The Crestone Eagle • February, 2021
Demand exceeds supply in Crestone real estate market
by Zaylah Pearson-Good
With quickly dwindling inventory and a spike in market values, local realtors all agree that real estate demands are exceeding supply in Crestone. This might not come as a surprise to longtime residents who in recent years have observed a substantial increase in new home construction, unfamiliar faces, and out-of-town traffic. There is no denying that this small mountain town is becoming discovered, and as a result, is changing. Studying recent trends in the real estate market offers interesting insight into how and why these changes are occurring.
Local realtors Darlene Yarbrough, Vivia Lawson, and Kelly Weston all agree that 2020 was a huge year for real estate. Yarbrough reports that when she first became a Crestone realtor in 1994, the market was “sleepy,” with “less than 10 homes for sale at any given time.” In sharp contrast, The Darlene Yarbrough Real Estate team reports that they completed 149 transactions in 2020 alone. Due to the high volume of sales and general increase in prices, Yarbrough’s inventory has become quite low. All of these factors combined have left the market very favorable for current sellers, as prospective buyers are abundant.
Vivia Lawson, owner and broker at Sangre de Cristo Real Estate, has also seen big changes in Crestone real estate since opening her business in 2012—just as the market was recovering from one of its worst years ever. At this time, buyers could choose from a huge inventory of listings, ranging from luxurious homes to rugged, vacant lots. The market was flooded to the point that many houses sat vacant for years waiting to be sold, even when sellers agreed to lower prices below the market value. Astoundingly, Lawson reports that in 2012, between houses and lots, she had roughly 93 listings. In contrast, Lawson currently has fewer than 10 active listings. Lots that she previously would have never expected to sell sold without a problem this past year. In fact, any reasonably priced inventory is being bought up within weeks of its listing. Furthermore, construction sites are popping up left and right; 2020 brought 34 new housing starts to the Baca Grande subdivision.
The influx of buyers, largely coming from the Denver area and out of state, has led to an obvious housing and vacant lot shortage. Kelly Weston, a solo agent at Brackendale Realty notes “I have a lot more buyers than properties at the moment and feel this speaks to the shortage of housing in the area.” Property for sale in classically popular areas, such as Chalet 1 mountainside lots, are nearly non-existent, and Chalet 2 lots are being snatched up with unheard-of speed. More and more people are looking for property out into the Grants, an area that has classically intimidated buyers due to its off-grid reputation. As well, few houses can be found under $350,000, which leaves many newcomers looking to rent. However, it can be frustratingly difficult to find affordable and accommodating rentals in Crestone. Vivia Lawson explains that we really don’t have enough money in our tax base for subsidized housing, and the cost of construction limits many developers from coming in to create affordable housing for the average resident.
So why has Crestone real estate seen such a spike in recent years? Improved community resources and the onset of the pandemic might partially explain an exceptionally busy year in real estate for Lawson, Weston, and Yarbrough. With upgraded internet services and newly renovated schools in Moffat and Crestone, the area has attracted a younger demographic who previously would have been unable to relocate. Since the region has become more economically approachable for remote workers, primary buyers are now young families and individuals rather than retirees. This factor has been exponentiated by COVID, as many companies have been forced to transition into remote working platforms. The pandemic has spurred many urbanites, shares Weston, to finally achieve their goals of relocating to a more “peaceful location, like Crestone.”
In addition, the real estate market in Colorado at large has flourished with the legalization of marijuana. With the passing of Amendment 64 in 2012, and the economic opportunity it created, the San Luis Valley became a targeted destination for those interested in the marijuana industry. Lawson notes that entrepreneurs bought up low-priced inventory in and around Crestone, giving rise to undercover grow operations in strictly residential areas. This violation prompted the Baca Grande Owners Association to create stricter guidelines for all residents. Some residents argue that these tighter restrictions have made Crestone and the surroundings less accessible to certain populations, such as low-income individuals. Alternatively, others are grateful to know that their community is being closely monitored so to maintain certain safety and aesthetic standards.
The legalization of marijuana, improved community resources, COVID-19, and the popularization of country living have all made Crestone a hotspot for those looking to escape the city. However, Crestone’s rapid growth rate is alarming for some. Fears are circulating that we will lose our small-town identity. Will we be able to maintain our rustic, unusual culture that flourishes on the fringes of society? Will our beloved views of the open valley or towering peaks be interrupted by excessive growth? Will we become yet another Colorado resort town? And finally, will our town become so large that we will need to employ the highly dreaded stoplight? While these are all natural concerns, it is important to realize that Crestone can only grow so much.
Surrounded on three sides by federally protected public lands, there are only so many lots available for purchase. The Sand Dunes, National Forest, and Baca Refuge all limit the sprawl of development and ensure that residents will always find spaciousness and natural beauty in their gaze. One of the most treasured aspects to living in Crestone and its surroundings is the closeness to wilderness. Thanks to the hard work of citizens, nonprofits, and government agencies, this land will remain wild despite its growth.
Countless new faces, an unusually trafficked Rd. T., and a night sky that seems to be a little less dark these days, all reflect the reality that Crestone is growing. A mix of affluent, working class, young, old, rural and urban new residents have transformed the real estate market in Crestone, many of whom, Kelly Weston shares, “love their new homes!” Inherent to the arrival of these folks is a different way of thinking and perceiving the world. With growth, we become more diverse, a quality that Darlene Yarbrough describes “as a great benefit to our community.” Vivia Lawson wisely adds that, “We should not take the position of the victim when it comes to growth here.” Instead, “ We need to reimagine what community looks like.” How can we grow as a community sustainably? What are the gifts and lessons to gain from embracing new residents? It is up to the longtime residents of Crestone, who know its heart and are loyal to its preservation, to guide newcomers and teach them the beauty and grace of walking gently on this land.
In the article, “Crestone” is used to describe the region encompassing both the town of Crestone, and the surrounding residential areas (Chalet 1-3, Casita Park, and the Grants.)