Signs that Crested Butte is attracting a new wave

School enrollment indicators rising dramatically. Property selling fast

By Mark Reaman

There are preliminary indications that Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley may be luring people away from urban areas impacted by the coronavirus and what is perceived as social unrest.

The early indicators—including a very robust real estate market in the upper valley and a massive increase in inquiries at the Crested Butte Community School about fall enrollment—would signal that a wealthy demographic is looking at relocating to the area. The fact people have learned to work from home (and this valley is a pretty nice home) combined with a quality school and low interest rates hasn’t hurt.

Crested Butte finance director Rob Zillioux told the Town Council this week that the Real Estate Transfer Tax is ahead of last year at the same date but there have been fewer transactions. Basically, he indicated that wealthy buyers are picking up expensive property in town.

He reported that as of June 30 the town had collected $824,054 in net RETT. That compared to $785,780 for the same period in 2019. “That is with fewer transactions this year,” Zillioux explained. “Sales prices are skyrocketing.”

Zillioux noted that in 2020, there have already been six sales between $1 million and $2 million, two sales between $2 million and $3 million, and two sales above $3 million inside Crested Butte.

“Driving much of the real estate market now is the high stock market valuation,” Zillioux reported to the council. “The stock markets have been driven lately by large corporate tax rate reductions, low interest rates, the federal bail-out money to corporations. This is all occurring during the highest unemployment rate in generations… Town open-market properties are now officially only affordable for the wealthy.”

The real estate activity is not just in the town of Crested Butte. According to Bluebird Real Estate principal Bud Bush, activity is booming throughout the upper valley this summer. “We feel like pent-up demand from the spring is definitely surfacing in a big way,” he said. “We absolutely do have buyers coming from other markets who are able to work remotely and are seeking a more peaceful lifestyle in a beautiful place. New listings are selling fast, with multiple offers and rural mountain properties that have been sitting are selling steadily.”

Bush said it is the most robust market he has seen. “Our August sales could be an all-time high month for the company,” he noted.

Crested Butte LIV Sotheby’s International Realty managing broker Scout Walton said his agents are seeing a number of clients considering a move to the valley. “The pandemic has caused all Americans to reevaluate priorities. For many, such an analysis includes answering questions such as, why are we waiting to make the decision to move our family to a safer, healthier, more desirable location in the mountains,” he said. “They are looking at the local school system and its class sizes and outcomes along with the ability to work remotely. Families are discussing where they want to be when the next pandemic hits and it’s certainly not in a metro area.”

Walton noted there are some second homeowners considering leaving the valley and putting their homes on the market for a variety of reasons, citing the recent friction between part-time residents and some locals and elected officials concerning the pandemic issues and talk of putting additional taxes on unoccupied homes.

“But generally, we are seeing a lot of interest from potential buyers wanting to relocate to a beautiful place in Colorado,” Walton said.

Crested Butte Coldwell Banker Mountain Properties broker Chris Kopf agrees. “We are definitely seeing an increase in people considering CB as a permanent residence,” he said. “The demand and the prices for downtown Crested Butte are up for quality homes and that is where the most expensive real estate per square foot is in the valley. Overall, real estate activity is up and I’m very busy right now.”

School starting to get fall feelers

Meanwhile, Gunnison Watershed School District superintendent Leslie Nichols said Crested Butte Community School is receiving daily inquiries about new enrollments, with calls coming from Texas, Arizona, Denver and other, larger places.

“The Crested Butte Elementary School has 40 kids on their new enrollee list, and I believe the Crested Butte Secondary School has 26,” explained Nichols. “These are not firm but we track people who call just to keep a finger on it. It exceeds where we would typically be on July 21. Both schools [CBES and CBSS] have normally expected between 10 and 15 new kids the past many years. We want to emphasize this is potentially the case with 66 additional students at CBCS, but nothing is firm.”

Nichols said that while Gunnison schools are also receiving additional enrollment questions it is not at the same level as in Crested Butte. She does not know whether the people making the inquiries are moving to the valley permanently or relocating to second homes temporarily.

Since the initial inquiries are not yet confirmed as solid enrollments, Nichols isn’t yet sure how the CBCS campus would handle such a big influx of new students.

“It’s hard to know the actual impact until we know how many families opt for 100 percent online learning,” Nichols said. “We want as many kids as possible to choose to return to the traditional, in-person school with all the plans for adjusting location based on the Coronameter. We believe learning happens best in person with strong relationships.

“Enrollment increases will be challenging as is every part of the 2020-2021 school year,” Nichols concluded. “We will always thoughtfully, carefully and successfully approach this challenge along with all others, with physical health and safety at the core of our decision making.”

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