Builders reviving mothballed projects in Pahrump

Updated February 22, 2017 - 11:33 am

PAHRUMP ­— With dirt roads sprouting weeds, hundreds of vacant lots and paved streets that abruptly end, the Burson Ranch subdivision, it’s fair to say, didn’t turn out as planned.

And residents like Dennis Verdugo don’t seem to mind one bit.

“It’s quiet. It’s safe. It’s just great,” he said.

Several miles away, Monique Allen lives in Cottage Grove Estates, another partially built reminder of the housing boom and bust. Neighbors roam about its open land with their dogs, and Allen has seen people on horseback or zipping around on ATVs.

“You can ride right through,” she said.

Pahrump, a rural, unincorporated town 60 miles west of Las Vegas in Nye County, bears little outward resemblance to its famous neighbor. But last decade, its housing market inflated to record, bloated levels until it burst and got wiped out with the economy, just like the one in Las Vegas.

The homebuilding industry has been slower to recover from the recession than in America’s casino capital. But now, some builders are reviving boom-era, suburban-style projects that got mothballed after the market crashed or never got off the drawing board. Home construction in Pahrump, Nevada, 200-2016 (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Atlanta-based Beazer Homes, which built around 30 houses in Burson Ranch after receiving Nye County approvals for the 586-home project in 2005, is selling and building again. Pahrump’s Classic Homes has built some houses recently in Cottage Grove, and Las Vegas-based American West Homes, which received approvals in 2005 for a 1,340-acre community, is gearing up to build its first houses.

Pahrump isn’t the only rural community outside of Las Vegas where home construction has limped out of the recession or where boom-era subdivisions sit unfinished. But some builders figure demand for houses will grow as the economy regains its footing and as rising prices in the Las Vegas Valley make Pahrump, with its cheaper homes on more land, look more appealing.

“We’re coming back,” Access Realty owner Kim Washington said. “It took a long time.”

FAR FROM THE PEAKS

Builders pulled 84 permits last year for single-family homes, down from 107 in 2015 but up from a low of 22 in 2011, according to the contractor firm Pahrump Building and Safety. Until 2016, permit totals had climbed every year since hitting bottom.

Nye County Planning Director L. Darrell Lacy said that, in the past few months, Beazer pulled about 10 permits, and Classic built four or five homes. American West hasn’t built any houses yet but has done infrastructure work, he added.

Homebuilders in both Las Vegas and Pahrump aren’t nearly as busy as they used to be, although construction has recouped more of its post-bubble losses in the Las Vegas Valley. Builders pulled 8,700 new-home permits in Clark County last year, comprising 26 percent of the peak tally reached in 2004, according to Home Builders Research.

Pahrump’s permit count last year was 8 percent of its peak, reached in 2005, although real estate pros say the market trails its bigger neighbor’s by a few years.

“It takes a while for the smaller towns around (Las Vegas) to get caught up,” Shadow Mountain Construction owner Ken Murphy said.

LEAVING LAS VEGAS?

Most homebuilders in Pahrump are locally owned firms that put up custom houses, not subdivisions. The biggest builder by far, locals say, is Newport Beach, California-based William Lyon Homes, developer of the Mountain Falls community. The company had closed 184 sales in the project as of Sept. 30, according to a securities filing.

Rising home prices in Pahrump have helped other projects get back on track, locals say. Homes that sold for $50 per square foot during the recession can now trade for around $100 to $110 per square foot, Nevada Realty owner Ray Guin said.

Meanwhile, demand for new houses has been rising faster in Las Vegas, but the inventory of available land is shrinking, and higher land prices have “made it all but impossible” to offer affordably priced houses, American West founder Larry Canarelli said.

The median sales price of new homes in Clark County reached $337,060 in December, just $1,500 shy of the peak reached in summer 2007, according to Home Builders Research. Land in Pahrump is much cheaper, letting builders sell lower-priced homes with more land — a trade-off for the hefty commute and fewer nearby amenities.

Canarelli said he plans to build 4,400 homes on 1,100 acres — scaled back from his approvals last decade — and that he expects to start building model homes in spring 2018.

Classic Homes could not be reached for comment. Beazer’s Las Vegas division president, Steven Cervino, was unavailable for comment, the company said.

‘ALMOST TOTALLY DEAD’

Pahrump, with 36,000-plus residents by 2010, has libertarian leanings, legal brothels and widespread gun ownership. It grew fast for years even before the bubble, becoming a popular place for retirees who wanted warm weather, a quiet lifestyle and cheap housing, not to mention a cluster of casinos an hour away.

Its population more than tripled between 1990 and 2000 to around 24,600, U.S. Census Bureau data show.

When the bubble burst and the economy tanked, Pahrump’s woes mirrored Las Vegas’. Construction evaporated, property values collapsed, foreclosures and unemployment soared, and developers abandoned projects.

“Things were almost totally dead here for several years,” Lacy, the planning director, said.

One Burson Ranch resident said her house is beautiful, but her daughter laughed at the subdivision’s condition when visiting from out of state.

“This is where you bought?” her daughter said.

Christie Cockett used to live in Burson Ranch with her husband, Matthew, but they moved back to Las Vegas about five years ago. Jobs were scarce here, and commuting to Las Vegas was “no fun” and expensive, she said.

The project’s abandoned state “didn’t really bother us,” she said. Plus, all that open land fit with the town.

“It’s what Pahrump looks like anyway,” she said.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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