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HOUSING IN FLAGSTAFF

Housing in Flagstaff: Short-term rentals putting the clamps on some would-be buyers

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Julia Wright

Julia Wright and her family pose for a photo outside the house they recently purchased in Flagstaff. They decided to move because of short-term rentals in their previous neighborhood and spent nearly a year searching.

Julia Wright and her family recently purchased a house in Flagstaff after nearly a year of searching.

While it was a difficult process, Wright said she knows they’re “one of the lucky ones.”

She lives with her husband and two kids: a son who started at Northern Arizona University this fall and a daughter who is just beginning high school. Wright teaches math and personal finance online, and her husband works in construction project management in the Valley.

The family had lived in Flagstaff for three years starting in 2000, before Wright’s husband was transferred to work in the Valley. They moved to Phoenix but kept their house in Kachina Village to stay in during the summer. They recently returned to live in it full time.

“We’ve always loved it here,” Wright said.“ ... Once we got married and we moved here, it was, ‘Why would you want to live anywhere else?’ But, you know, the story with Flagstaff is it’s really hard for two people to have good jobs, so when he was transferred, it was, ‘You have to go where the job is sometimes.’ But we always wanted to be here.”

The Kachina Village house near the old fire station has been in the family since 1998. An increasing presence of short-term rentals (almost 80% of their neighborhood, Wright said) made the family want to move, however.

“It was a lovely community, and in the last four years, it seems like everything became an Airbnb,” Wright said. “The house directly behind us was an Airbnb. The house kitty-corner from us was one of those party houses. ... In the last year that we were there, an empty lot next to us was purchased to become two houses on the lot -- one of which was supposed to be an Airbnb -- and then the fire station was purchased and that turned into what we heard was a multi-unit Airbnb. That was kind of the last straw.”

As of July, VRBO lists 98 short-term rental options in Kachina Village and Airbnb lists 167.

The "party house" was especially disruptive at night, Wright said, with drunken laughter and conversations drifting through the windows, regardless of the day or time. She recounted a time her mother, who also lives in Kachina Village, had to talk to neighboring vacationers who had emptied the ashes from the fireplace into a garbage can in their Airbnb -- it was on fire.

"That was always a concern: Are the people who don't live here going to respect the fire restrictions?" Wright said. "Especially Kachina. There aren't a whole lot of ways in and out of that community, so that was always frightening to me."

She added: "I have nothing against Airbnbs; it’s just really unfortunate when you’re surrounded by them.”

The family's first step in finding a new place to live was selling their houses in both Kachina Village and Phoenix to be able to afford a down payment.

“I knew we were going to need cash to buy here in Flagstaff because of the highly competitive market," Wright said. " ... We started looking at every house on the market within our criteria, starting in March or April 2021. We finally had cash in hand to buy after we sold our house in Phoenix.”

Selling was the easy part, Wright said. The Kachina house had multiple offers and sold within hours of being posted, for over the asking price, and the Phoenix house sold for asking within days.

“To sell? Piece of cake," she said.

The Kachina Village house sold in March 21 and the Phoenix house sold in October 2021. The family moved in with Wright’s parents, storing their belongings in the RV garage. Wright said she’d assumed they’d be there for a month or two. By the time they moved into their current home, it had been close to a year.

“At that point, we thought we were going to have a cash offer," Wright said. " ... But we still needed a loan, even after selling two houses, to buy the house we bought.”

They started looking in April, and “really in earnest” in October, once they had enough cash to make a instant offer.

“I knew that’s what it was going to take in order to get a house and that is what it took when we got this house,” Wright said.

They were hoping to find something that was at least 2,000 square feet with a fenced yard for dogs, but they looked at every house that came up for sale.

“We looked at every single house that came on the market, even the ones that were like, 'Oh, it’s a little small, but let’s go anyway,' or 'Oh, it’s a little expensive, but let’s go anyway.' Any one that we could, we went and looked at,l” Wright said. “ ... I would say it was lack of inventory; there was really nothing to choose from.

In March, they found a 2,800-square-foot home in southeast Flagstaff and made an offer. Wright said they “got really lucky” because they had cash and had additional flexibility due to living with her parents.

She'd heard that 50 people had toured the house the first weekend it was on the market and that her family was one of 10 offers. Being able to make a cash offer (while they had to borrow money that came from family), with a flexible closing time (it ended up being six weeks), waiving the appraisal and only doing an as-is inspection helped them be selected as buyers.

Wright also wrote a letter to the sellers, telling them about her family. She said she thought it helped that they were planning to live in the home rather than use it as a short-term rental.

“We were able to be flexible because we were able to freeload with my parents,” Wright said. “Had I been coming directly out of another house, there’s no way this could have happened.”

Despite all the difficulty in finding it, Wright said, she is happy with the new home. It did end up being more than they were hoping to spend, costing about $1 million, about $300,000 more than their initial range.

"It was way more than we wanted to spend," she said, "but we’re very happy where we are. It’s a great house, it’s in a great neighborhood and my son can walk to NAU. We’re thrilled with what we ended up with, but we spent a quarter million more than what we had ever thought we would have to pay.”

She said she didn't know what to tell other people looking to buy a home in Flagstaff, other than to be flexible and save as much as possible.

“The rule is always to buy within your means -- which is really hard right now. If you look at the average salary in Flagstaff right now compared to the average home cost, it really is an issue, and I feel for people who are trying to buy in this market," she said. "What I tell my own children is that they are welcome to live at home and save as long as they can.”

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