investors tend to buy a property if the rent will be higher than the property’s monthly expenses.

Matt Stuchlik owns three rental houses in Marion and is currently looking to buy one in Hillsboro. He rented one of his houses sight-unseen off a Craigslist ad.

“There’s a very high demand,” Stuchlik said. “I can just go by the number of calls I get. I can’t even count them. I’m still getting calls and I’m not actively advertising anymore.”

Stuchlik, who lives in Topeka but plans to relocate to Marion, said the area is experiencing a housing turnover as Baby Boom and World War II generations move from their homes into retirement communities and assisted living facilities. And with so many young families unable to buy because of economic realities, the rental market continues to gain strength.

Stuchlik also believes that Tabor College increases demand in the Hillsboro rental market.

The affordable housing prices in both Hillsboro and Marion make the market more attractive than elsewhere. For example, a $15,000 home in Marion or Hillsboro rents for $400. In Topeka, a $30,000 home typically would still only bring in $400 in rent, Stuchlik said.

“You have to see what kind of work has to go into it and what kind of return on investment will be there,” Stuchlik said.

Real estate broker Lori Heerey said that she has fielded phone calls from prospective tenants looking for an apartment or house to rent for the last 11 years she worked in the business.

Although her business does not place renters, Heerey said she passes along a list of apartments and landlords to anyone who inquires.

“This is probably the most common place to call,” Heerey said. “We get calls weekly and usually multiple calls.”

The reason someone wants to rent instead of buy is often purely economic, Heerey said. Some have poor credit or cannot raise a down payment. Others only plan to live in the area for a short time and do not want to invest.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories,” Heerey said.

So far, Heerey said that real estate investors in Marion tend to be locals, and that’s a good thing.

“I prefer to see local people buy those up because it’s someone with a connection to Marion,” Heerey said. Heerey said that local housing developments tend to be senior and one-bedroom apartments that cannot accommodate families, or they are constructed with government grants that limit occupants by income.

“There are segments of the market not being addressed,” Heerey said. “Three-bedroom (homes) are needed. There is a need for larger places.”

Last modified Nov. 19, 2014

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