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WSJ News Exclusive | RV Capital of America Tops WSJ/ Housing Index in Third Quarter

A town that bills itself as the RV capital of the world tops our list of emerging housing markets in a quarter dominated by small U.S. cities

10/20/2021 4:15:00 AM

A town that bills itself as the RV capital of the world tops our list of emerging housing markets in a quarter dominated by small U.S. cities

Elkhart, Ind., topped the housing index this quarter, as high housing costs and remote-work opportunities drive many home buyers to seek out more living and outdoor space.

“There’s a lot of flux in the housing market because of the flexibility people have,” said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide Insurance. “We’ve seen huge demand for homes in suburban and exurban areas, as many people decided they want to move out from the center cores.”

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The recreational-vehicle industry is a major player in Elkhart’s economy. The Covid-19 pandemic, as households wanted to travel while keeping their distance from others. Wholesale RV shipments in the first eight months of 2021 rose 53.8% from the same period in 2020, according to the RV Industry Association.

From the ArchivesElkhart, Ind., was once the poster child for the recession. Now the economy is booming thanks to strong sales of RVs, the main industry here. And that’s created a new challenge: a shortage of qualified workers. Photo: David Kasnic for The Wall Street Journal

Unemployment in the Elkhart area stood at 3% in August, compared with 5.1% on average for the 300 metro areas included in the index. Weekly average wages in Elkhart were $1,118 in the first quarter, above the $1,049 weekly average for all the metro areas in the index.

Elkhart sits at the junction of the St. Joseph and Elkhart rivers. The region’s attractions include kayaking and canoeing, and an arts scene with community theaters and galleries. It also boasts both a superhero museum and an RV hall of fame.The city of Elkhart, with a population of about 52,000, is more diverse than the broader metro area. Elkhart’s population is about 26% Hispanic and 15% Black, according to census data.

Newsletter Sign-upFrom aspirational residences to major commercial deals.PREVIEWSUBSCRIBELow mortgage-interest rates have fueled strong demand from first-time home buyers, said Patty Miller, president of the Elkhart County Board of Realtors.The median home-sale price in Elkhart County rose 12.3% in August from a year earlier to $209,900, according to the Indiana Association of Realtors. There were 163 homes for sale that month, down from 220 a year earlier.

Market activity has slowed slightly in recent weeks, but “anything under $250,000 still goes very, very fast,” Ms. Miller said. “Those are the hardest to come by and the fastest to sell.”A home for sale in Topeka, Kan., which ranked third on the list.

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Photo:Christopher Smith for the Wall Street JournalAbout 65% of page views on Elkhart-area property listings came from outside the metro area in the second quarter, up from about 61% a year earlier, according to The top metro areas for interest in Elkhart listings were Chicago, South Bend, Ind., and Detroit.

North Carolina had three metro areas in the top 20 of this quarter’s ranking: Raleigh, Burlington and Durham-Chapel Hill.Crystal and Richard Haynes moved from Connecticut to Durham about three years ago for a lower cost of living. They bought a four-bedroom house in Granville County, near Durham, in September for about $223,000.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTSWhat should home buyers look for in an emerging housing market? Join the conversation below.“I didn’t know how hard it was going to be” to compete in the frenzied housing market this year, Ms. Haynes said. “I would see a house on the market, and the next day it would be pending.”

The Wall Street Journal/ Emerging Housing Markets Index ranks the 300 biggest metro areas in the U.S. In addition to housing-market indicators, the index incorporates economic and lifestyle data, including real-estate taxes, unemployment, wages, commute time and small-business loans.

Median listing prices in the top 20 markets in the index have risen 13.4% on average in the past year, outpacing a 6.6% rise for all 300 areas, Ms. Hale said. The top 20 markets had a median price of $392,800, higher than the overall market’s $359,100, she said.

Read more: The Wall Street Journal »

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