In the oil boomtowns of southern Kansas, enterprising residents are turning into real estate moguls, renting out everything from double-wide trailers to rooms in an old bank for as much as $2,000 a month.
Workers flocking to the area seeking high-paying jobs in nearby oil fields and windfarms have created a housing shortage in these small farming towns, causing the rents to skyrocket.
Bobbi Olivier, a native of Harper, Kan., a town nestled right in the heart of the oil activity, left the oilfields of Oklahoma last year in order to buy used double-wide trailers, fix them up and rent them out, among other ventures.
She's been buying trailers inWichita anddriving them an hour south to a lot near the main drag in Danville, a town next to Harper. She then takes the wheels off and tears them apart, adds plumbing, power, carpeting, mirrors to make the rooms look bigger and extra fixtures to make them feel less like a trailer.
"I tend to be an outside-the-box person," said Olivier, who also operates oil wells on her property and holds local rodeos on her family farm. "My goal was to get housing available as quickly and efficiently as possible. I've lived in a modular and a double-wide trailer for a lot of years myself, and they're very nice."
The four trailers are already booked by oil workers for when they will become available at the beginning of July. Meanwhile, Olivier has been receiving five to 10 calls a week from people who she just can't accommodate yet.
Search Millions of Home Listings
View photos of homes for sale and apartments for rent
The trailers, which Olivier typically buys for around $25,000, run from 900 square feet to 2,000 square feet and will rent for anywhere between $1,250-to-$2,100 a month.
That may not sound that pricey for a place like New York, but for Harper and the surrounding towns, where two-bedroom homes have rented for only $400 a month for years, it's a small fortune.
Yet, as more workers move to the area, $2,000-a-month rents are far more common -- and prospective landlords are getting far more creative.
Along with her trailer-home project, Olivier recently converted a former bank into six "executive suites" -- each complete with one bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom -- and she has rented all of them to an oil company. The units rent for between $1,750 and $2,100 a month and currently house 14 workers.
Olivier has also bought and renovated four rundown houses and five commercial buildings -- including another bank, a dental office and even a laundromat -- and fixed them up in order to create housing and office space for oil and wind workers. In all, she said she is currently housing about 35 workers in the ten properties she owns.
But Olivier's not the only person cashing in on the housing shortage.
After trying to get in on the housing boom in North Dakota, only to find that property values were already too high to make them worthwhile investments, Rocky Hufman, 45, decided to get a fresh start in the new oil play of Kansas.
Hufman has been flipping abandoned homes in Harper County and renting them out for $700 to $1,100 a month since March. He said he's sure he could get more money for them if he tried, but he doesn't want to rip anyone off.
A couple of months ago, he bought an unoccupied house for $32,000, touched up the paint, fixed the porch, trimmed the bushes and trees and cleaned the yard -- and now he's renting it to an oil worker for $1,000 a month.
"All the properties were already highly overvalued when I got to North Dakota -- it felt like I was two-and-a-half years behind and could never get ahead of it," said Hufman. "I came here to get out in front of this boom. But it's still a big risk. If this boom goes bust, I go bust."
While it's been a lucrative business so far, Hufman said he's determined not to make money at the expense of local residents. After seeing landlords kick people out of their homes in North Dakota because they knew they could get more money from oil workers, Hufman said he refuses to buy an occupied property. He wants to create enough alternative housing for workers that locals won't get kicked out of their homes this time, he said.
To do this, Hufman is working for builder Vap Property Solutionsto build a 60-unit apartment complex from the ground up in Anthony. Each unit is slated to rent for more than $2,000, and the company is in talks with a major oil company about renting the entire complex to its workers.
Meanwhile, the town of Anthony's decade-old horse and dog racing track is being turned into an apartment complex. In addition, the owners of the constantly-booked Anthony Motel are building a new 45-room hotel to fit the overflow of guests. And the economic development director of Harper County is transforming the 101-year-old Carnegie library into an office for an oil company's workers.Anyone with a little spare space is able to make an extra buck. Ray and Dana Young, ages 69 and 59, respectively, are supplementing their retirement income by renting out four beds in their basement for $500 a month each.
The Youngs put up flyers in local stores advertising the spaces earlier this month, and a group of wind farm workers called to reserve the beds within a week. The $500 monthly rate is a lot better than the $350 a week they were paying to stay at a motel, said Dana.
But even as all of this extra housing is being created for incoming workers, some locals are still losing out. One couple, Eileen and Eddie Morris, said they were even kicked out of the home they had rented for 11 years when the owner decided to take advantage of rising property values and sell it to someone who would pay more money.
"It's all about the money, it's all about the greed," said Eileen. "These people that own homes, they want money ... now that people have come to town that have money, that's what they want."
"With all the Fortune 500 companies located here there are quite a lot of high-salaried individuals," said Shaun Bond, a professor of finance and real estate at the University of Cincinnati. "And the Midwest housing market has always been more affordable; there are fewer constraints on growth."
With median income at more than $71,000 a year, workers earn about 10 percent more than the national median. Meanwhile, median home prices have never exceeded $148,000, according to the NAHB.
"We don't have the kind of volatility in income or home prices that cities with more concentrated industries have," said Bond.
In the 20th century, Akron's economy grew in lockstep with the auto industry.
"It was the big rubber capital," said University of Cincinnati professor of finance and real estate Shaun Bond. Tens of thousands of local area residents went to work each day in the plants of Firestone, Goodyear, Goodrich and other tire manufacturers.
With factory jobs harder to come by, the Akron metro area has become a slow growth zone. The population has only increased by less than 7 percent since 1990, a period when the U.S. population soared by about 26 percent. Even favorite son LeBron James split town for fancy Miami.
