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Study: More second homeowners on their way

Aidan Leonard

SUMMIT COUNTY – Two out of every three people who own homes in Summit County don’t actually live in Summit County.

Indeed, in the four High Country counties that see nearly 70 percent of Colorado’s skier visits and provide a foundation for much of its resort economy, about 60 percent of all residences are second or third homes.

That trend seems poised to continue, according to a study released Tuesday by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) on the effects of second homeowners on the social and economic environments of Summit, Pitkin, Eagle and Grand counties.

“We’ve always had this feeling that second homes really do have some kind of effect on our social and economic environments here, but it’s never been quantified, analyzed,” said Gary Severson, NWCCOG’s executive director. “This whole thing is to provide tools to our member districts so they can plan better for the future.”

Though short on the direct economic and social impact of second homes, the study paints one of the first comprehensive pictures of the resort region’s demographic landscape.

The image that emerges is of a very economically and socially significant nonresident population that will continue to grow, will continue to age and will continue to change the nature of services local governments need to provide.

“The study is trying to get at, “What is the meaning, what is the effect of second homes?'” said Jim Westcott, the state demographer. “(Planners) need to know what services they’re going to be confronted with.”

According to the study, the most likely people to purchase second homes are between the ages of 55 and 64. Because much of the baby boom generation lies squarely on the cusp of that demographic, the rate of

second-homeownership seems poised to increase dramatically across the nation.

“We’re really only like two years into this phenomenon,” said Linda Venturoni, the NWCCOG director of special projects, pointing to study results that said the growth rate of second-home purchases was about 5 percent.

For his part, Westcott said that the NWCCOG counties may see even greater growth than the study suggests because of the region’s connection to the Front Range.

“The Front Range has a disproportionately higher range of baby boomers than the rest of the country,” he said. “Not only does Colorado expect to keep its baby boomers, but there’s a real expectation to attract more baby boomers.”

One dimension he noted was the development of downtown Denver, which has experienced an increased focus on condominium sales that are marketed with the prospect of time also spent in the mountains.

“There’s an interconnectedness between the two,” he said of Denver and the High Country.

This will propel nearly a tripling of the number of residents more than 60 years old in the region by the year 2010, according to Jean Briley, the director of the Alpine Area Agency on Aging for NWCCOG.

“The needs are changing,” she said. “We’re going to be looking at a totally different society in the next 10 years.”

This phenomenon will bring about a need for a greater focus on medical facilities, housing renovations and other services, she said.

However, an aging population is not the only concern. Second-homeowners affect the gamut of public services and a key concern of officials is how those services are funded.

“That’s what all this data is heading us toward – what do we have to provide to a population that will encompass residents, second homeowners and tourists?” Steamboat Springs City Manager Paul Hughes said. “Cities and towns can’t lay off people in the offseason and hire them during the season. We have to provide service at just the right level that will suffice year-round.”

As Steamboat is one of the few cities or towns in the state without a property tax, second homes are a major concern because they don’t contribute financially unless the owners go shopping, he said. Silverthorne also shuns property taxes and Frisco’s are minimal, about $100,000 per year.

“We’re just now beginning to ask what that all means (in terms of funding),” he said. “Where is the money and what is the tax structure we’re going to need?”

Drew Nelson, the town planner for Fraser in Grand County, said his municipality faced similar concerns and was looking for alternative revenue sources.

“There are only a certain amount of tax dollars and only a certain amount of ways to get at those tax dollars,” he said.

In addition to the provision of public services, the impact of second homes on property values was a major concern for Winter Park, one town official said.

“Initially for the town of Winter Park, we wanted to gather information on how second homes are artificially increasing property values,” town planner Ed Moyer said.

He said that within town limits second homeownership is 84 percent.

“It’s staggering,” he said.

According to the study, the majority of second home values, as expected, were well above those of primary residences. The median incomes of residents versus nonresidents were almost mirror opposites with nonresidents tending to earn at least $100,000 per year and residents averaging between $15,000 to $100,000.

However, the direct connection of such phenomena to social impacts has not been yet been drawn. Indeed, the social and economic indicators the data will help provide will not be available until at least this fall, according to Westcott.

Still, it’s apparent that the whole phenomenon of vacation homes is a major economic driver for the region, he said.

Recognizing this, the data will be instrumental in local governments’ planning processes, Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace said.

“As elected officials, we not only have to react to the day-to-day issues in the county, we also have to be visionary in setting up the county for future economic and social (development) and this data helps,” he said. “This really is an indicator of why growth and development needs to pay its own way.”

Aidan Leonard can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or aleonard@summitdaily.com


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