Waiting for room: The residential rental market in Tupelo has gotten tight with influx of workers

By Dennis Seid / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – If you’re looking to get into one of the newer apartment complexes in Tupelo, good luck.
While the city has some 4,000 residential units available – including apartments, townhomes, duplexes and single-family homes – the upper end of the market is tight.
“We have a five-page waiting list,” said Suzann Watts, property manager of Vista Ridge Apartments, which began leasing in November 2009.
That equals to more than 100 people waiting to snag one of the 160 units at Vista Ridge.
About a mile farther north, The Pines at Barnes Crossing also has a healthy waiting list for its 200 units.
In Belden, the owners of Grand Ole Oaks luxury apartments are adding two more buildings, one of which is half-leased.
And Linda Beck, manager of Cooper Realty in Tupelo, said her company has rental homes and apartments available across the region. She, too has seen a range of tenants looking for places to live.
“Just about everything is hot right now,” she said. “It’s going great for us. You never have 100 percent occupancy at any time, because there are always people going somewhere else, moving away, so that frees things up. But we’re doing OK – definitely much better than a couple of years ago.”
The reason for the apparent surge in rentals?
Jobs. New workers for expansions at area companies, contractors for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi in Blue Springs and new hires for TMMMS and its suppliers have rental property managers fielding dozens of calls daily from people looking for places to rent.
“We started to really see a pickup last fall,” said Debbie Hall, the community manager at The Pines at Barnes Crossing, which began leasing in June 2009. “Before then, we had an influx of people who were putting the plant in Blue Springs together, then we saw many from the NUMMI plant in California.”
NUMMI, or New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., was the plant co-owned by Toyota and General Motors that closed in March 2010. The plant built the Corolla, which is the vehicle that will be built at Toyota’s Blue Springs plant later this year.
Danny Barrows and Judson Vance opened Grand Ole Oaks in August 2009, and all 52 of the development’s units are filled.
On Wednesday, Barrows had a waiting list of two dozen people.
“It’s a good problem to have,” he said.
But that hasn’t always been the case, said Jason Collum, whose Rentlist publication and rent-list.net website provide information on 58 rental properties and companies across Northeast Mississippi.
“It was slow going at the start primarily because they all opened about the same time,” he said.
The complexes also opened during the recession and less than a year after Toyota had announced it was delaying the opening of the Blue Springs plant.
“All three sprang up from the exhilaration of Toyota initially announcing” in 2007 that it planned to open by 2010, Collum said.
Toyota announced in June it was ramping up operations again, and the three complexes – plus other rental units across the city and county – have been picking up new tenants ever since.
Collum said the “newness” factor of the three also are advantages.
Amenities like gated entrances (available at all three), a saltwater pool (at Vista Ridge), available garages (Vista Ridge and Grand Ole Oaks) and granite countertops and bamboo flooring (Grand Ole Oaks) are definite pluses.
Leasing terms and rates vary, but renters can expect to pay around $750 and up for a one-bedroom, one bath unit.
Collum said older properties with fewer amenities are available, but it’s the newer properties that are in high demand.

Not all Toyota
While many of the new tenants are contractors as well as employees working at Toyota and its area suppliers, they’re not the only ones driving up demand.
“Even before Toyota we were at 94 percent occupancy,” said Vista Ridge’s Watts. “We have a lot of people from the hospital, pharmaceutical reps, Cooper Tire, for example.”
At Grand Ole Oaks, property manager Carey Wilson said Toyota hasn’t had as much impact there.
“We’ve been 100 percent leased since last April,” she said. “We do have some related to Toyota in some way, but we had a waiting list before they even announced they were reopening.”
Grand Ole Oaks co-owner Barrows said tenants include physicians, college professors and other professionals looking for what he deems affordable luxury.
“It’s very upscale, unlike anything else you’ll see in Northeast Mississippi,” he said. “Plus we’ve kept most of the big trees out here, which makes it even more appealing.”
Wanting to keep the development a little more intimate, Barrows said he plans to add no more than two or three more buildings to the five-acre site.
“I wish I could get them open now,” he said.
While new employees coming to the area are among her renters, Beck said many of the rentals in recent months also are homeowners downsizing.
“We’re seeing some people who had bigger homes and are trying to get into something more affordable,” she said.
But whether or not the tight rental market sustains itself remains to be seen. The question is whether or not the influx of workers coming in for Toyota and its suppliers will continue once the facilities are up and running.
For at least the short term, it looks promising.
Hall said a third-party company working with Toyota has put down deposits on several units at The Pines as soon as they become available. Watts also has her share of Toyota-related inquiries at Vista Ridge.
Collum thinks that at least the newer developments will do just fine.
“And one of the good things about the rental real estate market in Tupelo is that it’s not a blood sport,” he said. “The rental property managers here work well with each other. There’s a helpful spirit around here. That’s good for them and it’s good for the people looking for rental properties.”
Which is a good thing, since they’re likely having to wait.

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