Recent results remind us of the old days

When you are shopping for a home under $350,000, where do you look? Would you be happy with a 900 square foot 2/1 condo near downtown with one off-street parking place? How about new construction on the fringe of the metro Santa Fe area, with a small yard and a garage, with new appliances of a lower quality? What else is there? Maybe a fixer upper off of West Zia or the near Westside near St. Anne’s? Maybe a tract home in Tierra Contenta will be your ticket, with neighbors everywhere and a long commute to Meow Wolf or the Fiesta events?

Find me the great deals and values and watch while they will sell quickly. Whatever the new home volume is in this market, it still cannot keep up with demand for the lowest price ranges that homeowners are seeking. That drives the minimum prices up and builds a floor on the prices that indicate starter home ranges.

Improving market conditions are usually welcome, but why does Santa Fe not find success in dealing with its “affordable home” problem? For many years the answer has been for people to buy a double wide trailer on a foundation within 45 minutes of town. A lot without restrictions that allows you to do that in La Cienega, at least 20 minutes from downtown, costs over $100,000 and that’s without the home (manufactured or mobile).

In-fill is a popular concept, but within the last 3 years the city powers that be rejected certain in-fill projects because the neighbors made too much noise, or had a close connection to those decision makers. If you drive around the southwestern parts of town, off of Airport, Agua Fria, Alameda and northwest of the bypass highway, there are plenty of tracts of vacant land. Those would not be in-fill really as they are still on the edge of the city. But will all of those parcels get developed into single family, town home and multi-family dwelling units in the next 10-12 years? YES and still we will be short of inventory, primarily in the lower end of the price ranges.

Do we have enough water for all these new homes that are going to be built around here? And they ARE going to be built by someone. When you can get $225 a foot retail for a new tract home, someone is going to build those. Does it matter that we are in a serious drought – AGAIN? Lack of snow melt means the rivers and streams are lower and/or intermittent while the general water table below our city keeps dropping. What can you do?

Maybe one little place to start, and it will take a large majority of property owners to participate to make a difference, is the immediate removal of the Siberian Elm trees everywhere. They are popularly called Chinese Elm trees too, but no matter. They are thick and they grow like weeds even in drought conditions. The only redeeming value they offer is a little shade over a patio or parking place here and there. More often they just grow like crazy anywhere they can get a foothold, such as a fenceline or a wall. I recall a home right on St. Francis that had so many volunteer elm trees growing hard against the foundation, on all 4 sides of the home, that there was no economic value in trying to remove them. Tearing down the home, which was a complete mess anyway, was the logical thing to do. Bring in a bulldozer, and so they did.

I am not an expert on botany or growing things, but I am willing to bet: if 80% of all the Siberian Elms in and around Santa Fe were removed, our water table would start to rebound and our obvious water shortage would be somewhat less of a crisis.

Tree huggers, including me, think of cutting down a tree as a heresy and a sin. It is so dry that seeing anything grow is inspirational, but please not the Siberian Elm. Besides sucking up all of the ground moisture, they invade plumbing pipes and buckle sidewalks and streets. And send their seeds far and wide to pile up like snow drifts. And the branches can break and fall without the need for a major wind gust. They are a non-native species that should be removed. If they cannot be removed, they should be controlled much more than they are being controlled now.

My proposal would be to allow each property owner to keep one mature tree per 10,000 square feet of land. And as the new ones come along, they must be removed before they can sink their water seeking roots deep into the ground. Make it a nanny state battle. The government is telling me I must cut down trees on my property? They can go to hell. At least the City and the County can start on their parcels. Maybe some phase-in time frame makes sense, like 10 years to get into compliance. You tell me how else you can put a stop to the dropping water table and keep us from having to drink from our cisterns (if it ever does rain).

Do you want me to gather some expert opinions about these matters? Why is nobody making noise about this (well maybe someone is)? Why is this the elephant in the room that we are all ignoring? Thanks for reading and hope you can find your dream home soon. I want you to be a happy real estate owner.

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