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Ventura County

State's High-Tech Tumble Barely Dents County's Economy

Industry: Report says home prices are rising, unemployment is at an 18-year low and job growth remains strong.

September 07, 2001|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County's economy and housing market have been largely insulated from California's high-tech shakeout, a new report says.

The California Economic Forecast Project's midyear Real Estate and Economic Outlook, released Thursday, confirms what regional experts have said for months.

The county's unemployment is running at 4.1% this year, the lowest annual rate for the area since 1983. The report found only "a handful of casualties" in high-tech jobs throughout the county, and overall, thousands of new jobs have been created this year. Home prices are still rising, industrial vacancy rates are lower, and office vacancy rates have risen only slightly.

"The tech wreck in the state, the dot-com trauma, is not really affecting--or infecting--Ventura County," project director Mark Schniepp told a group of 250 real estate agents, builders and lenders gathered at the Westlake Hyatt in Thousand Oaks for the release of the report.

The report was based on data from the state and several independent industry tracking groups.

According to the report, data from the first half of the year also reveal undercurrents worth monitoring in the jobs and housing sectors.

Job growth for the year is 2.1%. That pace is far more realistic than the 3.5% pace seen from 1997 to 2000, Schniepp said. He also said a lack of affordable housing is likely to keep job growth down in the short term and might drive away some businesses in the future.

While the demand for affordable housing is high, the number of single-family homes sold in the county is down nearly 16% compared with the first six months of 2000, the report found. The most dramatic drop-off was in Thousand Oaks, where home sales for the first half of the year fell 27% from the same period a year ago--from 608 homes to 444.

And while the county's median home price is still rising, it's increasing at a slower pace than in surrounding counties.

The median price of a single-family home during the first seven months of this year was $302,453--2.6% higher than the same period a year ago. That increase pales in comparison with hikes in the median price of homes in other Southern California counties during the same period: 10.9% in Los Angeles and Orange counties, 9.3% in Santa Barbara County and 18.2% in San Luis Obispo County.

In fact, the gap is so wide that Schniepp cautioned that it could be an aberration, perhaps reflective of an off-period in luxury home sales in eastern Ventura County.

Schniepp said the county's housing market remains solid, with interest rates remaining low, demand higher than supply and more jobs being created than houses built.

The report had little good news for apartment seekers in the county's tight rental market. Prices continued to rise, with the average apartment commanding $1,135 per month.

But there were shreds of silver lining for renters, said consultant Dawn Dyer, whose firm tracks trends in the county's rental market.

Apartment vacancies countywide rose from 1.4% last summer to 2.1%--although that is still far below the 5% vacancy rate considered healthy. Availability loosened up the most in Thousand Oaks, where vacancy rates shot from 1.6% in January to 2.6% this summer. That is also where apartments are the most expensive--$1,271 per month.

The increase in vacancies in Thousand Oaks could reflect a number of renters who got fed up with prices and decided to buy a home, Dyer said. The highest vacancy rate in the county is in Camarillo, at 2.8%. The average apartment there rents for $1,099 per month.

Rents on high-end luxury apartments were scaled back slightly, Dyer said. Although there were too few of these apartments to make a dent in the overall statistics, Dyer said, a handful of rentals throughout the county dropped rates by $50 or $100 per month.

Unfortunately, Dyer said, that trend won't help the average renter. Those apartments are typically $2,500 to $3,000 per month.

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