Continued flight from urban areas and a limited number of available homes have sent La Plata County home prices higher – with the median price of a county home just shy of $500,000 in the first quarter of 2021.
With interest rates projected to increase only marginally for the remainder of the year and continued migration from urban to rural areas, three Durango real estate agents saw little on the horizon likely to cool the county’s hot real estate market.
“We’re definitely not seeing any slowdown yet,” said Lois Surmi, managing broker with R1 Colorado, Durango, and president of the board of directors of the Durango Area Association of Realtors.
“People are moving here because it’s desirable. And I think everyone has learned that they can work from home,” she said. “They’re able to be six hours away from the office or a state away; it really doesn’t matter. They can work without being physically located in the area where their office is located.”
The median price for a home in La Plata County came in at $499,000 in the first quarter of 2021, up $59,000 from the same quarter in 2020, a 13.4% increase.
In Durango, the median first-quarter price for an in-town home was $583,687, up $101,687, or 21.1% from a year earlier.
Rick Lorenz, a broker with Team Lorenz with the Wells Group who creates a statistical overview of the La Plata County market, said in 44 years in Durango, he is now seeing unique statistical ratios illustrating the hot demand for homes.
He noted 28 homes worth $1 million or more sold in the first quarter of the year, up from 12 in the same quarter in 2020. Additionally, he pointed out that the number of homes under contract exceeds the number of homes for sale at market prices ranging from $200,000 to $999,999.
“Those numbers are extraordinary. You almost never have more homes under contract than are available on the market,” he said. “I couldn’t even tell you the last time I’ve seen these kinds of statistics. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen statistics like this, and I’ve been doing this for 44 years. ... We just have a very limited inventory right now.”
Lorenz also noted the average price of vacant land and farm land is increasing rapidly.
“People see how tight the housing market is, so they’re planning to build in the next couple of years. And they’re gobbling up vacant land right now,” he said.
Kim Penny, managing broker with Legacy Properties West Sotheby’s International Realty, said the presence of a good regional airport near Durango helps attract urban migrants and telecommuters.
“I think we’re seeing a shift in how corporations are treating their workers, and a lot of people are saying, ‘Hey, I can work from home, I can work from anywhere,’” she said. “We’re seeing a hybrid worker who works from a home office and occasionally needs to get back to the corporate office for a training or a meeting, and the airport makes that convenient.”
With available lots being sold at a rapid clip in Three Springs, Twin Buttes and Edgemont Ranch and continued preference for rural locales over urban settings, Surmi said the dynamics of the real estate market are unlikely to change.
Even the greater availability of a vaccine for COVID-19 is unlikely to dampen the demand for a more rural lifestyle, Surmi said.
“I think the urban flight is not only from COVID. COVID was the tipping point, but people want less traffic, they want a simpler lifestyle, and now they can work from anywhere,” she said. “People from California are escaping high taxes and traffic.”
Penny said urban-area school districts have been more likely to remain in remote learning compared with rural school districts, and she believes that is driving a demand to move to rural areas among families with school-age children.
“I don’t think (containment of COVID) is going to affect the decision to make a lifestyle change. People have already made those decisions,” she said. “Families are stuck at home with their kids, and they’re trying to figure out their life and how they want to live. I think COVID forced people to take a good look at how they want to live.”
She said rural areas and smaller towns across the country are experiencing hot real estate markets, and the trend is not limited to Durango or even the Western Slope, but is prevalent in a number of locales across the country.