Last bust lingers in merchants’ minds |

Last bust lingers in merchants’ minds

The gas boom’s effects on the real estate market appear negligible at this point. Mike Pruett has been a longtime real estate agent in Rifle and he manages 32 rental units in town.”I can’t say we’ve seen an impact on real estate sales from the people in the industry,” said Pruett. “We’ve talked to a lot of them. This is sticker shock for a lot of them.”The situation was significantly different during the oil shale boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Pruett said Exxon and other employers encouraged their employees to sink roots into Rifle, Parachute and other areas of western Colorado. The oil companies handled the down payments on homes for some employees.The robust single-family-home market had an average sales price in the $80,000 to $90,000 level during the 1980s, Pruett said. After Black Sunday the home market collapsed. Many people found themselves out of work with a mortgage. Many walked away from their homes because they hadn’t sunk their own money into the down payment.The number of foreclosures in Garfield County jumped from 63 in 1982 to 154 the following year, according to the treasurers’ office. Foreclosures jumped to 197 in 1984 and peaked at 244 in 1985.Pruett said average sales prices for homes didn’t climb back to the 1982 level for six to eight years.He doubts that the current gas boom will generate as much activity in the real estate market. So far, he sees little evidence that workers are buying homes in the area. There are a lot of license plates from Utah and Wyoming, he noted.”They choose home [elsewhere in the West] and boom out from there,” Pruett said. “This is just a wide spot in the road for them.”Jay Rickstrew, president of Alpine Bank in Rifle, missed the oil shale boom. But he said every business operator in town is aware of what happened.”Hopefully we learned something from that. We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket,” Rickstrew said. “It’s something I keep in mind all the time.”Bunny Rohrig doesn’t need to be reminded at the hotel she manages, the Rusty Cannon, even though most of her rooms are full with gas field workers this winter.If natural gas prices fall from their current record highs, the industry could disappear again. “You can’t foretell anything,” said Rohrig.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism