Kimberly Wilson served for 20 years in the Air Force before she decided to become an elementary school teacher.
Wilson and her husband James both hail from smaller towns in Oklahoma, but have lived in Colorado for the past three decades. They currently reside near Colorado Springs, but have always yearned to live closer to the mountains.
“I applied for some jobs. And I got called down there — I was so excited! — and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re gonna finally make it happen. I get there, I do my interview, and then we start looking for homes,” Wilson said.
After accepting an offer to teach elementary students in Montrose, Wilson and her husband soon found out that the real estate market is out of control.
“People are going crazy: they’re paying way over asking prices,” Wilson said. “Then, if you’re lucky to even get to bid on a house. Everybody’s paying way over. It’s a war right now out there and it’s really disheartening.”
The frenzied real estate market causing a shortage of affordable homes in Montrose is happening at the same time as the district is struggling to fill open positions for teachers.
Michelle Pottorff, the director of human resources for Montrose County School District, said that the district is facing the twofold challenge of a rapid uptick in people leaving the profession and attracting new teachers to the area.
If the district does find teachers, lots of them are having a really hard time finding a place to live, Pottorff said.
As the food service and hospitality industries have been scrambling to hire workers in recent months, some school districts have been struggling to hire enough qualified teachers for the past few years. A study from the Center for American Progress found that enrollment in teacher training programs dropped by over one-third between 2010 and 2018.
Then, the pandemic hit. Pottorff said that an unparalleled amount of teachers left the profession last year because of COVID-related stresses.
Longtime teachers aren’t the only ones retiring, though. Some younger teachers have been leaving the industry for other, better-paying jobs in real estate or insurance.
To make sure that teachers new to the area find adequate places to live, the district has been providing logistical help, from chasing down teachers moving away to see if new teachers could move in, to referring families with local real estate agents.
Local real estate agent Jessamy Pressler has been working with teachers to find homes for the past few years. Pressler said that the housing challenges that teachers face are also affecting people working in other industries.
“It’s super challenging at the current moment not just for teachers, but for pretty much the entire working class in Montrose: they’re getting priced out of the home market as it is,” Pressler said. “And, there’s an inventory shortage, so there’s just not enough housing for everybody that wants to buy at the moment.”
In June 2021, only 1.5 months’ supply of inventory was on the Montrose County market, compared to 4.2 months in June 2020.
The people pricing locals out of the real estate market, Pressler said, are transplants from expensive urban markets on the Front Range or out of state.
As the pandemic accelerated the prevalence of working from home, high-income white collar workers from expensive metropolitan areas have moved to far-flung towns, including Montrose.
“As long as they can have good internet and they can still keep their good paying jobs from the city, they can afford the higher prices because their pay scale is different from local people here,” Pressler said. “I think that’s why it’s such a challenge for educators in particular because they’re competing with wages outside of Montrose.”
Local wages are not increasing enough for current residents to compete with the urban expats, who tend to afford placing cash offers over asking price. The median household income in Montrose County in 2019 was just over $50,000 according to the US Census, while the median income in Denver was north of $75,000.
Kimberly Wilson and her husband searched for a house in Montrose in March and June. But with the start of the school year fast approaching, Wilson felt like there wasn’t enough time to sell their house near Colorado Springs and finish moving before the start of the school year, so she made the difficult decision to rescind the acceptance of her offer to teach elementary school in Montrose this fall.
“I was saddened majorly because that was my dream to be in a small town and to get to teach kids — they are so much fun! — and it’s just not going to happen,” Wilson said.
As soon as they sell their house in Colorado Springs, Wilson and her husband are planning to move back to Oklahoma, where they will be far from the mountains but real estate prices are not as crazy.
On the other hand, some newly hired Montrose teachers have successfully hunted for a house in the area.
Lyle Carbutt will be teaching biology at Montrose High School this fall and his wife, Nina, will be teaching sixth-grade math. Two of their children will also be enrolling at Montrose High School.
The family had been living in Monte Vista, but they wanted a change of pace. They worked with Pressler to find a new abode for their family.
Lyle and Nina Carbutt first started looking in Montrose, but found that the market was too pricey for what they were looking for. They shifted their search to Delta, where prices have been increasing but not as dramatically as in Montrose.
“It wasn’t their first choice, but it was an option to give them what they wanted — their dollar could stretch a little bit further there, and they didn’t mind the drive,” Pressler said.
After seeing a handful of houses that came off the market too quickly for them to place an offer, they placed a bid on a house they only saw through a virtual showing. The family finally saw the house in-person the day before closing.
“It would have been so heartbreaking for us if we hadn’t found a place to live,” Nina Carbutt said.
Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.