The blistering pace of real estate sales is continuing in Colorado’s high country, with every resort community setting new records in each month this year.
“It’s been crazy,” Crested Butte broker Frank Konsella said, “way past everything in 2019 and 2020.”
Last year saw record numbers of home buyers paying highest-ever prices for properties in and around resort towns. In eight Western Slope counties anchored by resorts last year, $6.6 billion traded hands through August as buyers flocked to mountain communities during the pandemic.
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Through August this year, Land Title Guarantee Co. has tracked $11.2 billion in sales volume in those counties, a 71% percent increase over 2020. With four months left in the year, sales volume in resort counties in 2021 has already surpassed the total sales of 2019 by more than $2 billion.
Prices keep climbing too, with most resort areas seeing the average and median prices for single homes this year increasing 10% to 30% over 2020. And that pressure is forcing record numbers of buyers into long overlooked areas of Colorado.
The real estate growth in “down valley” ’burbs — think Basalt and Carbondale downstream from Aspen, or Eagle down from Vail, or Ridgway down the hill from Telluride — has been strong for more than a decade as more buyers seek homes outside, but near, pricey resort towns. With the explosion of mountain real estate in 2020 and 2021, that down-valley growth has moved even further down the road. Call it the down, down valley.
Prices and deals in places like the West End in Montrose County, the North Fork Valley of Delta County, Fairplay, Rifle, Silt, Kremmling, Del Norte and Craig have peaked in 2021. It’s not just locals cashing out of their longtime resort-area homes, either. These are newcomers, many working from home and discovering the affordability and appeal of areas far from tony resorts.
This mirrors national trends amplified in the pandemic showing more home buyers and businesses preferring to move to rural communities and smaller cities instead of urban areas. (Although the National Association of Realtors migration trends report for the first half of 2021 shows more families moving to smaller cities, metro Denver ranks among the most popular destinations for individuals who are relocating.)
In recent years, locals in Summit County have cashed out and moved over Hoosier Pass to Fairplay and Alma in Park County. Now, all sorts of buyers are landing in Park County, said Courtney Peroutka, the president of the Summit Association of Realtors board, who moved to Park County from Summit County 16 years ago.
Sales volume through September 2021 in Park County is up 40% from the same period of 2020. Prices are up 50% or more from 2020, Peroutka said.
A lot of longtime owners in both Summit and Park counties are selling and moving, cashing out on record prices, she said. But many of them are leaving the area or even the state, she said.
“It started long ago with a typical buyer in Park County who was the local who shopped in Summit and found it was above their price range so they headed over here,” she said. “Now I’m working more predominantly with investment people … customers who want to buy a house and utilize it for their family, but can’t really afford to use it just for themselves so they are Airbnb-ing. On my road, there are only three full-time residents and the rest are second homeowners who rent them out to visitors.”
A mix of local, work-from-home buyers
Kremmling also has a long history as a bedroom community for Summit County workers, offering much more affordable homes within an hour’s drive of the resort towns of Breckenridge and Silverthorne. In the last couple years, workers from Eagle County, the Fraser River Valley and even Steamboat Springs have been cashing out of their in-demand resort homes and moving to Kremmling.
And, like all those other bedroom communities across the Western Slope, there’s a new buyer in town: the work-from-home families eyeing life outside the city. It’s an even mix of buyers in Kremmling, some coming from far and others relocating from neighboring resort communities.
Prices have never been higher in Kremmling, but they are still much cheaper than homes closer to the ski hills up the road. Homes are selling in a matter of days and most sellers field multiple offers. These are not home shoppers reluctantly squeezed out of pricier markets, said Carrie George, a Keller Williams broker who has been working with home buyers and sellers in Kremmling for 17 years.
“People are choosing Kremmling on purpose,” she said. “They are looking for a small, quiet town and they don’t want to live in a resort community. Maybe 10 years ago this would only be the place they slept and their whole lives would be in Summit County. Now they only work in Summit County or they work from home and their lives are in Kremmling.”
In Montrose County, sales volume is up 75% through August compared with 2020. The average price of a home through August in Montrose County — $402,000 — is up 20% from 2020 and 35% from 2019. In Delta County, home to Paonia, Hotchkiss and Cedaredge, volume through August is up 64% compared with 2020 and the average price for a home — $360,000 — is up 20% from the previous year.
Between Gunnison and Crested Butte, sales volume through August — about $630 million — is well past the total sales for 2019 and nearly double the dollars exchanged in the same period of 2020. Through September in the resort-anchored valley, every month set a record.
Crested Butte typically sees a lot of buyers from Texas, but this year there are more people from the Front Range. And they are moving in, not just buying a vacation home for occasional use.
“They may not be working from home 365 days a year, but they are spending weeks or even months up here,” said Konsella, a broker with Berkshire Hathaway.
Konsella sees the surging prices and sales in his region stemming from “a 15-year supply problem.”
“No one has really built anything up here since the last crash. There are no big condo projects. No new subdivisions. And nothing is really in the works,” he said. “There is such a limited supply. It’s really hard to figure out how supply and demand are going to equalize anytime soon.”
The lack of homes for sale around Crested Butte and Gunnison has led buyers to grab empty lots to build their own homes. In the last 12 months, the region has seen 291 lots sold. In the previous 12 months, there were barely 100 land sales.
“That is remarkable,” Konsella said. “The builders in the valley have years worth of work lined up right now.”
In Pitkin County, sales through August are up 156% over the same period of 2020, which set a record for the Roaring Fork Valley with $4.1 billion in real estate transactions.
And there is very little for sale.
Homes typically go under contract in a matter of days with sellers fielding multiple offers, said Aspen-area broker Chris Klug.
Klug has seen this level of activity before in Aspen and Snowmass Village and it did not end well as the Great Recession finally reached the high country in 2009. Klug said double-digit appreciation of homes “cannot continue forever,” but prices will not collapse like they did in 2010 and 2011. There are too few homes for sale and demand continues to climb.
“We are seeing families moving here and staying here. The world has changed. The way people work … a lot of people are not returning to the traditional workplaces and they are choosing to work from places like Aspen and Snowmass and other resort communities,” Klug said. “This is how people want to live right now. Their eyes have been opened to what we’ve known for decades. These are some of the greatest places in the world and they offer the best quality of life in the world.”
Sellers “moving out of the state”
In western Garfield County communities like New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute, a “striking number” of sellers are longtime residents who are leaving the region, said Travis Cox, a longtime broker whose Cox Group focuses on real estate between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs.
“Most everyone who is cashing out is moving out of the state,” Cox said.
Most of the buyers Cox sees are coming from other parts of Colorado. They are not necessarily looking to buy in Aspen or Snowmass. Those tony resorts draw a buyer who isn’t interested in Silt or Rifle. But buyers who look at Basalt or Carbondale or Glenwood Springs sometimes have to adjust their expectations and look further down the road for a home that fits their budget, Cox said.
And these down, down valley towns are growing more attractive to buyers from afar. The now 10-year trend of down valley communities nurturing their own vibe and economy independent of the resorts up the river is spilling to communities even further afield. Places like New Castle and Nucla are adding mountain bike trails, coffee shops and restaurants. Silt has a farm-to-table grocery and a bustling downtown.
“They may not have the tourism base of Carbondale or Glenwood Springs, but they have a growing sense of community,” Cox said.
And the work-from-homers moving from the Front Range are picking homes close to town because they need the internet, Cox said, which further fuels the increasing vibrancy of small town downtowns.
“The amount of remote-working people who move here and are not quitting their jobs, it’s just huge,” he said. “They are saying, we got this opportunity because of COVID and we took it.”