And home prices are depressed, down 22 percent from their 2007 peak, according to NAHB. With family income just above the national median and such beaten down prices, most families can easily afford to buy a place.
Syracuse University, with its 20,000 students and 1,500 faculty members, helps keep the area's economy humming. Teachers, nurses and bank clerks far outnumber factory workers these days, according to the non-profit Syracuse Economic Development Corporation.
That has helped push the area's median income to a level that is slightly higher than the national average.
All of those jobs are not doing much to attract new residents, however. In fact, the metro area has seen less than a 2 percent increase in population since 2000, compared with nearly 10 percent nationally. As a result, there's very little competition for housing.
Those factors combined make buying a home in Syracuse very affordable. The current median home price of $106,000 is only 60 percent higher than the annual median income of a typical family.
Ogden's population has been rapidly expanding, thanks to the large families of Mormons that reside here, according to Jaren Pope, an economics professor at Brigham Young University.
Pro-business policies have attracted many private employers, such as FJ Management, an oil services company, Convergys, a business consultancy, and Autoliv, an automotive safety systems company, all of which are based in Ogden. And there's also the IRS, which runs a big facility with 5,000 workers.
A high growth rate, in both the population and the economy, isn't usually a recipe for affordable home prices. Indeed, home prices in Ogden slightly exceed the national median.
However, Utah's pro-business policies also extend to real estate developers. And, as a result, home building can be done much more economically.
The biggest problem in Ogden is finding land to build on since the town runs up against the Wasatch Mountains, said Pope.
Still, with the median home price at $166,000 and incomes high here, Ogden is one of the most affordable of all western markets.
A world away from the Big Apple -- one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation -- Buffalo is the most affordable major metro area to buy a home in the state of New York.
Part of the reason is that demand for housing is very low. The area's population has shrunk by about 5 percent since 1990 as its Rust-Belt manufacturers either closed shop or laid off workers.
As a result, demand for housing is very low -- and home prices reflect that. The median home price in Buffalo was only $94,000 for homes sold during the first three months of 2012, according to the NAHB. That's far below the national median of $162,000.
Fortunately for home buyers, incomes aren't as depressed. The median income here is at just about the national level, making it very affordable to buy a home.
As in many once-booming Midwestern cities, Grand Rapids was built up during an era of prosperity and high population growth. Now it's left with a large inventory of fine, old houses that are weighing on home prices.
In addition, several local non-profits are working to save area neighborhoods by renovating older homes and renting them out or reselling them, said Kara Wood, the city's director of economic development.
With population growth slowing over the past few decades -- the metro-area population grew at about half the national rate over the past 10 years -- there's more than enough homes to meet buyer demand.
Meanwhile, the city's economic base, which once relied heavily on the furniture-making industry, has become more diversified. Health care is now a driving force in the local economy, said Wood.
And there are plenty of good-paying jobs. Spectrum Health, which runs several hospitals in the area, employs more than 16,000 local residents, plus 1,500 physicians.
Modesto would make the perfect poster child for California's housing bust.
Construction and home prices both boomed prior to the 2006 peak, as buyers sought homes that were cheaper than those on the coast, according to Daren Blomquist, a spokesman for RealtyTrac.
"People bought there even though they worked far away, closer to the coast," he said. "They were willing to make that commute to get lower prices."
Much to those buyers' dismay, once the bubble burst the prices kept falling. Home prices in Modesto have sunk 67 percent from their 2005 peak to the current median of $127,000, almost $40,000 below the national level.
Foreclosures still plague Modesto. The metro area had the second highest foreclosure rate in the nation during the first quarter of 2102, with foreclosure paperwork filed on one out of every 60 homes, according to Blomquist.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate stood at a very high 17.4 percent in March, more than twice the national rate. Families with working members, however, can easily afford the beaten down home prices in the area.
Located on an interstate highway between Tampa and Orlando, Lakeland's residents are used to people just passing through. But those who decide to stay don't find it very difficult to afford a place.
While both home prices and incomes have been hit hard here over the past several years, the decline in home values has far surpassed falling wages, said Ken H. Johnson, professor of real estate at Florida International University.
Home prices have fallen 58 percent since the housing bubble burst, to a median of $85,000. Taxes are also low. With today's low interest rates, a family who buys a house at the median price and puts 20 percent down would have a monthly payment of under $400, including taxes.
Meanwhile, the jobs picture is improving. Long a pit stop for travelers, Lakeland has recently become a destination, thanks to the opening of the Legoland theme park in October.
Legoland now employs 1,000 people. And a water park just opened this month, which should create even more jobs. That should help to further improve the unemployment rate, which fell to 9.5 percent in March, down from 11.3 percent the year before.
Dayton is shrinking -- or at least its population is.
The metro area lost about 1 percent of it residents over the past 11 years as businesses, like NCR Corp., moved out of town and others cut staff.
While that hasn't necessarily been a good thing for the local economy, it has kept homes extremely affordable. Since there's such an ample supply on the market, home prices have come down significantly. The median home price in Dayton is currently $81,000, about half the national level, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Luckily, the employment picture is improving, too. The unemployment rate fell 1.2 percentage points over the past year to 8.2 percent, close to the national rate.
From its mainly manufacturing roots, the state's capital has greatly diversified, attracting employers in the health care, pharmaceutical and retail industries. Even tourism has become a big industry here, as sporting events like the famed Indianapolis 500 and the NCAA basketball championships draw crowds each year.
All of that has helped Indianapolis' population bring in a median income that is on par with the nation's as a whole. Housing, however, is much cheaper than the national average, making it a lot more affordable for local residents to buy.
Helping to keep prices down is the fact that there is so much room to grow. "There's an ample amount of land available for housing development any time there's a rise in demand for housing," said Kyle Anderson, a professor of economics at the Kelley School of Business of Indiana University.