Market through the roof

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Buyers are snapping up homes in Ouray County at a greater pace than last year — and at record-high prices — as the pandemic pushes people out of metro areas

  • Mia Wentworth said she and her husband were talking about moving from the Denver area to Austin before the pandemic. Instead, they bought a house between Ridgway and Ouray and she's able to work remotely and he is now retired. Photo by Liz Teitz
    Mia Wentworth said she and her husband were talking about moving from the Denver area to Austin before the pandemic. Instead, they bought a house between Ridgway and Ouray and she's able to work remotely and he is now retired. Photo by Liz Teitz
  • Dana and Andy Rodes decided to leave Texas and bought a house in Ouray, sight unseen. Photo by Mike Wiggins
    Dana and Andy Rodes decided to leave Texas and bought a house in Ouray, sight unseen. Photo by Mike Wiggins
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For years, Dana and Andy Rodes talked about retiring in Colorado.

A Colorado Springs native, she planned to eventually leave Texas and return to the mountains where she grew up.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and her husband began working remotely. Their youngest son was heading to college this fall, making them empty nesters in a growing city that felt increasingly crowded.

In June, they visited her brother, Eric Johnson, who owns Mount Hayden Backcountry Lodge in the Richmond Basin.

“When we were up at 11,000 feet at my brother’s place, both of us just got so rejuvenated. It felt almost like a resurrection of our lives,” Dana Rodes said. “Right then we said, ‘What are we waiting for? Let’s do it.’”

That night, she started searching online for homes, and found one on Loretta Court. She called Realtor Marc Hitchcox on the drive back to Texas and told him they wanted to make an offer.

“We bought it sight unseen, we did a video walkthrough,” she said.

Their Texas home received a full-price offer within a few hours of being on the market, she said.

Instead of waiting to retire, her husband can easily work from Ouray and they’ll have more years to enjoy their new surroundings.

“Between our children being able to move out of the house and COVID making it really known that he could work from home, we just knew, all of a sudden we didn’t have to have ties there,” she said.

They moved in July, and are settling in as full-time residents in “paradise,” Rodes said. “We don’t regret it. Everyday we pinch ourselves.”

They’re part of a market local Realtors described as “wild,” “thundering” and “gangbusters,” with demand outpacing supply for buyers looking for full-time and second homes in Ouray County.

According to data from the Colorado Association of Realtors, 70 single-family homes have sold in the county this year through August, up from 58 through last August. Fifteen were sold this July, compared to 11 last year, and August sales more than doubled, from 7 in 2019 to 18 this year. Median sales prices are also higher than last year, up to $572,500 for single family sales compared to $547,000 last August, and from $261,000 to $277,450 for townhouses and condos.. The year to date median sale prices have also increased, from $452,500 to $509,500 and from $270,000 to $295,000 for homes and condos, respectively.

Todd Schroedel, owner of United Country Sneffels Realty, said the market is hotter than it’s been since 2006 to 2008, “and I believe that our market is even better than that.”

“There are people that really want to get here from the big cities and the Front Range,” he said. “They’re excited, they’re positive. They’re people that know our area, they’ve vacationed here in the past and wanted to come here, and now they’re making the move to buy and move here.”

“If you go back to the start of the virus, we were sitting here in the office with locked doors. We couldn’t sell property,” Ouray Brokers owner Tim Currin said. “We worried summer would be a complete disaster.” Instead, the opposite has happened: it’s been “a super year,” and they’ve been busy seven days a week.

He said the market has been busy across all price ranges and in all parts of the county. “The most active part of our market, typically, has been $350,000 to $600,000. That’s been very active, but at all price ranges it’s been active.”

“They’re fleeing,”said Peggy Lindsey, owner of Ouray Real Estate Corporation. “We know now that we can telecommute with COVID, and you know, here you can still get out and it’s not as dangerous. It’s a lifestyle people are looking for.”

Mia Wentworth said she and her husband were talking about moving from the Denver area to Austin before the pandemic. He’s retired from the military, and her digital marketing job, which involved frequent travel, is based in Texas.

“COVID has changed the way everybody lives and works,” she said. “We started thinking about where we really wanted to live, instead of just what was convenient to my job.” The couple came to the area to visit a friend in May, who mentioned “oh, the house down the street is for sale,” Wentworth said. “To us, it felt kind of serendipitous.”

They bought the house, which is between Ridgway and Ouray, and moved here full-time in July. She’s working remotely, and “we’re just in love” with how accessible outdoor activities are.

The new residents are a mix of full-time and part-time residents: for some, a permanent escape from the city, for others a place they can head for a brief reprieve.

COVID-19 brought about an unexpected early retirement for former Southwest Airlines pilot Greg Baumann, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“They wanted to minimize how many involuntary furloughs happen by coming up with an early out program,” he said.

