As with much of life, it’s helpful when numbers can be put alongside “this is what it feels like.” At last week’s annual Wells Group Real Estate Forecast, it was confirmed: There are too few potential employees for county businesses, and there are too few places for those employees to reside.
The consistent and numerous “help wanted” ads in this newspaper are real. There are two jobs available for every one unemployed individual in La Plata County.
When it comes to housing stock, the county is behind what is needed. Twice as many units were constructed in the years prior to the 2007 nationwide mortgage collapse.
The Wells Group has been presenting economic data for the county, data designed to give a foundation to the variations in the real estate market, for 17 years. Jim Wotkyns, co-owner of the Wells Group, does the introductions, while John Wells reflects on the accuracy of last year’s predictions and provides a few new ones. Bob Allen, with his appraisal services, provides a lot of statistics and a detailed analysis.
These are some of the takeaways from Wells and Allen.
Household formation continues to increase at a rate faster than new housing is becoming available. The vacancy rate for rentals is 2.5 percent.
Expect more commuter employees, driving in from areas of lower cost housing, or areas where there is housing available (but commuter employees spend their paychecks at home, which may not be in La Plata County).
Employment growth is in tourism and in retiree services.
Look for more restaurants downtown, filling space vacated by retailers.
Tourism strength continues upward, a strong underpinning of the economy.
There is a very low inventory of commercial space.
Buyers who purchased their homes just before 2007 are now most likely to have an increase in price. That means they now have the footing to move up to a larger property, or to one in a different location. That is encouraging (the low in home prices came in 2011 and 2012).
Luxury homes sales have increased, and will continue to do so, toward their pre-’06 level. And some buyers will be fleeing the Front Range, with its population growth and resulting issues.
Allen thinks a slight increase in natural gas production and in prices will occur in the coming year.
And, while it may be in 2018, Lake Nighthorse will add to the economy with its very close-in recreation opportunities. Allen points out that Lake Nighthorse is closer to Durango’s core than is Three Springs.
Workforce housing is on the minds of City Council candidates, as it should be. And housing is a part of the city’s draft comprehensive plan.
The numbers indicate a somewhat changing economic environment in the county for the coming year and perhaps longer, but there is much that is good in them.