Driving around Las Vegas, it’s easy to see the housing tracts, apartment buildings and other projects coming out of the ground.
But in backyards across the valley, something else is being built at a rising clip: swimming pools.
“All the pool builders I know are extremely busy,” Vintage Pools owner Gary Verbano said.
Last year, 987 permits were issued for pool projects in unincorporated areas of Clark County, along with 633 in Henderson and 157 in North Las Vegas. Those tallies have all more than doubled since 2012.
Efforts to obtain city of Las Vegas figures for that time frame were unsuccessful.
The number of swimming pools dug out of the desert remains well below the peaks of the mid-2000s housing bubble. But after tanking during the recession, business has climbed in recent years amid more home construction and the improved economy, Las Vegas pool builders said.
Renaissance Pools &Spas owner Jim Alexander said he built 600 pools in 2004 but only about 50 annually during the recession. He expects to build more than 200 this year.
He said new builders are getting into the business, and others who bailed years ago are returning.
“If the economy wasn’t strong, they wouldn’t be coming back in,” Alexander said.
Poolscapes owner Ivan Friedmutter said he expects this year to be his best ever. He noted that pool construction isn’t the only aspect of the economy that’s picking up. Among other things, car sales, airport passenger traffic and gambling revenue are also rising.
“Everything’s a little busier,” he said.
Paragon Pools founder Joe Vassallo said most of his projects are at new houses and that pool construction usually climbs when homebuilding picks up in Las Vegas.
Their fortunes do seem to mirror each other. Builders closed almost 39,000 sales in Clark County in 2005, just 3,900 in 2011 and 9,400 last year, according to Home Builders Research.
Vassallo — who occasionally writes pool-related stories for the Las Vegas Review-Journal — said his annual business peaked at nearly $8 million before the recession. That figure then dropped to $1 million, but he’s on pace for more than $4 million this year.
Fueled by easy money, Las Vegas’ real estate market was roaring in the mid-2000s, and pool building was no different. Back then, homebuilders often sold pools with houses and rolled the extra cost into the mortgage, Verbano said.
But when the bubble burst, lending, homebuilding and practically everything else in the economy, including pool construction, did a faceplant.
North Las Vegas, for instance, issued 851 permits for new swimming pools in 2006 but just 77 in 2012, city figures show.
Numerous pool builders went out of business, contractors say. Alexander said he temporarily closed two of his three stores. Vassallo said he stayed in business in part by remodeling and repairing pools, including those in abandoned houses.
Vassallo said that when Las Vegas was grappling with heavier volumes of foreclosures and short sales, lenders sent out marketing materials to drum up business but included asterisks that said: “Except in Nevada.”
“You could get a loan for a pool anywhere in the country, except in Nevada,” he said. “We’ve risen above that now.”
Contact Eli Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Wade Tyler Millward contributed to this report.