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Housing Market

Ethan Applegate walks inside after checking the backyard of a house he and Gabby Brazier are interested in buying on Thursday afternoon in Mills. The couple would like to move into a house with their baby after living in an apartment and think it is a good time to buy.

The pink slips would come, and within days the keys would be turned in, the leases broken.

It felt like a handful of people would come in each week and tell Elizabeth Meyers they lost their jobs, they were moving out of the state and that they were leaving almost immediately. Meyers, the business manager at The Preserve at Greenway Park said that at this time last year, almost all the apartments were full.

The number of residents dropped over the past seven months as Wyoming’s energy boom turned to a bust, even as the apartment complex lowered its rates and raised its concessions. Three-bedroom apartment rent prices have fallen by 27 percent in the last year, Meyers said, and that was done just to keep The Preserve above water during Casper’s economic decline.

“We’re trying to stay competitive enough to maintain some occupancy,” she said.

Area Realtors frequently mention the pitfalls of the market in the 1980s when Casper’s economic bust devastated the real estate market. Mike Lockard, a broker at the Edgeworth Real Estate firm, remembers that it felt like he couldn’t even give houses away, and the ones that did close were sold for pennies on the dollar.

When the energy industry boom started to wane, those same fears resurfaced.But in the

first few months of the downturn, the slump hasn’t been as bad as originally feared, local real estate agents and brokers said this week.

“We’re faring very well,” local Realtor and developer Lisa Burridge said. “And I think that in large part that’s due to the fact that Casper has become so much more diversified in employment than it has been. Of course, we’re still highly dependent on oil and gas, but this is a different kind of a market than it was say, back in the ’80’s where things fell apart.”

Fewer listings are on the market than at this time last year, and a slightly lower number of homes have closed, Burridge said, but the average sale price of a home has actually increased. The average sale price for residential properties in Natrona County in January 2015 was $225,142, she said, and this year it’s $232,248.

“If they’re going to sell, and they want to sell, they’re not going to be ridiculous with their pricing,” Burridge said. “They’re going to be much more conservative, take a much more conservative approach and list the property at the right price to begin with. We still have a lot of houses that we’re selling within hours and/or days. So it’s not as though this is a depressed, horrible, terrible market.”

The numbers fall in line with data the state’s Economic Analysis Division released this month. December 2015 saw a 0.96 percent increase in the median home price in Casper. Casper also lost 1,300 jobs from December of 2014 to December of 2015, according to the division’s report.

“A lot of folks, unfortunately I think, see what has happened, or what is happening, as being far worse than what it really is,” Burridge said.

The market is down, there’s no doubt about it, said Michele Trost-Hall, co-owner of Broker1 RealEstate.

But higher-priced new construction is still selling, she said, along with an inventory of houses under $150,000 that the Casper market didn’t have before. It was hard to even find a house at that price before the bust, Trost-Hall said.

“Now you can actually find a house that you could move into and live in and get a loan on,” she said. “That’s really nice, especially for those first-time homebuyers.”

There’s also been more action for local real estate in the $150,000 to $200,000 price range, Lockard said. That then allows those sellers to move up to $250,000 or $300,000 homes.

“We haven’t seen a big decrease in values, which normally doesn’t make sense because if numbers fall, normally the price will fall,” Lockard said. “But what I’m seeing is a lot of people that may not be involved in the energy business find it a good time to move up a little bit.”

Though sale prices and the real estate market are holding relatively steady, even offering a free month’s rent hasn’t restored occupancy at luxury apartments like The Preserve. The complex opened when Casper was booming and is now experiencing the busts that Casper residents know all too well.

“I would argue — I mean, we are are the most expensive — we would argue we’re the nicest in town,” Meyers said. “I think that because of that, we’ve lost a huge part of our demographic, which are the people making really good money in oil-related positions.”

This time last year, Meyers remembers doctors, nurses and engineers calling The Preserve home. A sight like that is less common nowadays. She’s seen doctors who have been local for years not have their contracts renewed, a result she feels is related to the energy industry.

“Any of the good-paying jobs just seem to have kind of dissipated,” she said.

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Follow local government reporter Hunter Woodall on Twitter @huntermw.

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