Housing prices soaring from Basalt to Rifle | AspenTimes.com
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Housing prices soaring from Basalt to Rifle

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado

The Basalt library is doing the usual things to hire a new director, like offering a competitive wage and checking references. But it’s also taking the unusual step of urging candidates to meet with a real estate agent.”Even though they say they understand what the cost of housing is, they get out here and [it turns out] they don’t,” said Polly Pollard, a member of the Basalt Regional Library District’s board of trustees. So the library board wants the four candidates to check out the housing market while they are in town to evaluate the job.The cost of housing “is always a concern” during the hiring process, not only for regular staff but also for a director position that pays $75,000 per year, Pollard said.Many employers throughout the area are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain good workers because of surging house prices. And young couples and families find it increasingly difficult to gain a toehold.Towns from Basalt to Rifle used to provide great alternatives to high housing prices in Aspen and Snowmass Village for working families. Now, housing in the lower Roaring Fork Valley is slipping out of reach of workers, and the problem is spreading into the lower Colorado Valley.The average price for a three-bedroom home in Basalt jumped 21 percent last year. The price went from $573,456 in 2005 to $694,880 last year, according to the Aspen-Glenwood Springs Multiple Listing Service. That includes single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums.The average price of a three-bedroom residence in Carbondale increased a more modest 4 percent, but it still topped $476,000 last year.In Glenwood Springs, the average price of three-bedroom residences jumped from $318,339 in 2005 to $383,932 last year – also a bump of 21 percent.The surge wasn’t limited to the Roaring Fork Valley. The average price of a three-bedroom residence in New Castle crept toward the $300,000 barrier last year.In Rifle, the average price of a three-bedroom home soared 14 percent last year to $231,851, according to the Multiple Listing Service data.Working-class families are getting priced out of the Carbondale market, according to Lynn Kirchner, managing broker of the Sotheby’s International Realty branch in the town. She said she is working with 10 clients who are facing a tough time finding affordable housing.”When stuff comes on the market under $500,000, it’s gone in a matter of minutes,” she said.Often the residences available for that price were fixer-uppers – a townhouse needing new paint, new carpet and extensive refurbishing, for example.”It’s not about coming in and picking your dream home,” Kirchner said. “It’s about coming in and [seeing] what will you settle for.”The surging prices are snuffing another aspect of the American dream. Homeowners on the lower side of the price scale could sell and use their equity to “move up” and buy nicer houses. Now, people who have built decent equity in their condos often cannot afford a single-family home, Kirchner said.Savvy buyers of modest means can still find a home, even if it isn’t exactly what they wanted. Kristofer and Dori Johnson, professionals in their early 30s, rented two different Willits townhouses during their first 2 1/2 years in the valley. They started looking for a home to buy last spring. Their goal was to stay close to Aspen, where they both work at Design Workshop, and they preferred a single-family home.It soon became apparent that they would have a tough time finding anything suitable in their price range, let alone a single-family home, Kristofer said. They expanded their search to Carbondale and Glenwood Springs after initially focusing on Basalt and El Jebel.Many of the midvalley residences in the $500,000 to $700,000 range were “pigsties” that were in need of complete rehabilitation, Johnson said: “You’re buying the best of the worst.”They finally got lucky and found a sweet deal on a Carbondale townhouse late last summer, he said. They love their home, their neighborhood and their lifestyle in Carbondale. It comes at a price – the 40- to 45-minute, one-way commute on most days.Johnson said his friends that are around his age tend to have been in the valley longer and bought housing before this latest jump in prices. But he feels many younger people in the valley face bleak prospects.”For a lot of these younger folks, buying something is out of the question,” Johnson said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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