Total home sales in January in La Plata County likely set a monthly record.
That seemingly answers the question: Would the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine and the cold month’s slow selling period cool the hot housing market?
At La Plata County Economic Development Alliance’s February Investors Meeting, Dan Korman, broker-owner of Alpineglow Properties noted January recorded 76 total residential sales, the most sales for the month going back to at least 2010 and likely the most sales ever for a January.
The median price for January’s sales came in at $537,500, up from the county’s median sale price of $444,500 for all of 2020.
After the meeting Korman said: “Except for the town burning down, we pretty much have seen it all already. We’ve had the mine spill, a major fire and we had a global pandemic – and all we see is more real estate transactions.
“It’s insane. It’s a testament to the draw that Durango has. I hope we can handle it while maintaining our character, but it all comes back to: OK where are the teachers going to live?”
The real estate statistics illuminate the need to prioritize development of workforce housing, said Michael French, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.
“We absolutely require workforce housing, to be able to grow any businesses here,” he said. “We can recruit companies here, but if we don’t have a place for employees to live, well then that’s a challenge. Workforce housing is essential for any economic development initiative, or stability.”
Kelly Kniffin, broker associate at Sotheby’s International Realty of Durango, said the region typically had one major demographic purchasing higher end homes – retiring baby boomers. But another group is now boosting demand top-end homes – two-income families working remotely from home.
“This is a whole new dynamic – to have younger families looking in that price range,” Kniffin said.
Kniffin would have thought baby boomers might be looking to downsize as they age.
Instead, she said in La Plata County, many baby boomers are looking to keep their large homes or move up from townhomes into larger living quarters as more extended family members spend time with them in Durango.
“We’ve got two strong markets in that price range, when we used to have only one and that’s really changed the dynamics,” she said.
The lack of inventory is something that’s affecting all price ranges.
She said: “I’ve got a spreadsheet of buyers, and each day I try to find something for them to come on the market. We’re looking at creative ideas to build inventory.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated many urban refugees’ plans to move here.
“My daughter is one of them,” Kniffen said. “They were going to stay in California or maybe go overseas with her boyfriend’s job. But their ultimate goal was in five years to be in Durango. Now, he works remote. And they’re moving here because they don’t want to be in California anymore. And they’re not going overseas.”
French said the expense of land is the biggest obstacle to develop housing attainable by the middle class.
It will take creative ideas, private-public partnership and every governmental entity working in tandem to solve the shortage of workforce housing, he said.
“We’ve got to prioritize this as a community. No one entity or two entities is going to solve this problem. Everybody’s got to align this as a priority, and it has to translate into real projects,” he said. “You can’t just say we all support it and not fund it.”
This year, the alliance will inventory public land that might be dedicated to workforce housing and will work to foster public-private partnerships to develop homes, French said.
Lack of available workforce housing at some point will kill any efforts at diversifying the local economy.
“We can attract a company that might bring 100 employees here, but where are they going to live?” French said. “This is a problem we have to figure out for the long term.”
Ultimately, every creative idea will need to be tapped and proposed projects must prove economically enticing to developers.
“If the city and the county are willing to assist – either through figuring out how to bring land to the table or infrastructure – then a developer has an opportunity to make money doing this.
“They have to be properly incentivized, as well,” French said.