Greed’s double-edged sword
It’s a funny thing, rising housing costs. For years, my husband and I cursed Eagle County’s insane home appreciation rates because, quite frankly, insane home appreciation rates were keeping us out of the homebuying market.
We also both grew up in the Midwest, where the land is flat and cheap. Watching two-bedroom condos sell for more than my parents’ four-bedroom single-family-home (with a yard big enough to make mowing the lawn a full-day event), was a bit baffling. Sure, it’s beautiful out here, but come on!
(Of course I’m not moving back to Kansas anytime soon.)
Things have changed recently, however. Low interest rates and a newly acquired tolerance for commutes prompted us to take the plunge into homeownership last September by buying a townhome in Eagle. And boy, has that changed our perspective.
Now, instead of shaking our heads in dismay at the real estate ads, we’ve lately been nodding our heads in glee. We’ve watched other townhomes in our neighborhood increasingly sell for more than we purchased our home for. Then, about two weeks ago, the family next door put a “for sale” sign in their yard. A quick look in the paper’s real estate ads showed it listed for more than $70,000 more than what we paid for our house just about a year ago. Less than a week later there was a contract on the place.
We did the math: their house is a bit bigger, has wood flooring, boasts a backyard instead of a deck. No matter which we cut it, we had undoubtedly gained some serious dough on our home.
All that greed-fed satisfaction began to fade away when we realized that the faster our home rises, the faster all the other homes seem to rise. That dream of owning a single-family home still seems to be out of reach, no matter what happens to our townhome. Mortgage payments will still be a stretch, and even with raises, we’ll have a hard time moving up in Eagle County’s world.
Seems we aren’t the only ones to feel that way. The state demographer’s office has noticed people in their 30s and 40s are actually leaving the High Country at a faster rate than they are moving here. That phenomenon hasn’t quite hit Eagle County yet, but it likely won’t be long as more and more second-home owners retire here, snatching up would-be entry-level housing.
Maybe you don’t care. After all, second-home owners have more money to spend than young families and worker bees. But without those worker bees and young families, who will keep this county running? Who will provide all the services that second-home owners expect? Who will staff our school boards? Who will be our community?
The Board of County Commissioners recently passed a ban on new subdivisions for the next nine months, in hopes of coming up with a solution to Eagle County’s growth problem. To be specific, the problem isn’t just the growth itself, but the type of growth: big homes that are occupied only a few weeks or months of the year.
Eagle County has long let itself become rich at the expense of things we all say we hold in high regard: community, family, the environment. And why not? We all want to become rich, to buy bigger homes, in better neighborhoods. We want to afford our coveted mountain lifestyles with just one job, not three. We want tourists and second-home owners to come here, because they keep our businesses afloat and boost our sales tax collections. But we also want a middle-class, and we don’t want them to commute from Leadville or Dotsero to work here.
We want our kids to attend uncrowded schools where all the kids come from two-parent homes that speak English. We want a safe, crime-free community, with no poverty. But we still want to buy cheap groceries that are picked and prepared by immigrants who are willing to forgo health insurance and be paid with low wages.
And therein lies the problem with greed. There’s always a price to pay for fulfilling it.