Seems like just yesterday we were all underwater. Memories of cascading home foreclosures and abandoned, half-built subdivisions still feel raw. Something about the dustiness of the desert and its lack of natural vegetation made the housing crash feel catastrophic—like we were previewing a future where climate change inevitably starts the zombie apocalypse.
But now Las Vegas home prices are going up-up-up again, and economic forecasts are rosy. Those empty lots have been finished, and new master-planned communities are springing up wherever land can be found. Local governments are even booting the squatters who’ve been keeping the lights on in the Valley’s forgotten homes.
Amid all the good news, headlines seem to have skipped from stories of devastation to proclamations of housing shortages without a moment of normalcy between the two. It’s enough to give you whiplash. No surprise that every mention of price increases brings out a throng of Internet Cassandras warning of the next bubble. Not that online commenters can be trusted for their economic acumen, but they do tap into our collective psyche. Like Depression-era kids who spent the rest of their lives scraping pennies, it’s hard to escape the feeling of bursting bubbles in Las Vegas.
Where to find a reality check? Real estate folks have too much skin in the game, so we reached out to a neutral party: Stephen M. Miller, director of the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research. In the calm, reassuring voice of an academic economist, Miller says he doesn’t see any evidence of a bubble. That’s not just one man’s opinion. Every quarter, his center surveys local business leaders to see how they’re feeling about life’s prospects. The result is the Southern Nevada Business Confidence Index, which is currently positive. Specifically regarding home values, 70 percent of the folks surveyed expect them to increase this year. Population growth should buoy the housing market, too.
So is it safe to buy? “As a consumption item, I don’t see a big problem,” Miller says. He advises shoppers to be patient and ready to pay above list price because of diminished supply of low-priced starter homes. “Competition is fierce.”