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Wow! What a spring, huh?! Ummmm … I mean, summer?  I can’t remember a more pleasant June on the western slope of Colorado. Usually at this time of year in my household, we have ALL the windows open at night. Then we shut ‘em after breakfast in order to preserve a manageable temperature in the house throughout the usually searing June day. This year, the windows have mostly stayed shut and we have even fired up the furnace a couple times in the morning! Fruit yields in the North Fork are looking juicy with nearly all varieties of fruit buds surviving our notoriously frosty April. We’ve even got almonds on our tree this year!  Wildflowers in the desert and mountains are out of this world and the abundant snowpack has been steadily roaring out of the mountains for a good long while.

The verdant, cool spring hasn’t been without its downsides though. Our local mountain roads and riverside parks have suffered as a result. Due to a neglected rusty culvert finally giving way, Highway 133 north of Paonia has been closed for the better part of two months. Due in part to some desperate local pleas, CDOT has finally supplied a temporary bridge and 133 is now back in business. Kebler Pass to Crested Butte remains closed due to a wash out with no estimate on time of re-opening. As a result businesses that rely on tourism in the North Fork Valley have reportedly been hit hard. It seems the artery that connects the North Fork and Roaring Fork valleys also carries with it a decent amount of tourist dollars. To top it off, many of the new riverside walking paths newly built near Paonia’s river park have simply vanished along with large trees washed miles down the North Fork. The redeposited trees (now dangerous strainers) have created new hazards for boaters, with at least one official swift water rescue in the books near Hotchkiss and numerous other close calls and self-rescues. Thankfully there have been no fatalities this season on our local rivers, but there have been quite a few throughout Colorado to date, with seven whitewater-related fatalities being reported by American Whitewater.

According to scientists that try to explain this anomalous weather, we can thank an early El Niño, record-breaking Atlantic ocean temperatures, a little-known underwater volcano that erupted last year near Tonga, called  Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai (say that five times fast!), lower-sulfur shipping fuels (Yes, look that one up.), and of course, the ever-present and controversial human-caused climate change (Don’t shoot the messenger; I just report what the scientists tell me.) According to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, we shouldn’t get too excited about these cool temperatures in the Southwest. Global temps continue to rise, and that is all too evident with abnormally rampant wildfires in Canada and record-breaking temps in the Caribbean just to name a couple examples. The good news, for us on the Western Slope anyway, is that it’s very likely the current El Niño will stick around and even has a 50/50 chance of being a doozy come winter 2023/24. Strong El Niños almost always mean wet winters in southern and western Colorado. I say yay to that!  I say yay, really, to any amount of moisture that falls from the heavens. Because let’s face it, it may seem luscious and green in our valleys most of the time, but we live in a desert, pure and simple, and it is getting dryer and warmer regardless of whoever or whatever may be responsible. And speaking of dry and warm, a not-so-popular prediction from NOAA scientists points to a warmer and dryer July and August as a sinister and notoriously stubborn high-pressure dome has descended on the Southwest. Seems we may just get a real summer yet, and the tomatoes you planted might just ripen up! I personally hope the cloudy moistness returns though.

What does the weather have to do with real estate? Well, everything in my opinion. If western Colorado dries up and our water supplies tighten, what then? We’ve gotten a taste of this over the past 10 years of drought and even extreme drought has been more the norm. Voluntary water restrictions, ditches shutting down midsummer, major hedge funds based in who-knows-where are buying up water rights, and record sales of split-unit heat pumps all point to the fact that weather is an issue that should not be ignored. In the past 10 years there has been more than one occasion where, due to the shifting weather and drought situation, I questioned my decision to stay in western Colorado. My family moved here from Arizona (running away from drought!) at the turn of the century to get closer to the headwaters—closer to the source. Yet in the past 25 years Colorado has started to more resemble Arizona regarding climate. All the while the population has been increasing and our state is on many lists as a great place to live. I think the one saving grace for Delta County in particular, is that development remains predicated on availability of water, unlike metro areas such as Phoenix and Tucson where development goes on unabated, and all forms of whacky Ponzi-like water deals are being brokered. In times like this glorious wet and cool spring, we all breathe a collective sigh of relief as the drought indicator improves a bit. But even this in itself is an indicator that our situation is serious! As a kid growing up in Durango, I don’t remember anyone being alarmed by the lack of water. I do remember clockwork monsoons that would keep me from riding my bicycle in the afternoons. I remember the chocolate-brown water of local rivers and creeks caused by flash floods, and I remember the ever-present smell of petrichor on summer evenings. To me that smell is one of the most comforting scents I can think of to this day, that and the scent of slowly cooked machaca of course. This last tidbit of personal info obviously points to the fact that I have spent a little too much time in the desert southwest!

Speaking of machaca let’s talk local real estate trends (Sorry, that’s the best segue I have). May statistics from the Colorado Real Estate Network report that Delta County has continued to hover around all time high real estate prices of just under $400,000 (sold median value) for a single-family home, nearly 30% higher than May of 2022. Locally in the North Fork Valley, median prices were essentially unchanged compared to May 2022 prices. New listings on the market remain below May 2022 numbers with around 18% less new inventory hitting the market countywide. The month’s supply of inventory countywide is an eye opening 80% higher than May 2022. “Months’ supply” refers to the number of months it would take for the current inventory of homes on the market to sell, given the current sales pace. Historically, six months of supply is associated with moderate price appreciation, and a lower level of months’ supply tends to push prices up more rapidly. So This jump in inventory suggests many properties are languishing longer than usual on the market. The DOM, or “days on the market,” stat almost exactly matches with a 79% higher time period of 88 days in 2023 versus 49 days in May 2023. To bolster this statistic, the last time DOM breeched 80 days (other than last month) was March 2020. So obviously a slowdown in volume is occurring almost certainly due to the eye-watering real estate prices and higher mortgage interest rates that we continue to experience on the Western Slope.

I wish I had better news for both buyers and sellers! I believe demand is still relatively high, especially for certain types of “dreamy,” rural real estate, but as a seller, don’t expect to price your property much higher than your Realtor suggests.  Any agent worth their salt is going to attempt that fine line between maximizing your profit as a seller, while assigning a value that is realistic in the current environment (i.e., a value that will fetch a buyer in a comfortable time frame). In these times more than any other, it can be very much worth it to rely on an experienced Realtor to help you navigate this choppy market. I personally don’t see the current market conditions changing any time soon.

Enjoy these first real days of Colorado summer everyone. Hope to see you out in our beautiful backyard of western Colorado!