GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Finding a home or apartment to rent in the Roaring Fork Valley is getting more difficult, according to local leasing agents and the Colorado Division of Housing.
Traditionally, demand for rentals peaks in the spring and begins to taper off in the fall. But Jeff Chapman, a broker with Fleisher Land and Homes in Carbondale, said that's not the case this year.
"Overall, the demand has been increasing throughout the summer, and we don't see any let-up anytime soon," Chapman said. "I have a waiting list of 20 people that I can't find rentals for right now. It's just tight."
Local real estate broker Paula Derevensky, with Coldwell Banker Mason Morse in Glenwood Springs, works with clients from Basalt to Silt. She said she's seeing the same thing.
"The valley's very tight, Glenwood's very tight. It has been very busy for me this year," she said.
Statewide, vacancy rates are falling.
According to the Colorado Division of Housing's survey of multifamily rentals, the average vacancy rate across the state has fallen steadily from 6.6 percent in March 2010 to 5.1 percent this March.
While the March vacancy rate for Glenwood Springs was 10.8 percent, Colorado Division of Housing spokesman Ryan McMaken said that number may be artificially high.
"The overall trend is toward low numbers. It was likely a temporary blip," McMaken said. Including single-family homes in the survey would also make a difference. "If you did an overall vacancy rate, it would probably be lower."
"There aren't a lot of singly family homes on the market right now, and when there are, they get snapped up quickly," Derevensky said.
She points to one factor that's keeping those homes off the market.
"We've had a lot of foreclosures. Houses have been emptied and they're not getting filled until they get sold," she said.
Garfield County had the second highest foreclosure rate in the state at the end of 2011, with 114 foreclosure sales in the fourth quarter. Between 2010 and 2011, foreclosure filings went up 1.5 percent in Garfield County.
Chapman also points to the economic downturn as a factor in the high demand for rentals.
"There's a lot of people unable to buy," Chapman said. "People are not able to stay in their homes and not able to buy new homes."
McMaken thinks falling vacancy rates are tied to something more positive. He said more people are staying here to start families after high school and college, instead of leaving.
"People are staying here in Colorado. Our unemployment rate is competitive with other states, so people aren't fleeing," said McMaken. Combined with a lack of new construction, that population growth leads to a greater demand for existing housing and therefore, McMaken said, a lower vacancy rate.
One thing is certain. Higher demand means higher rent.
In the past five years, the average rent in Glenwood Springs has increased by more than $100 a month, from $736 in the first quarter of 2007 to $849 in the first quarter of 2012. Chapman mentioned a property that rented for $1,700 a month for all of last year that became available recently. "I put it up to $1,900 a month and had 30 calls on it in two days," he said.
The city of Glenwood Springs recognizes the same issue. In the city's 2010 Strategic Housing Plan, the Community Development Department reported that since 2010, the number of jobs in Glenwood Springs had increased twice as fast as the number of housing units.
A year later, in the Glenwood Springs Comprehensive Plan, the department reported that high demand has again made local rents too expensive for local workers.
"Employees who provide essential community functions in general cannot live in Glenwood Springs due to the high cost of housing," the department wrote. "To create a more sustainable community, it is necessary to increase the supply of housing relative to employment."
Until that goal is met, Chapman has advice for people looking for a home in the competitive Roaring Fork Valley rental market.
"Just be patient and plan ahead," he said. "I have a lot of people who call me up and say, 'I have to move in two weeks.' Try to plan two to three months in advance, and check all the resources - Craigslist, newspaper ads, everything."