In Missoula, the influx of U-Hauls offers a seasonal clue that fall is just around the corner. As part-time residents roll into town this year, they’ll encounter a housing market that swings in their favor.
About nine months ago, for the first time since 1989, Lambros Real Estate quietly dropped rental rates “in some cases” between 10 and 15 percent, says Lambros’ Bruno Friia. Grizzly Property Management, Inc., has seen its units stay on the market longer, says Jodi Corette. And Apartment Store, Inc., is offering incentives for renters to sign leases, says Heather Lucas. All three companies lease units in the University district, an area popular with off-campus students. With the recent rash of new construction in Missoula, it’s a renter’s market, they agree. So much so that in some cases, property management companies will negotiate.
“That’s one way to find out what the market will bear,” says Friia. Lambros, like Grizzly Property Management, seems pretty keyed into what the market will bear. The occupancy rate for both companies currently hovers around 98 percent. Any more than 98 percent, says Friia, and a company might be in danger of giving units away.
Judy Spannagel directs the University of Montana Off-Campus Renter Center. Although the market in Missoula may have swung in favor of renters, she isn’t convinced that students will feel the impacts of an increased number of units.
“It is a much bigger impact on [management companies] than it is on the students,” she says. Students, says Spannagel, are still competing for the limited housing closest to the University or the exceptionally low-priced unit.
And as the market shifts, it may be negligent property owners who end up in a pickle.
“The people who usually get hurt are the people who don’t keep up their units,” says Friia.
Corette believes the market will remain in the renter’s favor a while longer: “My guess is that it will, just because of all the building that is still going on.”