Realtor Ray Shea recently ushered a pair of buyers into a half-million-dollar home in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.
“It’s a view lot,” Shea said. “We’re standing there, looking out the window and all you can see is charred, burned hillside. I’m waiting for them to drop the bomb in my lap and say, ‘Wow, this is really devastating.’”
But they didn’t.
Instead, they said, “Wow — what a view.”
Buyers, it turns out, are looking past the evidence that wildfire can ravage woodsy Westside neighborhoods, claim homes and devastate the landscape. They’re even looking past the charred hillside.
After the Waldo Canyon fire burned into northwest Colorado Springs last summer, consuming nearly 350 homes and killing one couple in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood, homeowners and real estate speculators suspected that home values in the affluent neighborhood might plummet.
They also wondered whether it could impact interest in other forested neighborhoods like Broadmoor Bluffs and Cedar Heights.
“I think the fire did have an impact,” said Kevin Patterson, a Realtor with the Patterson Group.
“It created a lot of uncertainty about value. And that’s something that only gets better with time.”
But it didn’t take a lot of time, Patterson said, because along with destruction, the fire brought opportunity.
“This is the first time in a lot of years that people have been able to have new construction on the Westside,” said Dean Weissman, a Realtor with The Platinum Group. “The market over there — it’s extremely hot.”
The west side of Interstate 25 has been built out for at least 10 years, Weissman said. And most of the real estate nestled into the hillsides is more than 20 years old.
The fire destroyed a wide variety of homes in Mountain Shadows, but the average price of the burned houses was above $350,000. Some homeowners have decided to rebuild with their insurance money and stay.
Others, for emotional or financial reasons, opted to sell their lots and move on, Patterson said.
And some still haven’t been able to let go. They had memories and lives in those houses. Even if they have decided not to rebuild, it’s not easy to sell the lot, he said.
Shea, a broker with RE/MAX Properties, lost his home in the Waldo Canyon fire. He has been representing several of his neighbors and helping them decide what to do.
“For a lot of people, the decision was made for them,” he said.
Insurance is usually based on purchase price. And homeowners who bought in a down market or who have owned in the neighborhood for a long time didn’t have enough coverage to rebuild, he said. Their lots have been selling fast, usually to builders.
Weissman said he put a Mountain Shadows lot on the market April 29 and it was sold by May 1.
“That’s 48 hours,” he said. “And we had multiple inquiries and a lot of interest.”
While real estate is selling fast all over town in what agents have described as a “hot market,” that was particularly fast, Weissman said.
Most of the recent growth in Colorado Springs has been to the north and east. That’s where buyers go if they want a modern floor plan, Shea said.
With 350 open lots for new construction, everything is changing.
“That’s just enough, oddly enough, to reinvigorate sales in a community that maybe previously was passed over because the floor plans were newer and fresher in Cordera,” Shea said. “A lot of builders, it seems, are almost looking at it like a whole new development.”
Some have even built model homes, he said.
While values in Mountain Shadows have surged, largely because of new construction, Shea said he’s not sure the price bumps will be sustained.
“Let’s fast-forward three to five years,” he said. “Anyone who is a real estate speculator knows that a new development starts off having very expensive housing.”
The real test will be when the homes are resold in three to five years. “I think values will drop a little, but nothing extreme,” Shea said.
Even if values do drop, the positive impact the building spurt has had on the Mountain Shadows neighborhood will likely mean houses there will still be more valuable than they were before the fire.
“People don’t care if there are some missing trees,” Shea said. “They still have a chance to look at some different terrain. It might be charred and burned, but it’s still different. It’s not the plains.”
The Westside has always been popular, Weissman said. And the fire hasn’t changed that.
“It’s a dynamic location, close to biking and hiking,” he said.
It has long possessed some of the priciest real estate in town, Patterson said: “It’s kind of like beachfront property. Do you want to look at the ocean or be able to go out your back door and swim in it?”
Living on the Westside gives homeowners a greater connection with nature, he said. They’re closer to the activities they want to participate in. They’re not just looking at the mountains; they’re living in them.
Real estate inventory is low throughout Colorado Springs, which has caused prices to rise and properties to sell quickly everywhere.
So it’s hard to say exactly how Westside real estate could have been impacted if the market were still slow, Patterson said.
“I think everyone will react differently to it,” he said. “I think we’re all looking at vegetation in a slightly different way than we used to.”
But overall, the Westside neighborhoods from Mountain Shadows to Cedar Heights, Broadmoor Bluffs and others, haven’t lost their allure for buyers who want to be closer to nature.
“It hasn’t come up with my buyers,” Weissman said. “We’re not seeing (fire risk) as a deterrent. They haven’t skipped a beat.”