By Beth Dodd:
Speakers at the second annual Teller County Economic Forum were largely optimistic about the prospects for the local economy in 2014 as Colorado and the nation continue to recover from the Great Recession.
A panel of local experts spoke about Teller’s economy at the second annual Teller County Economic Forecast on Feb. 19. The speakers included representatives of the area’s banking, real estate, and construction industries as well as city and county governments.
Teller County Assessor, Betty Clark-Wine, shared information about home values around the county, which have risen slightly. Sales of vacant land are also steady to increasing, whereas before they were trending slightly downward. The availability of vacant land in our area could attract new residents wanting to build their own homes. Right now the cost of new construction is decreasing as the cost of construction materials has fallen somewhat, although it is still cheaper to purchase an existing home.
Sales of residential properties across the county are trending up as well, even in Cripple Creek and Victor, where home values have increased. The only sector which is doing worse than expected is the sale and value of commercial properties, which are moving downward. However, this is expected to correct itself in the coming year. The assessment of value for commercial properties tends to lag behind other market sectors because of the relatively low volume of sales of commercial properties in Teller County.
Another positive for the real estate market in Teller is a drop in the number foreclosures, which rose from 2008 through 2010, but has been falling off since 2011. This is good news for Teller home owners because “distressed” properties bring down the value of other properties in the area. In addition, foreclosures increase the inventory of homes for sale, which also brings property prices down.
Dale Schnitker of Vectra Bank and Brad Spivey of Park State Bank addressed the availability of loan money within the community. Interest rates rose from 3.5% to 4.5% in the second half of 2013, putting loans out of reach for some marginal borrowers, but are still generally quite low. Schnitker said that his bank has received more applications for new construction loans of late, while Spivey said that Park State Bank will even consider spec home loans if the project is well-supported and well thought out.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Spivey. “Most of the bad debts have been flushed out.” According to Spivey, many of the people wanting to build new homes in our area are retirees from out of state who can afford to pay for new construction.
However, Spivey also cautioned that as the federal government draws down the large amount of stimulus money that it has been spending to support state and local economies, it will slow the progress of the economic recovery until everything stabilizes. Spivey compared the economy to a recovering patient who might have to use a wheel chair for a while before walking again.
Local realtors Sharon Roshek and Barbara Asbury said there have been upward trends in land and home sales around Teller County. Home listing prices are rising while the number of days a home is on the market is down. At the present rate of home sales, it is estimated that there is only about a four to eight month inventory of homes available. Homes under $250,000 are especially in demand, while sales of homes over $450,000 are slightly down.
“The market is as strong as it’s been since before the troubles started,” said Asbury.
“Things are going to get better. We have hit bottom in many ways,” Roshek agreed.
The impact of Charis Bible College was speculated on during the meeting. Charis may be the cause of the higher demand for lower priced homes as investors buy them to rent out. However, in order for many Charis students to relocate to Teller County they will need jobs as well as housing.
At least 50% of Teller residents commute to Colorado Springs to work and unemployment there is 7.5 or 8%, a bit higher than the current national average. According to Skip Howes, who spoke about the construction and housing outlook in Teller County, job growth is one of the key factors needed in both Colorado Springs and Teller County to help support new home construction. Right now the average age of homes in Teller County is eleven years old, and young buyers want homes that are more sleek, modern and energy efficient.
DDA Director Brian Fleer discussed the ways that Woodland Park is striving to create new jobs in the area. A number of new businesses have been built or are being planned including Woodland Hardware, Tractor Supply, and the new Woodland Station.
The hoped-for Main Street USA and Woodland Parks Arts District designations could also boost the local economy with new jobs. Both of these efforts are in the application stages.
In the southern end of the county, tourism and gaming were negatively affected by the summer’s floods. Repeated closures of U.S. Hwy 24 through Ute Pass left visitors wondering if they would be able to return home again if they went up to Cripple Creek and Victor. Gaming revenues in 2013 were the lowest they have been in ten years. Residents remain hopeful for a better 2014 however, as flood mitigation projects are being completed over the winter and the local economy improves in general.