The Price of Being a Desert Dweller

Jim SharpeMarch 3, 2022
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Not long ago, sprawl was a bad, bad word in the Valley. But with the cost to put a roof over your head rising by the day – particularly the closer you get to our metro’s core – a lot of people are glad that our far-flung, quasi-affordable environs exist.

The sprawl coin ended up having a positive flip side, but can the same be said for the huge amount of gold coins it now takes to buy a house here?

When I asked Governor Doug Ducey about this on KTAR, he pointed out that this rise in real estate prices isn’t a bubble like the one that popped in 2009 and said nobody is going to be “trapped in their home because they’re upside down in their mortgage.”

“This is a true supply and demand situation, so part of this [solution] is building more supply,” Ducey told me.

For the moment, Ducey’s correct about the mortgages. In November 2020, an S&P report showed 4.4 percent of Valley homeowners were behind on their mortgage by 30 days or more. One year later, that number was only 2.4 percent.

But Ducey and other state leaders have limited options to solve this big problem of big prices. November’s S&P price index showed the Valley had a year-over-year median home price increase of 32.2 percent – the 30th month in a row we led the nation. Here’s how crazy the market has been: In June 2019, I closed on a home, right at the start of our head-spinning run of rising home prices, and now Zillow says the property has gained 56 percent in value since the purchase. I can assure you: I haven’t done 56 percent worth of improvements on the place. “None,” if you ask my wife.

Ironically, as a so-called iBuyer, Zillow had a hand in creating this market, snatching up homes, driving up already-crazy prices and leaving many would-be buyers eating their dust. (Zillow eventually ate something less tasty, unloading thousands of properties this fall at a loss.)

Somehow, moisture isn’t appearing in my tear ducts for Zillow or any other speculators – but I can’t really hope for their comeuppance, because I’d suffer, too. Ultimately, I just have great sympathy for those suffering on the sidelines waiting for affordability to return.

Because it’s even hard for them to do what I did while waiting to buy: rent an apartment. According to a report by Apartment List, six Valley cities saw rent increases of 25 percent or more in 2021. In Scottsdale, the average one-bedroom rents for $2,209. Getting a roomie in Glendale is not much more affordable: You’ll pay $2,025 for a two-bedroom there.

Eventually, more inventory will come on line and things may get a little more sane. But in the meantime, if you want to be a desert dweller, you may have to do it old school: find a burrow.

If you call it “an efficiency,” it may feel a little more like home.

Jim Sharpe is the host of Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR-FM 92.3 (weekdays 5-9 a.m.). Visit to find more information about his on-air work.