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Wadena housing market treads water in 2013

As the new year approaches, two housing surveys tell different stories about how real estate activity in Wadena has fluctuated over the past year, but both indicate prices have declined since 2012.

Numbers from the RE/MAX Realty North Central division show transactions in the city increased through the end of November 2013, to 50 compared to 45 during the same period the previous year. In contrast, statistics from the Lake Region Association of Realtors demonstrate a slight decline through the end of November, from 47 closed sales in 2012 to 46 this year. The RE/MAX survey shows average sold prices dropped 1.86 percent, from $87,413 to $85,785. The Lake Region survey used median sale prices, indicating a 7.1 percent decline, from $79,625 to $73,950.

Meanwhile, housing officials said though finding the right unit might take some effort, rental housing is widely available. However, rents are higher than last year, according to a Minnesota Housing Partnership report.

‘Leveling off’

Wadena County Assessor Lee Brekke tracks sales throughout the county. He said his analysis shows the trend is “fairly flat.” That’s an improvement from when the housing bubble burst a few years ago.

“I’d have to say it’s leveling off and it could possibly be starting its upturn,” Brekke said.

Construction in the city of Wadena increased in 2013. According to Wadena County numbers, 23 new dwellings have been built this year compared to 14 during all of 2012.    

Wadena realtor Joe Hinkle said his business has improved more than 20 percent over 2012. “We have definitely sold more house,” he said. “But as far as values coming back, they’ve been very slow. The recovery’s been slow.”

Curt Folkestad, a broker with Gores Company in Wadena, said he’s also seen “pretty good activity both on the rental and the sales. We’ve seen an increase in activity over the last year or two.”

He cautioned against making broad generalizations.

“In a small market like we’re in it’s hard to show real trends,” Folkestad said.

Although interest rates have risen about a full percentage point since early this summer, it’s still a good time for people to consider buying a home, said Jeannie Carlisle, loan officer at Wadena State Bank.

“Interest rates are historically very low,” she said. “I think now is the time to buying versus waiting. These good times that we’ve experienced the last five years, they aren’t going to last forever.”

Carlisle said she doesn’t see sales activity as being dramatically different this year versus last.

Rental units available

In Wadena County, renters make up 26 percent of households, according to the 2010 US Census.

People looking for rental units often call or visit the Wadena Housing and Redevelopment Authority to see what’s available.

“They can come here to see what’s out there,” said Maria Marthaler, the authority’s housing program manager. “There’s all kinds of apartments in Moorhead.”

They’re generally within the price range set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Marthaler said. “I don’t think rents are too high for what you’re getting.”

But according to a Minnesota Housing Partnership report, rents in Wadena County have risen over the past year, from $583 for a two-bedroom apartment at the fair-market rate in 2012 to $626 in 2013. The Partnership report states that 61 percent of renters pay 30 percent or more for housing. That’s up 6 percent from 2012.

The local authority offers subsidized apartments for qualifying residents and runs the Section 8 assistance program that allows people in need to pick out their own apartments - if the units meet certain standards - and get a federal subsidy.  

The Mahube-Otwa Community Action Partnership also offers a variety of housing programs, from one-time assistance with deposits to more long-term services for people with difficult - or no - rental histories.

“We can come in to get them started and stable,” said Lynn Nesland, the organization’s family development housing caseworker for Wadena County.

The rental market is “pretty open right now,” she said. “But sometimes you have to put some diligence in to find a unit that suits your needs.”