Is the Southern Nevada housing market poised for a rural rebound?

A home is shown for sale in the Valley Heights by Elation Homes subdivision Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Moapa Valley.

LOGANDALE — When Ted Price was looking to buy Valley Heights, a failed subdivision with streets and utilities but few houses, he noticed a few things about this rural town.

There was no graffiti or litter, locals seemed to be involved in the community, and the project was right near an elementary school.

And, it turns out, he was probably alone in thinking of developing housing tracts.

Valley Heights by Elation Homes in Moapa Valley

Landscapers build a block wall in the backyard of a home under construction at the Valley Heights by Elation Homes subdivision Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Moapa Valley. Launch slideshow »

Price, owner of Elation Homes, is the only one building a suburban-style subdivision in Logandale and the broader Moapa Valley, an unincorporated community of 7,000 people 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas off Interstate 15. He bought the bulk of the 56-acre property nearly four years ago for $1 million, a fraction of what prior owners paid during the real estate bubble, and he’s sold a handful of houses.

He aims to finish the subdivision in three or four years, as long as he reaches his goal of two sales per month.

Logandale and Southern Nevada's other rural towns went through a boom and bust last decade, same as in Las Vegas. However, home construction in the outposts hasn't picked up as much as it has in the Las Vegas Valley.

Asked if he was worried about being the only tract builder here, Price said, “Not at all.”

“That is a competitive advantage,” he said.

Planned for 97 houses, Valley Heights has 17 so far, six of which were built by Price. Options range from a one-story, 2,135-square-foot house starting at $259,990, to a two-story, 5,787-square-foot home starting at $624,990, according to Elation marketing materials. The home-sites are an average half-acre each.

Price, an architect by training who lives in Southern California, said buyers could get more space in Valley Heights than in Las Vegas, where houses often sit on land the size of a “postage stamp.” Moreover, he said his buyers might be eligible for government-backed home loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as the project is in a rural area. Valley Heights, located off Whipple Avenue east of Moapa Valley Boulevard, also has its own sewage plant, whereas most people in Moapa Valley rely on septic tanks.

The success of any real estate project, however, often comes down to timing, funding and luck.

“You just have to take a flying leap and hope everything works,” Price said.

Moapa Valley builder Brian Seely, owner of Brimont Construction, has lived here for 34 years and figures there aren’t more subdivisions being built because buyers don’t want those kinds of homes.

Residents often want a big piece of land with space for, say, a horse or chickens. If “you start slamming houses 5 feet away from each other ... then the rural lifestyle people come here for will be nonexistent,” he said.

Jessica Minogue, however, is just fine with suburban living in Logandale.

She and her husband, Luke, recently bought a house in Valley Heights. They moved here from Hawaii when Luke, a U.S. Army veteran, left the military and took an IT job in Las Vegas.

They wanted to be near family — Luke’s sister lives in Overton, just south of Logandale — and to put down roots after moving around for years to various Army posts. Logandale doesn’t have a Target or many restaurants, but it’s “the absolute perfect town to raise a family,” said Jessica, who has four children. In recent years, Bloomberg Businessweek has twice ranked Moapa Valley the best place to raise kids in Nevada.

Other families live in Valley Heights, and Minogue likes that the subdivision is mostly empty.

“It’s just really quiet in here,” she said.

• • •

Home of the Clark County Fair & Rodeo, Logandale is about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas and bears almost no resemblance to its famous neighbor.

There are no casinos or traffic lights here, and only a handful of storefronts. There also is commercial farming in the area. Moapa Valley High School, in Overton, has agriculture classes, and the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Logandale has 4-H clubs with projects focused on, among other things, the swine market and livestock judging.

It’s the kind of place where, in 1977, a news report said residents had “the services of a medical doctor again,” after a physician was hired to operate a local clinic two days a week. As recently as 1988, Moapa Valley did not have a 911 call-system in place, and in 1990, Clark County officials declared a state of emergency because the area’s only trash-hauling business shut down. (The move was a formality, allowing another company to start service without a contract until a new garbage-hauler could be found, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.)

But last decade, when Las Vegas’ housing market was white-hot, the frenzy spilled over to rural towns an hour or so outside the city, including Logandale. Developers gobbled up lower-priced land in these towns, figuring they’d build cheaper houses for Las Vegas commuters.

