Unreal Estate

From last week’s CB News: I’ll bet the townhome is long gone, but you might still have a shot at the riverfront home.

What pandemic? Gunnison County has no virus cases, area businesses have more work than employees to work it, and real estate has turned completely unreal.

While setting our for our Saturday Inspection Tour, Oz and I ran across the realtor who sold our lot to us. Kiley was re-establishing a “for sale” sign that took a beating in the Sept. 8 snowstorm/tree knockdown on a lot across the road. I told her we’d seen endless parades of cars around here looking at the available properties, and she replied she had four lots under contract this month.

This after months and months of no sales, although Kiley did say she spent the summer answering a slew of questions from would-be buyers. But not until this month did anything start to move, and now she’s juggling transactions for four lots, including the one she was putting the sign on.

“I think everyone just wants their piece of dirt,” she said, theorizing that people are suddenly feeling desperate. And why not? The Crested Butte paper reported that properties up that way are selling within three hours of being listed, following bidding wars.

Our chamber of commerce director went one better. Celeste was in yesterday to tell us of the changes to downtown’s next two events, Trick or Treat and Night of Lights (both drastically modified to the point of near-non-existence this year), but she had all kinds of other news as well.

One piece, which by the time of my telling it to you is reaching the apocryphal level, was that a friend of her friend answered a knock on her door in Crested Butte to confront a person holding a wad of cash, offering to buy the not-for-sale house on the spot. The homeowner took the offer and is now moving to Paonia, just over a summer-accessible pass to the west.

Whether that particular story is true or not, it is clear that real estate is moving moving moving, even the commercial properties in Gunnison that I thought would sit empty. Shows you, once again, just how much I don’t know.

It appears to have been the pandemic that caused the couple who owned a three-story building across the street from Pat’s to close their art gallery and sell the building, which was also their home. It sold fairly quickly, and the new owner, whomever that might be, is doing a massive renovation (I hope it’s approved, since the building is on the national historic register) that rumor says is going to result in my pet store (pet as in animals, not favorite, although I do like it) moving into the first floor, with four new apartments on the other floors.

The credit union directly across from us moved in August to its new location out by Tractor Supply, leaving behind an ugly building more suited for offices than retail, and I supposed it would sit vacant for a long time. But from the get-go a massive renovation — paint, roof, electric — has been underway, although we don’t know to what end.

Our downtown kids’ store, toys and clothing, announced it was going out of business; a week later the bookstore announced it was combining forces with a toy store employee and changing names from The Book Worm to Abracadabra. Gilly yesterday saw the woman who owns two downtown thrift stores, and she’s already taken over the toy store space to open a “different” sort of thrift store. She will close the smaller of her other thrift stores — I assume by now that someone will come along to claim that space within hours, rather than the months if not years I thought it would sit empty.

I have no idea why all this activity is happening in the middle of a pandemic. Perhaps because we no longer feel we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Tourist traffic was up this summer, based on lodging and camping reports; apparently fall booking rates at least in Crested Butte are at unheard-of levels. So everything’s copacetic, right?

Well, not really. Under this frenzied veneer of real estate transactions lies desperation. Some of this is a problem opposite that of most of the rest of the country: no one can hire enough help. This, in yet another week where the unemployment filings came in higher than expected: 870,000 nationwide.

According to Gunnison County, our unemployment rate as of July was 6 percent, low when compared nationally but well above the 2 percent of February. Theoretically, then, there should be a lot more people out there right now, looking for jobs, but Celeste said it seems that every business in the restaurant and hospitality sectors is desperate for hired hands.

I can’t explain the 4 percent who had jobs in February but now don’t seem to care to heed the siren call of the “help wanted” signs proliferating all across the valley, but I do think in general we’re at that intersection, as discussed before, where minimum-wage workers need somewhere to live in a place where People of Money knock on doors of houses going for well over $1 million and hold out cash.

A 36-unit, rent-controlled complex, privately owned but facilitated by our Housing Authority, is under construction on Colorado Street. Celeste said she gets two to three inquiries per day about it. (A manager is supposed to be on-site soon, she has been told.)

Farther up Colorado Street the county has just started on its own affordable housing project. A city project that hasn’t been in any hurry to get started is in the “assigned to a contractor but still thinking about it” phase on the west side of town, and some housing group is working a deal right now to acquire not quite four acres on the north edge of town.

So help is coming, but most of it not for a long time yet, and that doesn’t solve the problem of businesses struggling to come back from a forced closure who now can’t keep up with demand.

I can’t help with any of it. I don’t understand where all the people who got laid off in March have gone to; I don’t know, now that enhanced unemployment benefits have run out and regular ones may not be far behind, why 6 percent of the population isn’t answering the “help wanted” call; I have no idea what’s driving the frenzied business shuffle; and I have no idea how we come up with so many people who can flash cash around and buy creaky 100-year-old homes for well over a million dollars.

In short, I know even less than usual today. Perhaps it all makes more sense to you than it does to me. From here, it all seems rather senseless.

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