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These rural Utah communities are seeing 'unprecedented' spikes in housing prices

A new housing development in Huntsville, Weber County,
is under construction on Wednesday.

A new housing development in Huntsville, Weber County, is under construction on Wednesday. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — It's no secret that Utah's Wasatch Front has seen record-breaking housing price increases, especially over the past year. But it's not just high-demand urban and suburban areas that are seeing stunning prices.

Costs in lesser known areas in practically every corner of Utah are also ballooning — even in off-the-beaten-path or rural communities that were previously considered more affordable.

That's according to new data released last month by the nonprofit Headwaters Economics, which highlight skyrocketing housing costs throughout the United States. The data show "communities across the country, in every state, are grappling with housing prices increasing at a rate that has not been seen before, even during the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession," the report states.

New homes are under construction in Eden, Weber County,
on Wednesday.
New homes are under construction in Eden, Weber County, on Wednesday. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Here's a small snapshot: In Utah's northeast corner, take the small Weber County town of Huntsville in the Ogden Valley. Home prices there have spiked by roughly $145,000. Huntsville's neighboring community of Eden, home to Powder Mountain ski resort, has seen prices jump by $153,000.

Or look to the west, in Tooele County. The rural Grantsville area saw prices rise by $71,000. To the south, areas on the outskirts of booming St. George have seen big price increases, like Washington County's Dammeron Valley, by $96,000. To the southwest, take La Sal in San Juan County, where prices have spiked by $51,000.

Utah's growth epicenter of Utah County, also home to the Silicon Slopes tech corridor, has especially seen rapid home price increases — and it doesn't stop at or near Silicon Slopes' borders. It's also acute farther south in more rural areas like Salem, where home prices have spiked by $123,000; Payson, where prices are up by $92,000, and Spanish Fork, with increases upwards of $91,000.

To the east, it's no surprise popular ski areas like Park City saw stunning prices jumps, up $318,000 in the high-demand 84060 zip code. But other more rural areas of Summit County also saw spikes: $93,000 in Coalville and $78,000 in Kamas.

The report highlighted Utah as among eight states — Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon and Washington are the others — where more than half of all zip codes saw "unprecedented price increases."

According to Headwaters' interactive map, 177 zip codes in Utah saw "unprecedented growth" in home values in 2021.

"When price increases are widespread, people have fewer options to relocate affordably nearby," the report states.

The nonprofit used housing cost data from the Zillow Home Value Index, which represents the value for a typical single-family home between the 35th and 65th percentile. Headwaters compared annual growth rates from 1996 to 2021 in both "absolute change" in 2020 dollars and percent change. Annual growth rates were calculated using typical home values for July each year.

About 45% of Americans — or 144 million people — "are living in places where housing price increases during the pandemic are unprecedented," the report states. "It is not just tech hubs, midsized cities or resort communities that are managing a housing crisis."

The West, in particular, has seen a surge in home sales and price increases in a year when the pandemic threw the national housing market into upheaval, prompting many Americans to move out of big cities like San Francisco and New York in search of homes with more space at lower price points. One Utah city in particular, Heber City, ranked high on a list of 926 U.S. metro areas for the biggest net in-migration in 2020.

Utah's affordable housing crisis was coming to a head even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It's important to note, however, the pandemic hasn't been the only factor driving up prices. Utah's economy has long thrived, expanding the job market, while the state's population growth has also been among the fastest in the nation.

Meanwhile, the housing market has also impacted renters, Headwaters Economics wrote in a separate report published last month. The analysis "shows that the unprecedented rise in housing prices since 2020 has affected renters more than homeowners, and especially in places that were already unaffordable," the nonprofit stated on its site.

"Of the counties that experienced unprecedented housing price increases during the pandemic, 92% were already unaffordable for renters while just 18% were unaffordable for homeowners," according to the report.

More expensive house prices means more expensive rent, Headwaters wrote. Even though homeowners face high housing prices, they at least have "stable and predictable mortgage payments. Renters, on the other hand, are vulnerable to a dynamic market — they are not in control of their housing costs."

"When house prices rise, rents also will rise. First-time homebuyers may be priced out and opt to rent instead," Headwaters wrote. "Some homeowners will sell, cashing in on newfound equity. Add in pandemic-induced migration as many newly remote workers relocate to small cities, and there simply are not enough long-term rentals to meet the need. In response to increased demand, many landlords will increase rents, sometimes dramatically."

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Katie McKellar

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