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Landlords raise prices, get choosy as housing dearth deepens

May 12, 2015

New Castle resident Cynthia Wheeler and her family.
Credit Joleen Cohen

Finding decent housing in Aspen and parts of the Roaring Fork Valley has always been difficult. But the increasing shortage in rentals, especially in the Mid-Valley, is having a significant impact on residents. In the first in our series about housing in the Valley, Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher has this story.

I’m in a house in the Mid-Valley overlooking a manicured golf course. It’s between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, and my host is very friendly. Her name is Naomi and her son is watching TV in the background-- but I can’t tell you much else. She’s hesitant to share more personal details because she wants to talk about her rental situation, and she doesn’t want to make anyone mad.

"We're just looking for another place to live, cause we just don't want to pay the extra money...in [the] rental,” explains Naomi, referring to the monthly rent she and her husband are paying for their home. When the landlord got in touch about renewing their lease, there was big increase. “When he offered it was $600 more, on top of what we’re paying,” laughs Naomi. That’s on top of the more than $2000 they’re already paying each month.

“Not that we don’t feel that it’s not worth it,” she says as she looks around the house, which is newer and has similarly updated appliances. “It’s just putting more than half your income into housing is just kind of ridiculous. So we’re just opting to... find something [more] affordable.”

 

Matt Harrington, of Sotheby's International Realty in Basalt.
Credit Elise Thatcher

Naomi and her family are caught in the middle of the increasing housing shortage in the Roaring Fork Valley, which is especially tight in the Carbondale area. We’ll get to why there’s fewer options in a minute. First, landlords are capitalizing on having the upper hand, raising rents by hundreds of dollars a month. They’re also getting more picky about tenants.

“Now when you go look at a place you have to fill out background check information, credit report check information,” observes Cynthia Wheeler, who lives in New Castle with her family. She started the Roaring Fork Rentals and Roommates Facebook page. “You have to give multiple, multiple references, if you have a pet they want pet references, they want shot records for your pet. I mean it’s insane the amount of things that they want."

Wheeler herself is looking for a new place for next year, and she’s actually pretty upbeat about the rental market. But she’s really noticed a drop in places that take a furry friend.

“I feel that [renters] get really comfortable, and their family starts growing, and the ideal family always includes a pet somehow, and more and more people that own homes that rent are not wanting to put up with the damages that pets cause.”

There’s more unsettling examples of choosy landlords, including single parents getting shut out. Several participants on Wheeler’s page say they’ve had a tough time finding a place for a couple, even with a great track record.

“I know of a young lady whose rent went up a $100 a month, over here in Arbor Park,” says Matt Harrington. He handles real estate and property management at Sotheby’s in Basalt. “She called me, said Matt, I’m leaving, and I have a dog. And I said, don’t leave. Stay where you are. I think she was paying $2300, it went up to $2400 a month. Will she heed my advice? I don’t know. I wish her well.”

 

Harrington and other rental matchmakers confirm prices are going up because landlords want to take advantage of the market. “I’m sorry to say yeah, to an extent,” he winces. ”Something we were renting for last year for $1500 [and] this year will be $1800 or $1900.”

If the would-be tenants seem like a perfect match, Harrington will advocate for dropping the price. But he points out many homeowners are only now breaking even, after paying more in their mortgage payments than they could charge for rent during the recession.

As for why there’s fewer rentals out there, even in the last year, Harrington has a loooooong list of reasons. “Our local economy is booming: sales in residential and commercial, which is creating jobs,” he explains. “So we’re seeing a lot of people from coming out of the area, relocating here for work opportunity.” With prices increasing, people with good rentals are staying put, so there’s less turnover.

Shari Nova also handles property management and real estate. She’s at the Coldwell Banker Mason Morse office in Carbondale, and has noticed how Carbondale has developed a reputation for being a outdoorsy, cool place, recently highlight by Men’s Health. (Glenwood Springs is in the running now for Outside Magazine’s top towns, too.) Nova says she’s been running out of rentals in Carbondale.

Sheri Nova is property manager at Coldwell Banker Mason Morris in Carbondale.
Credit Coldwell Banker Mason Morris

“I’ve had 2 or 3 owners in the last year either move back, or have one of their family members move into one of their smaller places,” says Nova. Then there’s more people relocating from out of state-- not to mention the trickle-down effect from rising home prices.  “At the end of last year, a lot of my owners, that were sort of my accidental landlords, started putting their places on the market and finally being able to cash out and move on.” It’s possible some of the Airbnb postings in the Valley… as part of the home sharing service... are also former rentals.

One of the would-be renters posting on the Rentals and Roommates Facebook page is Holly Goscha. She lives in Tennessee and is searching hard for a place for her family. “My husband got a job with the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs. We are thrilled, we can’t wait to come.” Goscha’s hubby starts mid-June, so it's coming down to the wire.

Holly Goscha and her family are planning to relocate from Tennessee to the Glenwood Springs area.
Credit Holly Goscha

“We have three young children, and also two dogs and a cat.  So, it’s just been really hard... every time a home comes up for rent, it seems like it’s gone, and usually they won’t ever allow animals anyway.”

Like Cynthia Wheeler, Goscha is trying to stay upbeat. She appreciates how many people in the Valley, including folks at the Roaring Fork School District, have tried to drum up leads. But Goscha and her husband have worried about ending up living in a tent all summer. Last week Goscha thought she had finally lined up a rental, but then it fell through.

“More people are coming now for jobs, which is kind of sad because they don’t really realize probably what it’s really like here,” says Noami, at her Mid-Valley house. She’s decided her family will probably have to move to New Castle. With rising rental prices, they’re thinking about eventually buying a place.

Editor’s note: Our series continues next week, when we’ll take a look at what local governments are doing to address the Valley-wide rental housing crisis. If you have a housing experience you'd like to share, please send your story to elise@aspenpublicradio.org.