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Bucking trends, Longview rents decline in past year

By Jimmy Isaac
May 6, 2017 at 10 p.m.

Hidden Hills Apartments manager Judy Harris says they've recently added colorful landscaping to help give a sense of home. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Average rents for Longview apartments have fallen over the past year, bucking statewide and national trends.

The average cost of two-bedroom apartments in Longview decreased 1.9 percent over the past year to $810, according to a new survey from Apartment List, a California-based website serving apartment hunters. Across Gregg County, the decline was even sharper, at 2.7 percent.

The decline comes even as 91 of the nation's 100 largest cities witnessed year-over-year rent increases.

"It's definitely a positive for many renters and can attract people to a city but people will only move to more affordable cities if there are high-quality jobs there as well," said Sydney Bennet, an Apartment List content marketing consultant.

The most recent monthly decline in Longview, the Apartment List survey showed, was 0.3 percent.

Judy Harris has worked more than 30 years in the apartment management industry, including more than a decade at Hidden Hills Apartments in Longview. She said keeping apartment units filled is not about reducing rental rates, but increasing customer service.

"If you lower your rent, how will you raise them back up?" she said. "You are setting a tone for the market when you do that."

While most Texas cities are seeing escalating rent prices, Longview and a handful of other metropolitan areas shared more in common than less expensive rent rates.

Like Longview, rents decreased year-over-year in Midland, Wichita Falls and Laredo. All four metro areas also had fewer jobs available to their labor forces over the past year, according to the Texas A&M Real Estate Center in College Station.

While rents statewide are still increasing slightly, with year-over-year growth of 1.1 percent and month-over-month growth of 0.2 percent, "Longview isn't the only city in Texas with decreasing rents," Bennet said. In Houston, rents were down 2.7 percent in the past year.

Longview and Houston also had identical 0.8-percentage-point increases in their unemployment rates, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Despite workforce similarities, Bennet said it was unclear why Longview is bucking statewide and nationwide trends in rental rates.

"Nationwide, we are seeing some of the strongest rent growth in cheaper cities surrounding expensive major cities because people are being pushed out of the most expensive cities in the country," she said.

Harris agreed with Bennet, saying renters are willing to commute to a happy home. Residents enjoy being asked about their lives or their families rather than approaching an apartment manager who just takes their rent check and waves them out of the office because they're too busy on the phone or with paperwork.

"What I have noticed in this industry that's probably like everything else is that it's probably about the service," she said.

Instead of dropping rent or offering free or $99 move-in specials, Harris instead offers discounts throughout a renter's lease, she said. It's a tool she says helps residents endure tough economic times without putting her apartment complex in financial hole.

"We are very much a service industry because they have built so many apartment complexes," she added. "If they don't feel like they're home or they're happy here, they will go somewhere else where they can be."



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