Instead of holding out four more years to 65, Baumann decided he “couldn’t say no” to the company’s generous offer, leaving him suddenly with more free time.Like the Rodeses, he’d thought for years about buying a summer house in New Mexico, California or Colorado, where he and friends travel for an annual motorcycle trip.

On a trip back from Colorado Springs last month, he detoured to Ridgway, and spotted a listing for a new house under construction in the Divide Ranch.

“It just seemed like it was meant to be. It’s the perfect property at the right time and the right price,” he said.

He’s excited to split time between Scottsdale and Ridgway, and to be free of the “horridly hot” Arizona summers. In a few years, he may decide to commit to living here full-time, he said.

Baumann moved quickly on the purchase, and has plans to close in October, once construction is complete.

“I had no idea that the market was so hot in the area. I made my decision quickly, but it was out of impulse, not fear of missing out,” he said.

Others are moving quickly for that reason. Lindsey said this summer has seen “the highest price per square foot ever, and the shortest days on the market.”

“If a property is priced properly, it will be gone within 4 or 5 days,” she said. Some are making offers without seeing the property in person, and competition is the tightest she’s seen in 16 years in the industry. “It’s the first time I have ever seen real bidding wars,” she said.

“That’s not normal for here,” Currin said. “That’s what we hear from Denver, from big cities, so we’ve seen a little bit of that.” He said they’ve also seen “a lot more contracts” on houses buyers haven’t seen in person.

Buyers are particularly willing to take a chance on an unseen property if it has the potential to operate as a short-term rental, Lindsey said.

“It’s attractive to a lot of people who are still working (elsewhere) and can’t be here full-time,” she said. They can block out time for their own visits and make money operating it as a rental when they’re not in town.

“What people are looking for, number one, is something they can buy that can cover its costs,” Schroedel said. “For a lot of people, they’re second homes they want to rent out long-term or short-term when they’re not there.”

Amber and Mark Rotenberry are making plans to do just that with the Ouray townhouse they purchased. They live and own a farm in northern Mississippi, but work brought Amber to Colorado frequently. They started looking for property in Ouray County in early July, and closed on the home by the end of August. They’ve prepared it for a short-term rental, and are waiting on a permit from the city to start taking bookings.

She’s able to work remotely, and they’re hoping to visit and stay in the townhouse “as much as we can.” They’ve also got a contract on a lot on Log Hill Mesa, and in a few years, when they’re ready, they’ll sell the farm and build a permanent home there.

“As we saw some of the lots being purchased, we wanted to go ahead and buy a lot and find the best view that we could afford while they’re available,” she said. “We were afraid that if we were to wait, some of the better lots would be taken and may be out of our price range.”

“Honestly, we just keep being drawn to the area,” she said. “We just realized we want to be there while we’re young enough to really enjoy it and want to continue a healthy lifestyle. We don’t want to wait until we’re a lot older.”

The other impetus to make the purchases now was current low interest rates, she said. “I don’t think rates have ever been this advantageous for the buyers. The rates are just really great, so financially we were able to do it.”

“That’s another real trend, because interest rates are going down so much, people can’t believe what they can buy,” Schroedel said. “It used to be they’d be cautious to get a loan. Now they’re looking for an opportunity.”

“I felt like the process was very aggressive, the market was hot,” Rotenberry said. “I felt like you had to be aggressive with the offer you were going to make on a home, because the sellers knew they could get their asking price, if not more, and there likely might be a cash offer behind you waiting.”

The market has been so busy that even houses that aren’t for sale have received offers.

Mistalyn Kuzov and her husband, Tony, a builder, bought land on Log Hill Mesa in 2018, and had been making plans for their home there.

“When COVID started and he couldn’t work in San Miguel County anymore, he said ‘Let’s start building the house,’” she said. Once construction was underway, “He said, ‘I can’t keep people out of the house,’ basically. People kept driving by, stopping by, asking if it was for sale, if they could walk through it.”

After starting building in April, they decided to list the house for sale in July, taking advantage of what seemed like intense interest. “And we just started showing it like crazy, we had people coming through nonstop everyday,” said Kuzov, who recently got her real estate license and started working at United Country Sneffels Realty.

“We met with a couple from Texas, she was down on a girls trip and loved it, and she had her husband fly down two days later. She said they were going to have Thanksgiving in that house, and they bought it,” she said. The couple made an offer over the asking price, Kuzov said.

Because the home wasn’t complete, they were showing potential buyers the plans they had prepared for their own home. “I literally had my Pinterest boards, showing what this is going to look like, selling the dream,” she said.

The decision left them scrambling in a tough rental market: they found a home in Montrose, which was recently put on the market and sold two days later. They found another rental, but will have to spend a week in a hotel before they can move in.

“We would love to be up there (in Ridgway), we wanted to be up there,” she said. “It’s just such a hard rental market.”

“As a builder, you have to take those opportunities when they come along,” she said of the choice to sell the house. “We put our love into making it our home, but the market’s hot, let’s take advantage of it.”