No end in sight to second-home growth
Cordillera second-home owner Mike Hecomovich admitted that baby boomers ” his generation ” are famous for self-indulgence. And many will be indulging themselves here in the Vail Valley, he said.
“Without question,” he said. “There’s nowhere in the world where you’ll be able to replicate what the Vail Valley has to offer.”
Baby boomers are now between 41 and 61 ” prime age for buying second homes.
That translates to more people buying second homes in the High Country over the next 20 years, experts say. And more could be living here full-time ” and pushing demand for services such as water, police and ambulances ” as they reach retirement.
“This generation of wealth will just be more and more second-home owners who have the financial ability to buy second and third homes,” said Rod Slifer, Vail’s mayor and founding partner of the real estate company Slifer Smith and Frampton.
Workers will continue to be displaced by second-home owners if affordable housing or other incentives aren’t offered for workers, experts say.
What happens after the next 20 years is unclear. Some experts are unsure if successive generations will keep investing money in these second homes in the High Country.
Hecomovich and his wife, Sandy, both 58, have owned their four-bedroom, 4,800-square-foot second home in Cordillera for two-and-a-half years. Before that, they had a second home in Beaver Creek.
The couple, who lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz., grew up on the Front Range and jumped at the chance to buy a second home here. “It’s home, and how many kids grow up in Colorado and dream about having a place in Vail?” Jim said.
They stay in Eagle County from mid-June to mid-October. In the winter, they spend about 45 to 55 days here, usually in blocks of 10 to 12 days. They ski Vail and Beaver Creek, and Cordillera provides them three golf courses to play.
Jim, who owns a marketing company and is already semi-retired, said he would like to spend the whole year in Colorado. But Sandy prefers to spend some of the year, especially during the High Country’s off-seasons, in Arizona.
“She’s the boss,” he said.
Jim said the home will stay in the family until he and his wife die, and will probably stay in the family after that. The Hecomoviches have four grown children.
Elizabeth Garner, state demographer for Colorado, said more second-home owners will retire to and become full-time residents of Eagle and Summit counties.
“People who have already purchased second homes are deciding to make those homes their primary residences,” she said.
The High Country will also see more construction of second homes ” but to what degree will be influenced by how much counties and cities choose to build, Garner said.
A recent survey of Vail second-home owners by RRC Associates in Boulder found that 63 percent of second-home owners are definitely, very likely or somewhat likely to retire to their Vail homes. William Travis, a professor of geography at the University of Colorado who studies growth issues in the West, was unsure if those intentions will be fulfilled.
“When you ask second-home owners whether they would like to spend more time (in their second homes), they say, ‘Yes,'” he said. “I’m skeptical of that ‘Yes.’ It may not work out that way.”
Gabe Preston of RPI Associates, a planning company that studies Western Slope communities, also said he would be surprised if baby boomers follow through on their plans to retire. Second-home owners have deep roots in their hometowns, he said.
“It’s going to be more difficult than they think,” he said.
The state predicts that Eagle County’s population will double over the next 20 years. Most of that growth is driven by second-home owners simply because of the jobs generated by the services they will demand, said Jim Westkott, a demographer for the state.
And those growth numbers don’t include second-home owners themselves because their primary residence is elsewhere. So those numbers could under-represent the growth of the region, Westkott said.
Job demand is likely to increasingly outstrip supply in Eagle County. By 2025, more than 80,000 jobs will be needed, but the supply will only be a bit more than 40,000, a study by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments said.
Second homes create demand for service jobs, and housing for those workers is needed. And as retiring second-home owners conceivably go from spending two or three months a year here to spending 10 months here, that means even more services have to be provided.
But if investment in second homes continues to prop up real estate prices, some wonder where those workers will be able to live.
“With these homes will come the need for a workforce,” Westkott said. “Because of their domination of property values, it will be very hard to accommodate that unless there’s some sort of intervention, such as deed-restricted properties.”
A deed restriction is an affordable housing tool that could dictate that only people who work in the valley can buy a given home. Otherwise, traffic could worsen in the region as commutes get longer and longer, Westkott said.
Homes that middle-class workers bought in the 1980s, for instance, can now sell for a profit at a price that exceeds what today’s middle class can pay for it, Garner said. So the unit becomes a second home. That trend eliminates worker housing in resort towns.
The Vail Valley is already seeing second-home owners pop up downvalley in Edwards, Eagle and even Gypsum, Slifer said. The influx of second-home owners is allowing locals to cash in and move elsewhere, he said. Many move out of the valley and the state, as the middle class gets squeezed out of resort communities, Slifer said.
“For many of the locals who own property in Vail and the upper valley, value increases, and they sell and move downvalley,” he said. “I don’t know how you can stop it.”
Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said affordable housing will have to be part of the county’s future. But he is unsure how far people will commute to come to service-oriented jobs, he said.
“Will they drive for an hour and a half to work cleaning toilets or painting a wall?” he said.
Jim Flaum, president and managing broker for Slifer Smith and Frampton, noted that advances in technology and private aviation allow homeowners to spend more time here already.
“We’ll ride the demographic of the baby boomers,” he said. “We’re going to ride that wave for 15 years.”
In Eagle County, 49 percent of homeowners are not full-time residents. That number is 67 percent in Summit County and 55 percent in Pitkin. The influx of second-home owners will drive home prices up, Realtors say.
“If the supply is stagnant and the demand is growing, prices will continue to increase,” said Led Gardner, a Realtor whose company, Led Gardner and Associates, caters to almost all types of second-home owners in Eagle County.
Space is limited as more second homes are built to satisfy demand. In Eagle County, 79 percent of land is undevelopable state or federal land. In Pitkin, 83 percent is federal land, and in Summit, that number is 78 percent.
Travis, the land use professor, wondered what will happen 20 years from now, after the baby boom generation starts to die.
“This demand driven by a population bulge is pretty peaked,” he said. “That bulge comes and then it goes. You get yourself in the awkward position of reaching a maximum buildout and then the demand falls off. The disinvestment from the resorts could be a shock.”
Travis cited Atlantic City, N.J., in the late 19th century and early 20th century, after the railroad connected the beach town to Philadelphia and rich urbanites built elaborate summer homes there. But after World War II, the advent of air travel and the shift of the population westward contributed to the decline of tourism in the city. The city began to fall into disrepair and was ridden with crime.
The baby boomers are one of the biggest segments of Colorado’s population. Another bulge comes along for people who are currently in their 20s. But Travis wondered if that generation will continue the investment.
“Will 45- to 65-year-olds of 2026 be interested in investing in second homes?” Travis said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or email@example.com.
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