According to Clark County records:

• Atlanta-based Beazer Homes bought 40 acres here in 2005 and pursued plans for a project with roughly 70 homes.

• Newport Beach, Calif.-based Sage Community Group bought roughly 120 acres here in 2005 for $8.8 million and laid out plans for a 240-home project with equestrian facilities.

• Los Angeles-based KB Home bought 18 acres here in 2005.

• Valley Heights developer Todd Slusher, of Las Vegas-based Southwest Homes, bought the site in 2006 for nearly $17 million.

In a sign of Moapa Valley’s growth, buyers picked up 132 water meters — needed for newly built homes — in 2004 and 148 in 2005, according to Joseph Davis, general manager of the Moapa Valley Water District.

Brimont’s Seely had three superintendents and five work trucks a decade ago — staffing and equipment levels that outweigh today’s.

“We were so busy,” he said.

But like the rest of Southern Nevada, Logandale’s housing market fell apart with the recession.

Beazer’s site and KB's land remain open desert, and lenders who foreclosed on Sage’s property in spring 2012 sold it a few months later for $750,000.

Slusher built 11 houses in Valley Heights before selling the bulk of the subdivision in 2009 through a process that lets buyers pick up debt-laden real estate while avoiding the foreclosure process.

Efforts to get comment from KB, Beazer, Sage and Slusher were unsuccessful.

The Water District lost customers amid rising foreclosures and did not sell any new meters in 2009 or 2010, Davis said. More meters were being shut off than sold.

“It was pretty ugly there for a little bit,” he said.

Land broker Keith Spencer, of CBRE Group in Las Vegas, sold Valley Heights to Price. The sale closed in fall 2012.

The property was listed for about $1.4 million, marketing materials show, and Spencer said he got “low-ball, vulture-type proposals,” including for around $500,000, from speculators.

“Homebuilders were not at all active out there,” he said.

Similar to Las Vegas, home prices plunged and bank-owned homes and short sales eventually dominated the resale market here, according to Elation listing agent Clea Whitney, of McKesson Realty in Overton.

“It was the same thing” as Las Vegas, she said, but “on a smaller scale.”

• • •

Logandale’s home-construction market has bounced up from the depths, but it’s nowhere near the levels of a decade ago. Seely, for instance, has built two custom homes in Moapa Valley this year — his first two in six years.

“It’s still quite slow,” he said.

To help spur growth, the Water District slashed its water-meter purchase fees in 2014. The price of a typical residential meter is now $3,482, down from $5,463, Davis said — a 36 percent drop.

The district also began letting buyers make a $200 down payment for new meters and pay the balance over a two-year period, interest-free, he said. Previously, customers on a payment plan had to pay more than 50 percent of the purchase price upfront and were charged interest.

Water-meter sales now are climbing. According to Davis, buyers picked up seven meters in 2014, eight in 2015 and five so far this year.

Unlike a decade ago, there seem to be few people, if any, getting priced out of Las Vegas’ housing market. As a result, there aren’t as many people willing to drive an hour to work each day in exchange for cheaper homes, crimping demand for far-flung subdivisions.

Another project, however, is in the works here.

A landowner called Can & Co. is pursuing plans for a 91-home subdivision near Moapa Valley High School, according to Davis.

A pre-application has been filed for the 33.6-acre project dubbed the Mesas at Logandale, but no votes or hearings are scheduled, said Dan Kulin, county government spokesman.

Construction contractor Mike Gouker, owner of Las Vegas-based Mammoth Underground, appears to be the developer, records indicate. He did not return calls seeking comment.

Price, meanwhile, knew he wouldn’t finish Valley Heights overnight, figuring it would be a seven-year build. The potential sales pace was his biggest risk, he said, but he also bought the property for a relative pittance with “minimal” debt.

If KB and Beazer decided to start construction, he knew he’d have a leg up on them because his site was ready for homebuilding, he said. And the fact that these national builders acquired land in Logandale showed the town had potential.

“They must have seen something,” Price said.

Real Estate

Staff librarian Rebecca Clifford-Cruz contributed research to this report.