What does the hot housing market in Wabash County tell us about our communities?
The sales price for a home in Wabash County is up 21% or $25,000 from this time last year. Competition among buyers is fierce, and with limited inventory and very little new building, the time-on-market is among the lowest in the state. Over the last ten years, the county has outpaced the state in median sales price growth (85% increase in the county compared to 70% in Indiana) while losing more than 1,000 residents. Local realtor Robert Lundquist shared his thoughts on the divergent phenomena.
“It’s not as if people don’t want to live in Wabash. I’m working with clients from across the state and as far away as the west coast, who are looking for a home in our county. The issue is with inventory. We simply don’t have the options and we’re not building them … at least we’re not building them fast enough.”
-Robert Lundquist, Lundquist Appraisals & Real Estate, Inc
And the numbers support Mr. Lundquist’s notion. At the time of this release fewer than 40 properties were actively listed in the county, well off from the expected average around 300 entering the summer. Homebuilding – outside of a handful of small projects – has not occurred in the county at scale in more than three decades. And last, the cost of remodel projects for older homes drastically increased through the pandemic with labor prices and materials prices at all time highs. These factors make for a highly competitive real estate market, even in a community with a declining population.
The conditions in the rental market are similar. While the county is dominated by owner-occupied housing, 74% of all households, the competition in the for sale market has driven up rent demand to levels consistent with metropolitan counties like Allen to the east. At the time of this release there were 10, two-bedroom rental units available across the county; there were more than 50 available in Kosciusko County to the north.
“If you’re a landlord with a good property and a strong track record, you hardly need to advertise a vacancy, if at all. The demand is through the roof. We’ve tried to stabilize our rent demand as much as possible but when you have people operating in a highly-competitive housing environment the numbers move quickly.”
-Local property owner
The strong housing numbers indicate a latent demand among prospective residents. This is a primary opportunity for the communities of the county. Leveraging the energy, however, will require new growth. With nearly 39% of housing built in 1939 or earlier and less than 10% built in the last 20 years, Wabash homes are significantly older than the average home in Indiana. Given this high average age, there will likely be an increasing number of homes in the county that require significant rehabilitation and maintenance. Without replacement and new development the situation could continue to devolve.
The number of building permits issued each year is down by over 100 since the peak in 1997, and more permits were issued that year than from 2015 to 2019 combined. In the last two decades, only one new subdivision has been developed within the county, and there has not been an active home builder located in the county for more than 40 years.
Imagine One 85 is a process to confront the population challenge head on. Through direct engagement with the community and stakeholders and in-depth analysis of the county’s conditions and trends, the Steering Committee is working to develop a strong and visionary plan to help lead the communities of the county toward growth. A recent presentation by the group revealed that the county would need to grow by 85 new families or households each year in order to recapture it’s previous population high in 25 years. The “+85” initiative is emerging as a central recommendation of the work, with strategies focused squarely at the challenge.
Do you care about these issues and want to get involved? On July 14 the Steering Committee will host an event to explore the challenges and potential of Wabash County. The Imagine One 85 Growth Summit will be a unique and interactive moment for community members to share and make a direct impact on their community. The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 PM on the Honeywell Plaza and include food and entertainment highlighting the best of Wabash County. Attendance is free and registration is available on the project website, www.imagineone85.org.
If you’re interested in the population issue, demographics, or the analysis that has been completed through the Imagine One 85 process so far, check out the Reports & Analysis page for more information. Volume 2: Prosperity, linked to the right, will be of particular relevance to this issue.
This is the third in a multi-part series developed to share the major findings of the Imagine One 85 analysis and community conversations. For more information on the content or reports please contact Imagine One 85 Project Manager Kyle May, firstname.lastname@example.org. The full series will also be shared on the process website, www.imagineone85.org.