Getting real
State of local real estate market inspires optimism

Durango real estate has seen better days. The market hit bottom in 2009, land sales remain at an all-time low, and the Durango Area Association of Realtors has reported a 25 percent drop in membership. However, many are seeing new signs of optimism for the local real estate market, including increases in sales volume. In addition, more realistic pricing is opening home ownership to many Durango residents./Photo by Stephen Eginoire.

by Leslie Swanson

As insulated as it sometimes feels, Durango is not immune to the nation’s real estate woes. Though La Plata County home sales have climbed a bit since 2009, which appears to be the lowest point so far, they are still less than half the level of 2005. Land and commercial property sales have seen a much steeper decline. In the third quarter of 2005, 33 lots of an acre or less were sold in the county. In this year’s third quarter, there were two. And La Plata County’s foreclosures are even higher than last year’s record-setting 297. And real estate agents? Over the past three years, the Durango Area Association of Realtors (DAAR) has lost 25 percent of its membership.

More bad news: If our housing trends continue to follow the nation’s, things won’t improve for some time. According to the latest edition of The Federal Reserve’s “Beige Book,” America’s real estate recovery was the only downbeat in an otherwise improving economy: “Housing markets remain depressed, with several districts reporting further weakening during the past six weeks.”

Is there a silver lining to this cloud of gloom? Despite being at ground zero of the nation’s economic meltdown, real estate is an industry full of optimism. Whether the glass is half empty or full depends on your point of view. For example, because prices were down, many La Plata County residents of moderate income were finally able to buy that first home. Thanks in part to the first time homebuyer’s tax credit, they did. The majority of last year’s sales were the most affordable properties, and that has inspired local contractors to build more of them.

La Plata County’s remaining real estate agents, especially those with well-established careers, are finding themselves with plenty of work. The commissions may be smaller and the efforts bigger, but they are still making a living. In some cases, they are thriving. December’s top three agents on the Multiple Listing Service all concur that positive thinking is necessary for success.

Don Ricedorff, an agent with the Wells Group, encourages good business planning and organization. “We may not be able to influence the market, but there are things we can do to influence our participation in it,” he said. And the future is bound to get better, and the local population is certain to grow, according to Ricedorff. “Durango is a beautiful area, and people will always want to live here,” he said.

Rick Lorenz, also from the Wells Group, believes that there are two kinds of optimism in real estate. There is the can-do attitude of the agent and there is optimism about the market and “that is different, it is a set of facts, it is realism,” he said. People still have to buy and sell houses, Lorenz observed. A positive outlook can provide the necessary momentum to continue working through difficult times and to come out on top in the long run.

For Joe Burtoni, from Prudential Triple S Realty, positive thinking is pragmatic. “Unfortunately, many agents go months without an income,” he said. “You wake up every morning unemployed and you need to go out and look for a buyer or a seller. Buyers and sellers want to work with positive people. It’s survival. It has to be hardwired in you if you want to succeed.”

Speaking of survival, the real estate downturn has another side effect for many of La Plata County’s less fortunate residents – reduced charitable contributions from the industry. Despite their loss in numbers, however, Durango’s real estate agents rallied for charity again this year with Durango’s major brokerages contributing well more than $10,000 to local and national organizations.

“A lot of generous people donate to United Way, and Realtors are at the top of my list,” said Tim Walsworth, of United Way. “They are very committed to the community and it makes sense that they would be.” As an example, Walsworth cited Coldwell Banker’s holiday party, which raised nearly $4,000 for Mercy Health Foundation’s brain injury prevention program.

Shaheen Hood, of DAAR’s Community Service Committee, said the group was able to raise more than $8,000 for charitable causes this past year, not including volunteer hours and their members’ individual donations. “We were able to give the same amount as last year, we just had to work a little bit harder,” she said.

Sarada Leavenworth, director of the Volunteers of America, Southwest Safehouse and the Durango Community Shelter, notes that many area Realtors serve on advisory councils, organize fund-raisers and cook for the shelters and food kitchens. “I can’t think of a community where Realtors do more to take care of people in need and important causes. They go above and beyond, and it shows,” Leavenworth said.

So, is there a place for optimism in today’s real estate market? Yes, indeed. As Ricedorff advised, “It’s important to count our blessings. We haven’t gone through the hardships of our parents’ or our grandparents’ generations. We have so much, we have everything we need.” •



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