Area buyout residences skew olderAge gap smallest in Cass County homesThough they are worth more than typical houses, flood-prone homes in the area that are tapped for potential government buyouts are older on average than the rest of the housing stock.
By: Dave Roepke, INFORUM
Though they are worth more than typical houses, flood-prone homes in the area that are tapped for potential government buyouts are older on average than the rest of the housing stock.
The age gap between buyouts and all houses is the smallest in Cass County, where the average age of the homes on the list is 32 years, an analysis by The Forum shows.
Of the 119 homes on the Cass list for which an age is available, 39 percent were built in 1980 or later. As a whole, 48 percent of houses in the county were built in the same time period, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
In Clay County, where the buyout homes average 43 years old, 14 percent of possible buyouts were built after the 1970s compared to 31 percent of all the houses.
The gap is even wider in the cities.
Fargo buyouts average 55 years old. Only 13 percent were built after 1980, while 48 percent of homes in the city have been constructed since then.
Moorhead has the widest difference. Its buyouts are on average 60 years old, and only 1 percent of those 82 homes – that’s one house – was built in 1980 or later.
It’s no shock that the buyout homes skew old. Zoning rules have made it more difficult to build on lots that are at risk to flood. Regulations tightened up, for instance, after the 1997 flood, said Jim Gilmour, planning director in Fargo.
But officials who oversee the buyout programs said they aren’t sure why there is such a difference among the jurisdictions in the ages of buyout homes.
Cass County Engineer Keith Berndt, chairman of the county’s buyout committee, said a flurry of home construction in Cass County in the 1970s and the 1980s came just as townships began using flood maps to dictate what areas were off limits because of potential flooding.
“Flood-plain regulation was just coming into existence,” Berndt said. Pleasant Township south of Fargo, for instance, did not start using flood maps until 1981, he said.
Before that, “People probably assumed that as long as they built above the 1969 mark, they were fine,” Berndt said. The 1969 mark of 37.3 feet is 3½ feet below this year’s record Red River crest of 40.8 feet at Fargo.
The age of Cass buyouts also reflects where construction has boomed, Berndt said.
“There just aren’t, for whatever reason, a lot of rural subdivisions that sprang up like there did on the Cass County side,” he said of the area south of Moorhead.
It’s natural for county buyouts to run younger than those in the city, Gilmour said, because the cities thrived long before it was common to build nonfarm residences miles outside of town.
Gilmour also thinks flood-plain zoning took longer to implement outside of city limits.
“I think that’s some of it. When you get out in the rural areas, people didn’t know or didn’t want to know,” he said.
Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman thinks Moorhead’s homes in line for buyouts are the oldest because many riverside houses have survived over the years due to higher banks on the west side of the Red River.
“A lot of those properties could stay. They were able to protect themselves,” he said.
That’s clear looking at the city’s buyout list. More than one-quarter of Moorhead buyouts, 21 homes, were built before 1930.
Ages of the homes matter beyond what they indicate in terms of growth patterns and adoption of zoning rules.
An earlier analysis by The Forum found that the assessed values of houses set for buyouts were much more than median house values, ranging from 28 percent higher in Moorhead to 58 percent in Fargo.
So buyouts will be pricey, and older homes tend to be cheaper. Those 21 pre-1930 Moorhead homes, for example, have an average value of about $82,800 – more than $45,000 less than a median Moorhead house. The older the homes, the more bang for the buck.
“There’s just a reality to the fact that it’s an older home,” Zimmerman said. “Not that we’re not going to pay market value, because we are.”
Here are the average years of construction for houses on the buyout lists in each jurisdiction, according to assessment records:
- Moorhead, 1949
- Fargo, 1954
- Clay County, 1966
- Cass County, 1977
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535