Hot market spurs home sales on the Plains…and 100-mile commutes
A 2021 real estate report
As home prices spiraled ever upward in Denver and every other city on the Front Range, many homebuyers looked east. They found bang for their buck along with elbow room to spare in communities like Bennett, Limon and Fort Morgan.
Like the rest of the state, home prices are up across the board on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Most markets within 50 miles of the Front Range are seeing double-digit price increases in 2021, while those more than 50 miles away are more often seeing single-digit year-over-year growth.
“It’s been crazy,” says Timothy Andersen, broker-owner at Gordon Real Estate Group in Limon, 90 miles southeast of Denver via I-70. “We’re seeing it not only in Limon, but we’re also seeing it in Fort Morgan, Wiggins, as far northeast as Sterling. It’s a 100- to 150-mile radius from Denver, mainly to the east and northeast.”
Sterling, for the record, is 126 miles northeast of Denver, meaning commuters would spend about four hours driving to and from work.
Commuters started regularly buying homes in Limon and vicinity in 2016, and the trend gained serious steam during the pandemic, says Jana Ewing, associate broker at Gordon Real Estate Group. “The last five years have been where we actually saw the change where the Front Range market is coming out here and commuting,” says Ewing, noting that it’s gone from one or two sales to commuters a year to nearly half of the market for Gordon.
Out-of-towners bidding up prices has made housing less affordable for long-term residents. “You hate it for your local people, but they can’t compete,” Ewing says. “A lot of motels here are doing rentals, because there’s literally no long-term rentals available for people.”
And there’s little in the way of new development. “That’s a problem right now,” Andersen says. “We have the water, we have the land, but we don’t have a builder that’s willing to come out this far.”
In Deer Trail, 57 miles east of Denver, Bijou Creek is one of a few new residential developments on the Eastern Plains, with more than 100 new units built since 2018, but it has yet to spark a broader trend of new development.
Roger Shults, owner of My Colorado Broker in Ramah, about 80 miles southeast of Denver, says his 12 years of selling real estate southeast of Denver have been marked by constant change.
“Since COVID, there’s been more demand for properties in rural areas,” Shults says. “It’s driven our prices up a lot more than normal.”
And about 80% of his buyers are commuting to the Front Range. “I’ve sold homes as far east as Hugo” – a town of about 700 residents 100 miles southeast of Denver – “with people that commute into Denver every single day,” Shults says.
Shults says he has averaged about 35 to 40 home sales a year during his tenure in the area, and 2020 and 2021 are no different. “Those who commute to Denver, they try not to go east of Elizabeth, but in the last year or so, I’ve had a lot more interest going into Kiowa, Agate, Deer Trail, Simla, Matheson, Limon and Hugo.”
There’s also been interest from commuters in Akron, about 120 miles northeast of Denver. “I didn’t know buyers in Denver even knew that Akron, Colorado, existed – and most of them didn’t,” Shults says.
With the wider net being cast by homebuyers willing to commute 100 miles or more to the Front Range, he’s also putting more clicks on his own car’s odometer driving to showings in places like Hugo and Akron. Shults expects to easily top 20,000 miles in 2021, compared to 14,000 in a typical year.
The Numbers (through July 2021)
Typical home values in Colorado
Statewide: $490,944, up 16.7% over 2020
Denver: $543,544, up 13.3%
Colorado Springs: $409,770, up 25.1%
On the Eastern Plains
Limon: $183,622, up 9.9% over 2020 (population 2010: 1,880; 2019: 1,952)
Fort Morgan: $252,960 up 8.2% (11,315; 11,463)
Sterling: $188,007, up 7.9% (14,777; 14,495)
Deer Trail: $382,141, up 17.2% (546; 800)
Bennett: $363,889, up 13.7% (2,308; 2,798)
Wiggins: $326,936, up 11.2% (893; 1,163)
Kiowa: $573,341, up 13.0% (723; 761)
Lamar: $102,642, up 7.0% (7,804; 7,655)
Akron: $148,873, up 7.1% (1,702; 1,723)