**It’s interesting reading this now, almost 2 and a half years later. I wish I had finished this post!**
Las Vegas, as it is for most people, has always just been about the Strip for me. I’ve never really been off the strip, as long as you don’t count the LV Convention Center (and I don’t). I’ve never seen anything other than the casinos and ridiculously pimped out shopping center, even in movies or TV. As far as I was concerned, the people that worked at these lavish resorts just … lived at the resort.
So driving in along the 15, and turning off prior to Las Vegas Blvd. was a little alien, and a little eye opening. In my mind, I figured I was moving to the Nevada version of Palmdale, a desert wasteland with few amenities and fewer creature comforts. Imagine my surprise, then, in arriving at our hotel, and finding a fairly new and thriving community southeast of the hustle of the strip.
Our apartment search took us all over the Silverado Ranch, Anthem and Green Valley areas. And while there were the odd parts that were practically deserted (gas station, empty lot with developer sign, what looked like a rock quarry, gas station), there were many more parts that were lush, busy and populated. It’s definitely a step up from Palmdale out here, though everywhere you look, you’ll find imports from California and the east coast, wistfully speaking of the state they left. “I’m from San Diego,” one leasing agent told us, shaking her head, “and I loved it there. But it’s just so much more affordable to live here.”
Take, for example, the restaurateur we met on Friday night, Greg. An Asian Christopher Walken lookalike from San Francisco, he lamented the hefty business taxes, the inflated minimum wage (double digits minimum wage?!), and, of course, the cost of living in Northern California. “You miss it the first year, the second year, you go back a bunch of times, and the third … you don’t miss it anymore.” Greg is the owner and manager of Miko’s Izakaya, a sushi and tenpura bar that gets 5 stars on Yelp, but probably shouldn’t be nearly that high. “We have a 68 year old head chef from Japan (he’s not here right now). Our food is the real deal; authentic.” I didn’t have the heart to burst his bubble. I’d hardly call white meat, tenpura-battered karaage, turkey “gyoza” in the shape of spring rolls (and deep fried), and kalbi, not to mention the thinnest tonkotsu ramen I’ve ever had, authentic. Either Mr. Japanese Chef was lying through his teeth, or some real cost cutting measures were being taken, and Greg was taking advantage of the local’s understanding of authenticity.
He was super friendly though, giving us a ton of personal attention, even though we walked through his doors about 15 minutes before last call. The various locals inside seemed happy and satisfied – one even called out to us as we pored over the 3 menus “Order anything; it’s all good!” – and even at 11:15PM, there were a couple groups of people still enjoying their meals and themselves. After our meal, Greg talked about the local real estate market, and the pitfalls of renting privately owned houses.
The local market is pretty gruesome. Home values in Las Vegas have plummeted to hard-to-believe depths. Houses that only a few years ago were selling in the mid-$300,000s are now going for $120,000 or less. People are walking away from their homes on a daily basis, what with tourism getting hammered hard for the last couple years and jobs drying up quickly. Various scams, Greg told us, were popular these days. Owners will rent their apartment out, knowing full well that foreclosure is imminent, collect the first month’s rent and security deposit, and leave it to the renter to deal with the sheriff who shows up at the door to evict. Another has con artists looking for foreclosed homes that they can throw a lock on, and “rent” out, only to have the renter find out that the person they rented from doesn’t actually own the property. Vegas is truly a lawless place, through and through.
On Saturday night, we had the opportunity to visit the M resort. Styled as a locals casino (given that it’s so far off the strip), it wasn’t quite as large as others. I always thought of people in Vegas as kind of sad and desperate. Go into any of the casinos, and beyond the hordes of tourist livestock, you can always tell which are the regulars and locals. Their tanned, desert-beaten faces and non-shorts, non-dress clothes, non-fanny packs belie their resident status. Usually smoking or drinking heavily or both, you can practically see and smell the fact that they wish they could be anywhere but where they are. On this trip though, I met a lot of regular people, who just happen to be living in Las Vegas. The M seemed to have more of these people, just out for a bite to eat or some gambling to entertain them on Saturday night.
Over the course of 2 days, we saw probably 16 properties, both apartment complexes, houses and condos. Many of the properties we saw were cookie cutter homes, sharing the same floor plan, lot size and exterior design as the surrounding houses. I think everyone lives in a gated community or on a cul de sac. It’s like a much warmer, much drier Irvine.