One of the few industries positively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is local real estate development.
Application numbers tell the story for the Park County Planning and Zoning Department, where a dramatic uptick in subdivision permit applications has piled up since the start of the year.
“Maybe to the general public you wouldn’t realize anything is different, but internally we are absolutely struggling,” said Joy Hill, Park County Planning and Zoning director.
In the past year, there have been 22 total subdivision applications submitted and nine subdivision applications since the pandemic began, Hill said. In 2018, there were 11, while 2017 brought only eight.
Minor subdivisions in particular have shot up, nearly tripling this year from 2018 and 2017.
“Minor subdivisions are just off the charts,” Hill said.
That increase has also come in the form of building, septic, addressing and right of way permits, Hill said. There have been 225 building permits filed through the end of July, compared to 183 at the same time in 2019.
Due to the demand, the P&Z commission had to add an extra meeting July 23 to accommodate the overflow.
“That was a huge push for my staff but we did it,” Hill said.
With mortgage rates remaining low, it is a buyer-friendly environment for taking out house loans, but how long this phenomenon will last is anyone’s guess.
“People are just screaming to get land and get houses,” Hill said.
Derek Moore, vice president and branch manager at the First Bank of Wyoming, said he couldn’t predict when interest rates will rise again, but said it will likely be tied to when economic confidence returns, likely tied to a drop in COVID-19 case numbers or development of a vaccine for the virus.
“Until that happens I think this will be how it is for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Moore said the unprecedented volume of house loans and refinancing has not slowed one bit since early spring.
“The interest rates are pretty phenomenal,” Moore said.
He said many of those entering his bank are new customers from out-of-state, describing the current financial state as an, “interesting dynamic,” he has never seen before.
Hill said many submitting permits and inquiring about land purchases are from outside the area – sometimes making acquisitions sight unseen.
“This whole COVID (-19) situation has put an immense amount of emotional, psychological, and physical stress on people,” Hill said. “(It’s) the complexities of living in these urban environments where they have much more stringent limitations on people.
“We have a lot of questions from out-of-state.”
In contrast, Hill said those who are submitting subdivision permits are locals, capitalizing on the increased demand that has flooded the market.
“The urgency to get through the process quickly is because they realize there will be people wanting to buy under these rates,” Hill said.
She also said the mass rioting and strict regulations put in place in response to the epidemic in other parts of the country has also added fuel to an urgency to buy property and move to Park County for a simpler life.
Jake Ivanoff, owner of 307 Realty, said he still considers the housing situation to be a sellers market. Due to the influx of home sales and refinancing occurring, he sees most appraisers booked 2-4 weeks out, slowing the typical 30-day home closing period to 40-45 days.
He said business has been exceptional for 307, far exceeding his expectations entering the year. Ivanoff said he is seeing the same housing boom in his Buffalo and Sheridan offices.
“It has been above and beyond what we had last year in total sales,” he said. “We have surpassed our goals and are just cruising.”
Ivanoff also said he has been dealing with many nonresidents, but also some from as near as Casper. He shares Hill’s sentiment that the social unrest and COVID-19 concerns in other parts of the country have driven people here, but also senses a renewed appreciation for living in rural America.
“The whole mentality of moving to the city is gone,” he said. “That vibe is gone.”
P&Z will have its next meeting Aug. 18 where four different special use permits will be discussed for approval. Hill said public input on subdivision projects in particular is very important due to the effect of increased traffic, potentially reduced water access, and new homes where previously there were none can cause on an area.
“For some people that’s very impactful,” she said. “Being part of our meetings, it educates people. You get to learn what our regulations are. You get to learn why we care, why we don’t care about certain things. That plays an important role when you then become ready to do something on your property.”