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Some COVID-19 adaptations will have legs

Will bump-outs, remote work and high housing costs stick around?

COVID-19 might soon be a thing of the past now that several vaccines are widely available. But some adaptations to deal with the novel coronavirus are likely here to stay.

Housing market heats up

Lois Surmi, president of the Durango Area Association of Realtors board of directors and managing broker with R1 Colorado Durango, said in March that 2020 looked grim in the real estate industry as public health orders took effect.

“A year ago, we went through a period where we weren’t able to even get into our own listings to take photos. We couldn’t go in, and we thought, How long is this gonna last?” she said.

It turns out, it wasn’t long at all.

When showings were allowed to resume in summer, small mountain towns across Colorado’s Western Slope had become popular destinations for homebuyers looking to flee densely populated cities vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The median price for a home in La Plata County jumped 15.8% to $449,000 in 2020, up from $387,750 in 2019.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, from October to December, the median price for a home in La Plata County rose more than 40%, to $631,807 from $450,277.

A big factor was the sale of homes valued $1 million or more.

Rick Lorenz, who compiles statistics for Team Lorenz, said strong demand drove up median and average prices. A limited supply of new housing also helped.

In 2020, Lorenz’s statistics showed 100 homes sold for $800,000 to $1 million, compared with 34 homes in 2019. Ninety-eight homes sold for $1 million and up, compared with 49 in 2019.

Surmi said that even in the seasonably slow winter, heavy demand for homes in La Plata County continues.

“I know it’s winter, but we’re seeing the same kind of urban refugees. It’s not letting up,” she said, adding, “Things may level off at some point, but the demand is real.”

Bump-outs debut

The city of Durango will resume its bump-out program March 15. The outdoor patio dining areas helped Main Avenue businesses endure indoor dining restrictions that limited capacity, sometimes down to 25%.

In 2021, the city plans to add concrete planters and other design tweaks to make bump-outs safer.

Their vulnerability became apparent Sept. 16, when a drunken driver plowed into Tequila’s patio space and sent four people to the hospital.

Still, bump-outs were popular with customers, and restaurateurs said they helped keep doors open.

Assistant City Manger Kevin Hall told The Durango Herald: “We are getting a lot of positive feedback. We did restrict the road a bit and chewed up a little bit of parking, but it seems to be working.”

Workers go remote

Offices across the country allowed employees to work remotely when it became apparent in spring that large gatherings threatened to spread COVID-19.

Miguel Munoz, an e-commerce entrepreneur working remotely in Durango, said the pandemic accelerated an already strong movement to work remotely by five to 10 years.

Munoz and his wife, Ina Ropotica, relied on remote work for the pandemic and moved to Durango from Spain in August for a better work-life balance. They see it as the way of the future.

In November, FIS Worldpay closed its 81,380-square-foot building, which housed about 250 people in Durango, to transition employees to remote work.

Members of Durango City Council, including Mayor Dean Brookie, are asking how remote work might impact the use of city facilities. Many city employees now work in a remote-and-office hybrid model after going all-remote for months last year.

Office space increases

A consequence of remote work has been a glut of office space in Durango.

John Wells, owner-broker of the Wells Group, told the Herald: “We have seen some increased vacancy rates based, obviously, on all this occurring this year as part of the COVID.”

Employers learned they could do with less space, and telecommuting didn’t decrease productivity.

“Some of those employers may have discovered they were still operating efficiently, and they didn’t need the cost of 4,000 (square) feet,” he said. “Maybe they just need 1,000 or 2,000 square feet, some conference rooms and meeting rooms, and then a certain percentage of their employees are going to want to continue to work from home. They realize they don’t need all that office space.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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