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Least populated county in Colorado isn’t spared from rising home prices

Housing supply is low and median cost doubles in five years
Jim Lindaman, a real estate agent in Silverton, said prospective homebuyers in Silverton are looking for anything affordable, which is tough to come by these days. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

SILVERTON – The least populated county in Colorado has not been spared from the soaring home prices that have made it difficult for working-class residents to live in the towns where they work.

Silverton, which is the county seat to San Juan County, suffers from low housing inventory and rapidly rising home prices – similar to other towns and cities across Colorado.

As of mid-October, only four residential homes were on the market. That may be acceptable in a town of only 600 full-time residents, but as more people turn to remote working or flee urban settings for mountain living, demand is picking up.

During the past 10 years, the median price of a home in Silverton has gone from $163,000 in 2011 to $217,000 in 2015 to $305,000 in 2020. This year, the cost jumped another $100,000, with a median price now at $405,000, according to real estate agents in this historic mining town nestled in the San Juan Mountains at 9,300 feet in elevation.

Meanwhile, the median household income was $50,524 in 2019 in San Juan County, according to Stats America.

“Five years ago, we were probably at $150 per square foot,” said Jim Lindaman, a real estate agent. “Then we went nuts this last nine months; I mean, we’re over $300 per square foot.”

Real estate agent Karen Srebacic said one thing is for certain: If a property has any potential, it is bound to sell fast.

She attributes high demand to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to an “urban exodus” of sorts on the part of some Americans.

“It (the pandemic) definitely motivated some of our local population to buy,” Srebacic said.

About 70% of homebuyers this year have been locals or people looking to buy their first or primary home in Silverton, Srebacic said. The rest of Srebacic’s residential sales were to people looking to invest in properties or purchase their second homes.

Karen Srebacic, a real estate agent in Silverton, talks about a business and residential unit above it that are both for sale in Silverton on Greene Street. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“I feel like people kind of were waiting for something else to pop up for sale,” she said. “You wait too long and now we’re in this spike, so people just decided it was time to buy what you could buy and get your stake.”

When asked what prospective buyers are looking for in the Silverton housing market, Lindaman laughed.

“Something they can afford,” he said. “Everybody wants their fixer-upper that’s cheap. Well, there aren’t any, except that 40-year-old trailer – and you can’t fix that up. There isn’t a normal ‘What people are looking for,’ except cheap.”

Lindaman said he speaks to “tons” of buyers, but they either can’t afford what is available or they don’t want what is available.

“If the cheapest house is $500,000 to $600,000, they can’t afford that,” he said. “Teachers can’t afford that, even if both of them are teaching.”

Some of the most affordable properties in Silverton are also the least accessible, he said. There’s a 10-acre parcel at Silver Lake for just $12,000 – but it’s also 12,000 feet in elevation. Lindaman said it is hike-in, hike-out territory.

“I’ve got 10 acres on Stony Pass Road, $39,000,” Lindaman said. “Seasonal, four-wheel (drive) only. And between there and there, there are several avalanche chutes.”

Lindaman recalled one prospective buyer contemplating the Stony Pass property, saying, “Well, I can take a snowmobile.”

He said, “Yeah, you can get killed, but you can do it.”

Srebacic noted there is limited space for Silverton to grow, which is driving up home prices.

“We don’t really have expansion (in Silverton) because you run into the side of the mountain,” she said. “It just gets really steep really quick and you end up in avalanche terrain. ... There can be rockslides, mudslides.”

Plus, Srebacic said bringing new infrastructure into uncarved mountainous areas can cost millions of dollars.

Karen Srebacic, a real estate agent in Silverton, talks about the real estate situation in Silverton. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Low housing stock and skyrocketing housing costs hurt the number of home sales. As of mid-October, 19 homes had sold year to date. Twenty-nine homes sold from Oct. 19, 2019, to Oct. 19, 2020; 17 homes sold in 2016 and five homes sold in 2011, according to Srebacic’s data.

“The problem is there’s less selling because the prices have gone whacko,” Lindaman said.

The cheapest price in town as of Oct. 19 was a 40-year-old mobile home selling for $410,000. New condos that will be completed next year are going for $500,000 apiece. Lindaman said a house on Empire Street and Blair Street has gradually dropped in price, from $555,000 to $469,000 – something he attributes, in part, to the recent ban of OHVs.

Srebacic said commercial real estate sales are slower because they are more expensive and consist of larger projects. Her data demonstrates four commercial sales this year as of Oct. 19 and one last year.

A house under construction in Silverton. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
A house for sale in Silverton is one of only a few that are on the market. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Median commercial real estate costs in Silverton sit at $733,750, according to Srebacic’s data. She was unable to pull data for previous years, she said, although she said there was one commercial sale last year for $1.2 million.

The need for housing is so high in Silverton that the town is allowing residential developments in its economic development zone.

“We need housing so much that instead of it being work-live, where you can do light industrial and louder things with business, they’ve allowed residential,” she said.

Srebacic said most people building living quarters make sure to include a garage and long-term rental space attached.

Srebacic said it is Silverton’s quality of life that is helping attract prospective homebuyers. The air is clean, traffic is virtually non-existent and most people in the area have outdoorsy lifestyles.


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