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USS Nimitz brings bump to Kitsap County real estate

Tugboats steer the USS Nimitz into the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in December, bringing with it about 2,800 sailors and officers. After a year’s worth of maintenance in Bremerton, the ship will head to its new homeport in Everett. - file photo
Tugboats steer the USS Nimitz into the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in December, bringing with it about 2,800 sailors and officers. After a year’s worth of maintenance in Bremerton, the ship will head to its new homeport in Everett.
— image credit: file photo

When Senior Chief Yolanda Adams was assigned to the USS Nimitz from Norfolk, Va., she looked for housing throughout the Puget Sound area, including Seattle, Tacoma and Bainbridge Island. But when she arrived in the area about three weeks ago, she spent a few nights in Bremerton and signed a lease for the first house she looked at on Lafayette Avenue in a matter of days.

“I like the Bremerton area,” said Adams, a logistics specialist in the Navy. “I like the convenience of it, I like being able to walk to work if I want to. It’s really a nice little area.”

Originally from Texas, Adams knew nothing about Kitsap County. But she found a house with a view of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard with about the same rent as what she paid in Virginia.

“I love this little neighborhood,” she said.

Though early reports are mixed on how the December arrival of the USS Nimitz has affected the Kitsap real estate market, home sales figures and rental vacancy rates indicate that there have been more homebuyers and renters than what’s typical for winter.

Property managers say renting has been more popular than buying homes and the higher demand for rentals is shown through higher monthly rents and a reduced number of incentives being offered to draw renters in.

Mike Eliason, association executive of the Kitsap County Association of Realtors, said the Nimitz — which brought 2,800 crew members to Bremerton Dec. 9 for a one-year stay — has stimulated both rental and homebuying activity in the county.

Now is a particularly good time to buy because of the decline of house prices in the past several years, Eliason said. Whereas sailors would have largely been priced out of the market three years ago, they can now afford their own homes. The median home price in Kitsap County in January was $224,000, down 4.4 percent from January 2010, when the median price was $234,200, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Homebuying in Kitsap County increased from 187 closed sales in November to 239 sales in December. However, the December figure is still down from spring and summer numbers - 2010’s peak was 285 homes sold in June. Because home sales were about the same in December 2010 versus December 2009 ‚Äî when 245 houses were sold ‚Äî it is difficult to guess how many of the recent home sales could be attributed to Nimitz families, Eliason said.

Rich Jacobson, a real estate broker for Windermere in Silverdale, said he’s not so sure homebuying is a popular choice these days, especially for sailors and officers who will only spend a year here before the Nimitz moves to Everett. Because of the down housing market, any buyers would have a tough time selling the home when it comes time for them to move and probably would rather not make the gamble.

“So many military folks have been hesitant about buying real estate,” Jacobson said. “There’s a lot more people out there who are being a little more cautious.”

Real estate agents and property managers say renting is a more common route for those in the military. Property managers report an uptick in rentals in Kitsap, saying vacancy rates in their properties have decreased and that Nimitz crew members and their families have provided more business during what’s normally the slowest time of the year.

“Locally, the market has been much more robust the past few months than it has the prior months,” Eliason said.

The improved rental market is indicated by a decrease in renting incentives and discounts that are usually offered during times of slow business, he added.

Brett Warner, president of the Puget Rental Owners Association, said he’s seen an increase in demand and monthly rent costs across the county as well as among his own properties. Houses that might have gone for $1100 per month a year ago are now going for $1175, he said.

Warner, who owns apartments and duplexes with more than 50 units, said his properties have gone from five vacancies a few months ago to no vacancies now.

“I have a waiting list and I don’t have those very often,” he said.

Loren Johnson, broker of Reid Property Management, said Reid’s vacancy rate for residential properties has decreased from 9.5 percent to 8 percent after the Nimitz’s arrival. That growth in rental activity is typical whenever a large Navy ship ports in Kitsap, he said.

“Every time one of the larger ships come in, it does have some impact, and when they leave it has an impact,” Johnson said.

Chrysztyna Montanez, owner and broker at Lighthouse Cove Property Management, said that same come-and-go cycle will happen when the USS Ronald Reagan ports in Bremerton in January 2012, bringing 2,895 sailors and 158 officers.

“We’re going to lose a lot of our Nimitz sailors when they move to Everett, so we’re going to have a big influx of vacancies when they leave,” Montanez said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to fill them all up when the Reagan gets here.”

Lighthouse Cove has seen its vacancy rate drop from 6 percent to 3 percent after the arrival of the Nimitz, she added.

“The influx helps us to keep the rental industry revitalized in an otherwise pretty downtrodden economy,” Montanez said.

Geri Johnson, property manager at Peninsula Property Management, said the growth in renting has as much to do with the economy as it does with new ships. She said that because people have lost their homes and sales have been down in recent years, people are renting instead of buying.

Jennifer Duenas, also a property manager at Peninsula Property Management, said there are also more properties to rent because homeowners who can’t sell instead list their properties as rentals so they can make money and avoid foreclosure.

Regardless of why renting is up, Johnson and Duenas do say that business is better now than they have been in years

“Our vacancy rates are lower than they have been in a long time,” Johnson said, adding Peninsula Property Management’s vacancy rate has dropped from 15 to 20 percent a few months ago to 8 to 10 percent.

Mayor Patty Lent said she hopes the Nimitz crew members will stay in Kitsap County even after the ship moves to Everett at the end of the year.

“I think that our quality of life in Kitsap County is delightful,” she said.

Lt. Jason Scarborough, of the Nimitz, will be among those staying in the area after the ship transfers to Everett. By the time he arrived in Kitsap County in December, he was tired of dragging his wife and four kids across the country.

He was assigned to the Nimitz in November, when he moved from Maryland to San Diego, Calif., where the Nimitz was homeported at the time. Though the Nimimtz will transfer to Everett at the end of the year, Scarborough said that’s enough moving, for now. And because he likes the house he rented in a family-oriented Port Orchard neighborhood, he hopes his children can stay put for awhile.

“Because I had to move my family here in the middle of the school year, I really don’t want to have to move my kids again,” Scarborough said. “The area seemed pretty nice, the neighborhood seemed really nice. I think everyone I’ve encountered has been super friendly.”

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