Its official friends. Summer is here and we’ve had a pretty darn long run of scorching days in the North Fork Valley. Coincidentally we have now reached and surpassed the scorching property values seen at the top of 2008 housing bubble! Are we now in another bubble? I won’t touch that question with a 10 foot fruit picker! As a 10 year resident of Paonia and a realtor, I have mixed feelings about where our real estate market is heading. My wife and I relocated here after an extensive search of potential spots in the Southwest U.S.. What we found here was undeniably the best value for the lifestyle we were searching for, a small, friendly mountain town with lots of water and low enough in elevation to experience and participate in a sustainable lifestyle where food can be grown. I like to refer to it as the “Mayberry of Colorado”. But are the quaint porch swinging days of Mayberry numbered?

Today I believe the North Fork Valley still offers value and offers a wonderful lifestyle but property prices are increasing rapidly. Fueled by the sizzling real estate market of Denver and the Front Range, local housing prices have taken some pretty dramatic jumps in the past 6 months and buyers are not balking. The allure of a semi- rural lifestyle in a beautiful, quiet, creative community at relatively affordable price is strong! In small communities with limited means this can create problems. This subject has been covered extensively in recent years in Colorado. Housing prices surpass income levels of the people inhabiting them leaving its teachers, service and blue collar workers, farmers and civil servants in a pinch. Instead of being able to reside in the communities in which they work and contribute to the quality of a healthy community, they are forced “down valley” or out of the region altogether. In Paonia and surrounding communities its a bit different…for now. The North Fork isn’t a big tourist draw nor does it have much in the way of blue collar jobs anymore. . There are literally a couple of small hotels and B&B’s, and a small handful of restaurants. Our community is unique however. We are in the midst of a “new economy” fueled in large part by net-commuting and folks who don’t necessarily rely on the immediate community for their livelihoods.. We are well endowed with ultra creative citizens who wear many hats to make ends meet.  But low overhead is the key to making this lifestyle work. Until recently one didn’t have to make a lot of money to live comfortably in the North Fork Valley. But housing prices, the highest expense for most folks in America, have a huge impact on the “health” of a community. Old shabby rentals are purchased, flipped for as much profit as possible, and usually exit the rental market either as full time or part time homes due to Airbnb. Retirees looking to find warmer winters down south are looking to cash in on their nests. As property changes hands for ever increasing amounts soon our community starts to take on an exclusive atmosphere where only certain demographics can afford to live here.

I’m sure it seems strange for you, dear reader, that a Realtor in the North Fork such as myself is discussing this subject! I am positioned to profit directly from the changes I speak of. To be honest part of me is torn to be participating in this culture shift. Really though is there anyone or thing to blame? I certainly can’t blame my clients or hold them in contempt for what is happening. Over the past year I have seen time and time again sellers overriding the comparative market analysis prepared for them by veteran realtors in the North Fork Valley in favor of their own much higher price tags. With the nature of our recent low inventory and high demand many times sellers are receiving these higher prices! (Price your home TOO high however and it can become stigmatized and shelved, remaining on the market for years.)  Beginning in the early 70’s housing values in the U.S started to take a noticeable steep upward curve. We have started to treat our real property like a savings/retirement account or even a lottery ticket. Many have gotten filthy rich from real estate and many (see housing bubble 2008) have lost everything. Shows like “Flip this House’ add “Flip or Flop” bolster the culture of cashing in on the housing market. Its an honest living and keeps people working albeit not too reliably.

In an area like the North Fork Valley development has already reached maximum penetration for the most part. We aren’t going  to be seeing any 50 lot subdivisions built any time soon. The demand isn’t there nor is there enough water to supply new housing. For the time being as long as buyers continue to look at this valley with goo-goo eyes (and why shouldn’t they?!) without enough cute little bungalows to meet demand we will continue to see an increase in people priced out of the area. We are in the midst of a culture shift which has its negatives and positives. The frenzy has just begun here and there are still great deals on real estate to be had.  All I can really suggest is to get to know your neighbor whether they just moved in or have lived there for 50 years. If you happen to find out they’re thinking of retiring and leaving the area tell them to give me a call! Free comparative market analyses for all!

Jay Canode is a realtor, multi-media producer, dad, husband, volkswagen caretaker, and resident of Paonia, Colorado.  He is the administrator of NorthForkNutshell.com