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What Does the “Great Urban Exodus” Mean for Colorado Homeowners?

By Tanya Svoboda
September 2020

This summer, the off-season in Colorado’s mountain resort-towns, felt a bit different. COVID-19 (coronavirus) has city dwellers feeling the need for more space looking to buy, or turn, their second homes in these popular upscale towns into permanent residences.

Real estate markets in towns like Steamboat Springs, Vail, Crested Butte, Telluride, and Aspen are hot. Aspen REALTOR® Tim Estin says, “[The challenges in the urban environment] is a trigger for buying. People who have been on the fence are buying. People who have been spending time here for years are moving into bigger properties.” An explosion in home sales confirms his observations. In the first two weeks of July, 111 homes went under contract in the Aspen area, that’s an increase of 65 homes under contract during the same time last year.

This uptick in sales is great for the real estate market, but what does it mean for Colorado homeowners?

A Shift from a Tourist Economy to a “Lifestyle Economy” Provides Opportunities for Homeowners

Local businesses are experiencing a boost in activity year-round due to the influx of long-term residents who are working remotely. This trend is shifting the economy in these resort towns away from a tourist economy and toward a “lifestyle economy.” Jon Wade, a REALTOR® in Steamboat Springs noted in a Colorado Sun article, “[The] location-neutral workforce is attracting more businesses as industries recognize the value and efficiency of remote working during the pandemic.”

Enrollment in Resort-Town Schools Increases

As second-home owners and newcomers alike make these resort-towns their primary residences, both public and private schools in the area are experiencing an increase in enrollment. In a typical year, David Baugh, the superintendent at Aspen School District, says the district has seen about 30 to 35 new students. This summer, the enrollment over all grade levels, from preschool to high school, was already at 150 new students in July.

This increase in enrollment is more easily managed in the private sector where schools can set capacity limits, but in public schools, there is concern regarding a more densely populated building in the time of a pandemic. Baugh said, “We are of course happy to welcome these folks and I can say anecdotally there are quite a few cars with Texas, New York, California, and Arizona tags in town.” He continued, “We have asked all newcomers to self-quarantine for 14 days before entering school.”

As Wealthy Homebuyers Move In, Affordable Housing Dwindles

Newcomers to the area are not only changing the makeup of local cities, but also of the communities as a whole. There is a concern that the influx of city dwellers to these mountain towns will leave seasonal workers and lower-income residences without affordable housing. Seasonal workers in Colorado resort-towns tend to be immigrants and they have struggled to achieve homeownership even before COVID hit. Now, with this new wave of move-ins driving home prices up, their dreams of homeownership seem farther away than ever.

To assist homeowners who have been forced to sell their homes due to COVID-19 related unemployment or other financial insecurities, Wade and the Steamboat Group are waiving their listing commission for families in need. Wade believes it’s his “duty” to give back to this population, many of whom are leaving the area due to rising home prices and an increase in unemployment.

Homeowners in possession of a second home in one of Colorado’s mountain resort-towns are finding their investment may be worth more than just the amount of appreciation over the years. For many, having a safe and enjoyable place to live during these uncertain times is an invaluable asset.


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