It Feels Like Old Times in Real Estate

Is Las Vegas’ recent new homebuilding the start of a spending spree?

Illustration by Jon Estrada

Illustration by Jon Estrada

Never mind Punxsutawney Phil. Spring has sprung—and here is its sign: “Model Homes, Next Right.”

The little parking lot was full. The new Camaro on the curb had Pennsylvania plates; the BMW SUV on the dirt lot was from California. We had to park across the street.

It was a little like old times—say, a decade ago, when the real estate market was skyrocketing and feverish American Dreamers lined up outside new home developments, waiting for their shot at an over-leveraged four-bed, three-bath, stucco house with an open kitchen and a great room, as if there would never be another chance to buy one. Never. Ever.

OK, so maybe this week it wasn’t that crowded; or that crazy. But I did get an elbow from the gentler half of an in-state couple, and we did have to wait a minute or three to get price sheets and floorplans at several model-home offices. Yes, several offices, owned by different builders, at multiple sites around town. I’m pretty sure it was the dawning of the Suburban Spring.

In fact, 7,300 new homes sold last year in Las Vegas, up 32 percent from 2012, according to Home Builders Research.

So, as one who chronicled and whimpered about the recession many times, I feel it’s my duty to note: On a sunny weekend in February 2014, scads—yes, upon counting a few times, I believe they amounted to scads—of people were looking at new houses in Las Vegas.

Multicolored flags and balloons staked out new enclaves: Santaluz, or Castille at Andorra, or Primrose Estates. Disturbingly, I felt a little nostalgia for the absurd vacation-brochure names, and the odd photos of someone else’s children in every wildly over-staged room. It was a little like visiting the themed areas in Disneyland—reminiscent of another, faker time, when we stood in lines to be taken for a ride.

I confess, as I swung open the beveled-glass-adorned front door to the 3,285-square-foot, two-story Caspian model (elevation C, optional casita), I felt a kind of perverse reunion with pre-recession excess. Four-ton granite countertops! Unnecessary two-way fireplaces! Nine-foot ceilings and 5-inch crown molding and 6-burner chef’s stoves, standard (asterisk)! It was breathtaking, and obscene, and about a half-million dollars, which is about a half million out of our range, and yet, I was a little giddy. It was grotesque.

Had I learned nothing?

True, years of relative austerity had sucked the fun out of living in a nation of extravagant capitalists. Years of driving by spookily deserted construction sites had a chilling effect on the batshit-ravenous consumer within. But, I later discovered, new home sales aren’t the only rising stat. The rate of home flipping—buying and selling a house within six months, a fundamental part of what created the wicked, market-killing bubble—was up to 7.2 percent in 2013 from 6.3 percent in 2012, already more than the national average of 4.6 percent.

So, I gently closed the gigantic, beveled-glass-adorned door in my head. I hope, for the city’s sake, that we are indeed feeling spring after a long, long economic winter. But it’d be nice if the economic awakening is tempered with emotional stability.

However, I kept the brochures.