(EDIT: A local writer crunched some numbers in response to this post, they called it “The scale of out of town real estate investment in Thurston County is small,” and so I responded with a new post titled, “That’s not a small increase… it’s the steepest jump!” I guess you can see we disagreed! Please read both after this one!)
I believe in smart growth and the general goals of the Olympia Comprehensive Plan, such as building for density downtown and along transportation corridors plus infilling vacant lots in neighborhoods. I am 100% opposed to sweetheart deals for developers with enormous tax abatements that pushes the externality costs from wealthy developers onto everyone else. It’s socialism for the rich. I’ve talked about this before. I would like to list off some other concerns I’ve less heard being spoken about.
There is some anecdotal evidence that our town is being bought up to some degree by outside investors and investment firms. Houses are being sold in as little as a day after going on market for tens of thousands over asking price sight unseen and with no inspection with people who have access to large amounts of cash to make up for the difference in what a bank would be willing to loan based on assessed value. There are a lot of stories in the news about this phenomena.
There is little to no benefit for our city to be bought and owned by outside investors and incredible negatives. It creates a dynamic where people such as teachers are being outbid and forced to rent rather than building equity in a home they own and deepening their roots in the community or being forced to live far outside of town and commute great distances. That is a burden on the environment and our infrastructure as well as a cost on the teacher.
Investors buying property also sometimes don’t particularly need to rent their investment properties out fully. They can keep it off market for months to wait for a higher rent price because they have an interest in the value of their property staying high and they can weather the ups and downs that regular working people cannot. This keeps potential rentals off the market. And usually they would be inclined to use a large property management firm, there is one in town that boasts a quarter Billion (with a B) of property under their management. Such a firm might have enough control of the overall rental properties to artificially set the price higher especially if they know that they can hold some units off the market until they get their rental price goal. The property management firms also watch indicators of each other easily in pricing, so they can avoid actual price fixing but basically price fix anyway.
I’m proposing a rule, I haven’t worked out all the details, but essentially that properties must be viewed in person by the buyer themselves, not their agent. If that’s a big corporate investment fund then it has to be the CEO. If it’s a rich person in NYC looking for houses to buy they can fly out and look at it in person. If it’s Bill Gates who is currently the largest farm owner in the US, then he must come see the farm he is purchasing in person before he can bid. This allows a hurdle for investors to go through which gives local folks who want to actually live in the house, a better shot at buying.
Another rule is a vacancy tax. Vacant rentals must pay each month vacant. This forces landlords to haggle with renters and truly makes it a market. It takes away the ability for property rental firms and investors from holding properties off the market until they get a higher price. It’s basically a mechanism to stop hoarding and price fixing.
Finally, I think we need to get rid of all application fees and additional deposits. It’s a competitive market for renters and if they have to drop $60 a pop to fill out an application that can be a huge issue. If a property owner wants to run background and credit checks then they can do so on their own dime. If they allow pets there is no pet deposit. Deposits in general need to be reasonable. No extra fees in the contract for lawn maintenance either.
I’m the only city council candidate that is concerned about our city being bought by outside investors who have no intention to live here. I’ll make additional proposals going forward. Stay tuned.