The coming winter season may set a record, National Weather Service experts told The Durango Herald last month. El Niños originate off South and Central American coasts and typically equate to a wetter California, a dryer Montana and Idaho, and often for Colorado, more snow accumulation.
If an El Niño winter is on its way as some meteorologists predict, Southwest Colorado is in for a long winter. So what will it do to real estate transactions in La Plata County?
Maybe nothing, maybe a lot, real estate agents speculate.
“The coming possibility of an ‘El Niño winter’ with significant snowfall in the Southwest can affect real estate in a number of ways,” said Don Ricedorff of The Wells Group.
“For the resort area, a strong winter will provide more ski area visitors and clients that may be interested in owning a home in the resort area. Often, one strong winter will help for bookings in the next year as well. One of the other positive attributes of a strong winter is a summer season with better river and stream flows, less concern for wildfires and better water resources for wells and other water systems. The winter can have a dampening effect on land sales if the property is deeply covered with snow, and the same can be true for residences with acreage.”
Statistics compiled by the Durango Area Association of Realtors do not illustrate a direct correlation between extreme winter seasons and the market. However, the Federal Reserve Board’s Beige Book, an anecdotal summary of economic conditions reported by the Federal Reserve districts, frequently reports accounts of low inventory and construction delays during extreme winter weather and temperatures.
Disheartened by past harsh winter seasons, some sellers have put their houses on the market, said Gina Piccoli, owner and broker with Coldwell Banker Heritage House Realtors, but that happens rarely.
Though heavy snowfall is predicted for the region this year, El Niño isn’t necessarily indicative of a tougher winter. Since 1950, there have been 23 El Niño winters on record, according to the National Weather Service. In the past 20 years, there have been six.
Those were the winters of 1994-1995, 1997-1998, 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2006-2007 and 2009-2010. But average snowfall and temperatures during those years were not always outside of what’s average, according to the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction branch.
NWS meteorologist Norv Larson said Southwest Colorado is a mixed bag when it comes to El Niño effects, as is the state of Colorado in general.
“Colorado as a whole doesn’t have a strong signal (for El Niño),” Larson said. “The San Juan Mountains tend to be favored, but to say there’s a positive effect is tenuous. Sometimes there’s more snowfall, but not necessarily.”
Local real estate agent Karen Overington said in her years of experience, she has seen no decline in interest from buyers during cold winter months but rather a lack of inventory during those times.
“Sellers don’t want to move in the middle of winter,” she said. “When you see a buyer, they’re buying to satisfy a need. Sometimes they have to move regardless, so it doesn’t truthfully affect buyers.” Provided interest rates and prices haven’t spiked, buyers are generally undeterred, she said.
But her advice to sellers is to take advantage of the slow season and keep their properties listed for the buyers who are biting during winter.
“As a good friend of mine says, if it’s not on the market, you can’t sell it. My advice to all sellers: Keep your house on the market.”
Even if the market slows in the coming months, Jerome Bleger, board president of the Durango Area Association of Realtors, said there’s little to worry about in the long term.
“People come here to ski and are always looking by virtue of where we live,” he said. “Somewhere along the lines, it tends to even out.”