Victoria rental market remains tight


June 22, 2013 at 1:22 a.m.
Updated June 23, 2013 at 1:23 a.m.

Frankie Henry, right, and Antonio Acevedo, left, of Langston Construction Inc. out of Lufkin, work on digging a hole out to put in piping for the a new apartment complex. The site is being developed at 4109 John Stockbauer Drive in Victoria.

Frankie Henry, right, and Antonio Acevedo, left, of Langston Construction Inc. out of Lufkin, work on digging a hole out to put in piping for the a new apartment complex. The site is being developed at 4109 John Stockbauer Drive in Victoria.

The notice Abraham Mendoza found waiting for him brought on more than a sigh.

The slip of paper that carried news of his apartment rental increase - a $40-a-month jump - meant some recalculation, too.

"I had to cut my cable," the Victoria College library employee said of his efforts to scale back. "And I have a neighbor whose rent went up even more than mine. I've been preparing myself. It's probably going to go up again."

Mendoza, whose rent is nearing the $600 mark, said if things continue the way they're headed, he might soon be priced out of his own place. And he isn't alone.

A tight Victoria rental market has others, too, facing obstacles.

Robert Bianchi has lived in his apartment about three years, he said, and increases have come to be expected. Any time the lease is up, he said, he knows he'll pay more the next time around.

Today, he pays almost $800 for the one-bedroom, 600-square-foot apartment he occupies with his wife and dog.

"When we look at what we're paying now, it already makes us grit our teeth," Bianchi said, noting they typically sign the longest lease possible. "And we know that when we renew, it'll go up even more."

The oil-field worker said he knows it's all related to the ongoing boom. And although it means good things for the community, it makes things tough on renters.

"We've even been looking at trying to find a rent house, but they're so expensive, you may as well buy," he said. "We pray every day that something good will come along for us."

Harold Hunt, a research economist with the Texas A&M University Real Estate Center, associated Victoria's rental demand with the living standards of those in oil and gas.

"From my perspective, what Victoria's selling is quality of life compared to the smaller towns," he said, noting the latter don't offer the restaurants, parks, retail options and more that Victoria has.

Hunt looked up April numbers put out by Apartment Market Data Research Services and said it was the price discrepancies between Victoria's existing apartments and newer ones that caught his eye. While one-bedroom units built in the 1970s average 78 cents per square foot and those from the 1980s average 86 cents, for instance, those built in the 2010s ring in at much more - $1.38.

Lynn Oliver, president of the Victoria Apartment Association, said in an email that the rate discrepancy is due to heftier costs newer complexes face during construction, cost of land and development, code requirements and the like. Nancy Garner, president and broker of Woolson Real Estate, and Letha Petrash, broker of Summit Rental and Management, contributed to the email.

Rental rates might continue to rise, but Garner said the market has begun to level out.

Victoria's market sat at a near frenzy last year, she said, explaining that, at this point in 2012, many landlords were still upping their street rates. Prices have stabilized, however, and even if renters are seeing increases, their rates might not be anywhere near market price.

"Turnover is killer in our business, and we want to acknowledge longtime renters," she said, explaining they try not to up prices more than necessary.

Garner owns a number of rental properties and is co-owner of The Reserve, one of three new apartment complexes on their way to Victoria.

While The Reserve is going in off Zac Lentz Parkway, two others - Latigo Crossing and The Colony Apartments - are going in off John Stockbauer Drive. Combined, the three projects will bring an added 456 units to Victoria.

As new places come in, existing complexes continue to deal with the rental pinch.

Autumn Park Apartment Homes, 4405 N. Navarro St., sat at full capacity for a long time after the oil boom took hold, said Wes Stewart, the complex's assistant manager. Recently, however, things have eased up some.

A few apartments remain available, he said. And while rental rates do increase from time to time, the complex's rates have remained fairly steady in recent months.

Stewart said the complex plays home to a number of oil-field workers - although many others also join the mix - and offers a handful of corporate rentals. These fully-furnished apartments, which oil companies and the like can rent to visiting workers, are cheaper alternatives for companies that would otherwise book hotel rooms, he said.

At Mockingbird Lane Apartments, 2501 E. Mockingbird Lane, potential renters remain on waiting lists until units open up, said Susan McElveen, who manages the property. Still, she said, with Mockingbird Lane's status as low-income housing, it faces certain guidelines that others don't.

The state does an average for the area once a year, she said, and from there sets up guidelines as far as what a person can make per year, what the rent can be and so on.

Rates did increase last year, she said, although she declined to offer further detail.

As far as advice for potential renters looking for homes, McElveen said that was tricky.

"We tell them 'Good luck,'" she said. "Honestly, I don't really know. There is a demand for more housing."

Lindsey Petru, who planned to set out on her own while attending Victoria College but can't find anything within her $500 or so price range, is experiencing that demand first-hand.

"I'm new to Victoria, so I don't know anything about where the rental properties are or how to find them," the Shiner native said, noting that referrals, Internet searches and asking around have all proved futile. "It ticks you off."

Petru currently rents a guest bedroom in an acquaintance's home but said she and her cat need their own place by August.

If the search doesn't pan out, she might return to Shiner and commute back and forth.

Gas prices would add some expense, she said, but then again, it might balance out.

"It would be about the same as living here," she said of Victoria.



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