Scott Bayens: Praying for lightning to strike in 2021

Scott Bayens

As a guy who sells homes and dirt for a living, I found the recent coverage of the local housing lotteries remarkable for a myriad of reasons. I noted the report highlighted the lucky few and didn’t talk much about those who weren’t chosen. I wondered how they felt and what they would do now. The complexities and wide-reaching effect of such programs made me think.

First, it was truly an “only in Aspen” story. Where but in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the U.S. can you read about applicants dropping to their knees in prayer or feeling as if they’d been struck by lightning when they’d won. And further reading revealed two of the winners were local real estate agents. An interesting side-bar to be sure.

Second, the story reminded me just how ubiquitous the issue of housing is in our community, whether it’s Lee Mulcahy’s case at Burlingame, controversy around a city councilman accused by his colleagues of “steering” questionaries, the never ending debate surrounding the BMC lumberyard or Elizabeth Milias and her Red Ants holding public officials to account.

Finally, it shows what a prescient issue this is not just for our area, but many other resort communities around the country. It really is the quintessential dilemma of our time; has been; and will be. And I think one worthy of discussion after a year in which more than $3 billion of free-market real estate changed hands and more people, with more money, from more places are calling our valley home.

Even prior to the pandemic, folks have been drawn here. The reasons are apparent. They seek the beauty, the endless activities, more room to spread out, less crime and traffic, and for some, a better quality of life. But it’s no secret there’s a critical shortage of affordable housing.

Those who say government shouldn’t be in the business of providing subsidized housing, I have news for you. After this year, many more of those shopping the free market have been priced out; not to mention available choices for buyers now at record lows. For some, the opportunity to buy a free-market home here has simply come and gone.

Of course, it’s the worker bees, the middle class and those riding the poverty line who feel the greatest impact. Those same impacts don’t affect just those classes, but infiltrates and impinges upon almost every layer of our local community.

Low income workers must live farther away, they spend more time on the road and less time with their children and families. That in turn creates problems for school-aged children, their education and mental health, which can add stressors for adults that can lead to substance abuse and other health related issues.

The problem even affects local recruiting for higher paying jobs in education and local hospitals. Living the dream isn’t such a dream without a place to call home. No matter what socioeconomic class you occupy, affordable, subsidized or free market, it’s a problem all of us face and must continue to work together to improve. In many ways we all share our inequalities.

Specific to the free market, the law of supply and demand is driving record high sales, sky-high prices due to an all-time low inventory. That’s not stopping interest in the luxury markets, but even the wealthy are having a hard time finding options. Local brokers are offering homes not yet complete and in some cases not yet begun using nothing more than a single artist’s rendering. Even some of those have gone pending.

The slowdown we expected around the election never materialized. Title companies took 2020 all the way to the wire literally to the last hour of Dec. 31. Now that we’re three weeks into the new year, it’s clear we are now experiencing a lull in activity. Fewer listings mean fewer sales. We’re also seeing more sales outside the MLS. Brokers call it “make me move.” In other words, you pick up the phone or knock on the door and ask: “What price will make you move?”

And now that Pitkin County is in the red, with the vaccine roll-out lagging and most of us adhering to our own versions of self-imposed lockdown, we’re kind of right back where we started. As the weather warms up, so too will pent-up demand and with it, the desire to sell or trade up or down.

It certainly won’t be the year we saw the past 12 months, but with so many continuing variables and hope on the horizon, what happens in ’21 is anyone’s guess.

Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more about him at