New report offers clues on source of 43% spike in rent prices in Washington County

ST. GEORGE — The average rent in Utah saw a 45% increase during the past year and a half, according to a report by Utah-based rental software company Entrata.

Townhomes near Dixie Dr. and Sunset Blvd., Sept. 19, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Entrata’s report includes data from more than 14,000 apartment units in Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Washington counties, gathered from January 2019 to July 2021.

In addition to the jump in average rent prices across the state, the report also showed a 330% spike in month-to-month leases, and a 357% increase in the number of renters who payed their rent during the last week of the month, rather than the first, statewide.

In Washington County, the average rent rose 43%. Washington County also saw a 100% increase in the number of month-to-month leases. And the number of renters who paid their rent during the last week of the month jumped 77%.

The report stated that COVID-19 has influenced these trends, as some renters now prefer more flexibility in lease duration and payment dates. Bryan Wilson, who founded and owns Utah First Property Management, said that he’s seen these trends firsthand.

File photo of Bryan Wilson, who owns Utah First Property Management, St. George, Utah, Jan. 5 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News.

“We manage over 1,000 properties,” Wilson told St. George News. “When we talk about why rent prices have gone up, we’re really talking about supply and demand.”

“Demand is much greater than supply right now,” he continued. “And that’s why we’re seeing a spike in rent prices.”

Wilson said that, in his 15 years in the business, he’s seen rental units that used to rent for $995 rise to $1,500. Even Iron County is seeing rents rise.

“We manage a few properties in Cedar City,” he said. “Their prices are increasing, too, but not as much as they are around St. George. Units that used to rent for $700 are now going for $1,000.”

While Entrata said month-to-month rentals were on the rise, Wilson said he hasn’t seen an increase in demand for those lease terms.

“We push for one-year leases,” Wilson said. “After that, we will consider month-to-month terms. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense, financially, to offer month-to-month leases out of the gate. Most of our work goes into finding qualified tenants.”

To go through that process repeatedly, and on short turnaround times, isn’t worth it, Wilson said. Right now, there are plenty of qualified renters who are willing to sign one-year leases, so there’s no incentive to settle for anything less.

File photo of Jeremy Larkin, Washington, Utah, May 6, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Local real-estate agent Jeremy Larkin said that he thinks he knows why there’s an increase in month-to-month rentals.

“I get requests weekly,” Larkin told St. George News. “They’re all asking some variation of the same question. That is, ‘Does this property allow short-term rentals?’ The answer, more often than not, is no.”

But the demand, Larkin said, may have to do with a populace that is on the move. Whether they’re choosing to leave behind cities where rent is high, states where laws skew too far one way or the other, or personal and familial reasons, people are looking to relocate.

“Then, when they arrive in St. George and they can’t find anything to buy, they look for short-term rentals,” Larkin said. “When I get these messages, there’s a sense of urgency. They’re nervous. Some are desperate.”

Larkin said that one client in particular shared a memorable quote.

“This client had been planning to move to St. George from the eastern part of the country,” Larkin said. “He said, ‘I can go $4,000 for monthly rent.’ That’s a good budget that can fetch a nice home. But here’s the catch. They have a dog. And so many property owners don’t allow dogs.”

After trying to help, and failing, Larkin said his client sent a text that read, “Someone, please take my money!”

According to the report, renters have also been paying rent later in the month, and that property managers have “generously waived late fees.” Wilson pointed out that that is true, but it’s mostly due to urgent situations, where tenants had to miss work for extended periods of time due to COVID-19.

“Some had lost work altogether,” Wilson said. “So, that was due mostly to federally mandated eviction moratoriums. In some sense, we were really altogether during this tough time.”

As a community, said Wilson, St. George is lucky.

“We’ve got a strong market,” he said. “Our business environment is thriving, so people want to be here. As long as people want to be here, even if the market softens, we’ll be all right.”

Larkin echoed that sentiment. He also offered his thoughts on whether the market would eventually correct itself.

“The bottom line is,” Larkin said, “as long as people pay, prices will hold. When we stop paying high prices, the prices will go down.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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