Rich Sanders has two words for the housing market in Pratt — very tight.

The rental market is virtually 100 percent occupied, said Sanders, a real estate broker and owner of the Sanders Agency in Pratt. Demand far exceeds supply and that has driven prices up by 10 to 20 percent in the last 18 months, exceeding increases in the local wage structure.

His company has calls almost every day from people who want to rent but can't find a suitable property.

Building new rental housing — either homes or apartment complexes — might seem to be an answer to bringing supply and demand closer together. Sanders said, however, that the rate of return in Pratt doesn't justify construction costs.

Kansas City-based MRE Capital, LLC, proposed to build a 48-unit apartment complex targeted to middle income families earlier this year. When the company did not receive state tax credits for which they had applied, they withdrew their offer to buy city-owned property.

The situation is little better in the sales market. Sanders said there are currently less than 50 homes for sale in Pratt, when he would normally expect 100 to 120 to be on the market at any given time.

A home that is properly prepared and properly priced will sell in about 30-45 days, he said, faster than is typical.

Sanders doesn't see a quick solution.

"We've got a problem in the market, in all smaller, rural markets," he said. "We don't have enough demand to support high volume, low cost homes. We can't attract spec builders who come in and build 30 to 40 homes, taking advantage of economies of scale."

Nor does Pratt have the wage base to support large-scale new housing developments.

Pratt has experienced tight housing market conditions in the past, but not to this degree, Sanders said.

When the market got tight in the early 1980s, the solution came when the oil business collapsed and companies like Texas Energies and Halliburton left town.

"We're not going to see companies go out of here with 50 or 60 employees," he predicted. "I don't know what's going to fix it. We need some new housing built, some new affordable housing built."

The Sandy Creek subdivision, being developed by the City of Pratt, will provide lots for building that are not currently available. Sanders estimated there were fewer than half a dozen suitable lots throughout the city, besides Sandy Creek. How the lots are priced will affect how attractive they are to potential homebuilders.

"Sandy Creek is going to help tremendously," said Jan Scarbrough, executive director for Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce and Pratt Area Economic Development Corporation. "It will give people who want to move up and want out of a home built in the '80s a place to go."

Adding housing is a concern of city leaders.

"We want to encourage business growth and new businesses in Pratt, and we want quality housing," Scarbrough said. "We'll see growth, but it won't happen overnight."

Short-term workers in the oil and wind industries have found short-term solutions, at hotels or in recreational vehicle parks. Workers who will be in the area a couple of years want to rent a home to provide stability for their families. Those homes are hard to find.