A trip inside the second home
Study continues to dispel myths about Durango's part-time residents

SideStory: The prototypical second-home owner

Larry McCelvey adds an arch feature to a new home in the Villas at Hillcrest. Recent findings reveal that most local second-home owners live in modest homes and plan to relocate here full-time./Photo by Jared Boyd

They have large homes, slick landscaping, fancy cars and spend a month or two actually living in Durango. You know the type, right? Think again.

New findings suggest that there is more to La Plata County’s second-home owner than meets the eye. In fact, today’s seasonals are becoming tomorrow’s full-time residents.

“The Social and Economic Effects of Second Homes in Southwest Colorado” is an ongoing study on the prevalence and repercussions of second homes in La Plata, San Juan, Montezuma, Dolores and Archuleta counties. The study was commissioned by the Region 9 Economic Development District, a nonprofit focused on economic development efforts throughout the region.

“A lot of communities think the migration of retirees is a good thing,” explained Laura Lewis, Region 9 assistant director. “But there are also concerns about the costs and impacts of having second homes in our region. We wanted to see if it’s really a benefit or a bigger challenge to have them here.”

Second-home owners are drawn to Southwest Colorado by the same lures that pull in full-time residents. However, they also bring a different set of impacts with them – driving up the local cost of housing, stressing the service industry and forcing the labor force into satellite communities and long commutes, among other things.

“We’ve discovered that all second-home owners are moving here for our quality of life,” Lewis said. “They want the scenic beauty and the recreation. But what if those things go away? Second-home owners can move wherever they want. The rest of us are stuck here.”

All of these factors are major concerns for San Juan and Archuleta counties where outsiders own 83 and 60 percent of the total property, respectively. Durango and La Plata County have a little less to be worried about. Only 29 percent of local property is owned by non-locals, a number that pales in comparison to other Colorado mountain communities. In addition, most second-home owners live in modest housing, frequently townhomes or condos, in spite of popular perception.

During the most recent phase of the study, Region 9 got in touch with and interviewed part-time residents throughout Southwest Colorado. “We tried to get more subjective data from the homeowners themselves and asked why they’re here and what attracted them,” Lewis said.

Beyond the why and where, the interviews revealed an interesting trend in La Plata County. Local second-home owners do not plan on being part-time residents for long. The majority plans on eventually making Durango and La Plata County their full-time residences. A trend toward permanent residents could have mixed results, according to the Lewis. On the one hand, longer term resident might take greater pride in the community. On the other, new full-time residents might want to bring their old habits and old towns with them. Regardless, the trend should make a big splash.

“Fifty-four percent of second-home owners throughout Southwest Colorado said they want to move here permanently,” Lewis said. “That could be huge in terms of population growth in the area.”

During the study’s final phase, Region 9 will analyze the actual impacts of the second-home trend in the Durango, La Plata County and Southwest Colorado communities. The final piece of the puzzle will be demonstrating the actual impacts of second-homes on the region.

“I think we’re going to be able to nail down just how big an impact second-homes are having on housing prices,” Lewis said. “We’re going to be able to see how big a population impact they’re having. We’ll get an idea for transportation and what it takes for them to access services. And we’ll be able to see how they’re influencing the community dynamic once we start to have a financial division between locals and second-home owners.”

All these answers and more are expected to go public later this fall, when the final phase of “The Social and Economic Effects of Second Homes in Southwest Colorado” is released. •



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