AZTEC – Born and raised in Durango, Angela Romero and her husband decided to venture into the world of homeownership when they learned the condo they leased was going to be sold.
Yet, when Romero and her family finally decided on the perfect home – a three-bedroom, three-bath house with a spacious yard, including a garden and a fruit tree – it was not in Durango but in the town of Aztec, about a 40-minute drive south and across the New Mexico border.
“The price was out of this world,” she said. “It’s at least half of what we would find in Durango.”
Romero’s real estate agent, Stacy McConnell, said there is a growing trend of Durangoans being chased out of town by of rising housing costs and choosing to move to communities like Aztec and Farmington.
McConnell, who holds a license in Colorado and New Mexico, said she first noticed the trend in 2003, but it has been steadily increasing in the past three years. For example, McConnell said she sold eight houses to people moving from Durango to Aztec and one house to someone moving from Durango to Farmington in 2019.
McConnell, who also made the move from Durango to Aztec, said the affordable housing prices are the primary draw for many of her clients looking to move to Aztec, with the added benefit of living in a close-knit community. In October of last year, she sold a fixer-upper house in Durango for $450,000, but in Aztec, she said a similar house would sell for around $150,000.
“It’s quite the difference,” she said.
McConnell’s experience is not an anomaly. Durango’s median home value in 2019 was about $463,000, an increase of 3.4% over the past year, while the median home value in Aztec was about $174,000, according to Zillow.com, a real estate website. But the median home value in the town of under 7,000 saw an increase of 2.6% over last year with an estimated increase of 1.9% this year, according to Zillow.
While half of the eight houses McConnell sold in 2019 were to families, she said she’s also seen an increase in the number of Durango retirees looking to relocate farther south.
Liz Tafoya, a real estate agent based in San Juan County, N.M., since 1992, also said a number of her clients have been retirees.
“They like the affordability and the weather,” she said. “They can sell their house (in Durango), come and buy over here with extra cash after.”
For many of her retiree clients, Tafoya said, the San Juan River and year-round fly-fishing are other popular reasons to relocate to Aztec.
While Aztec is the primary location for people relocating from Durango, a few move to Farmington and Flora Vista, farther south of Aztec, Tafoya said.
Farmington – a longer commute for Durangoans than Aztec – has the added benefit of even cheaper housing prices. The median price of homes in Farmington currently listed on the real estate site Zillow is $199,900.
“It’s a tourist town,” Tafoya said of Durango, noting people have to pay higher prices because of it.
Tafoya also said, in addition to more affordable homes and acreage, her clients also appreciate that there’s greater availability of homes in communities like Aztec and Farmington and cheaper taxes than Durango.
“Our market hasn’t been super crazy either, it’s been pretty stable,” she said.
Yet, the increase in Durangoans moving to Aztec and Farmington does not necessarily mean an equivalent investment in those communities. Most of McConnell and Tafoya’s clients who have relocated to Aztec maintain their job and the majority of their social life in Durango.
“Most of the people who I have sold to work in Durango and the surrounding area so their lives are still pretty much there,” McConnell said. “Mainly, the prices are what brings people in.”
For Romero and her family, the transition to life in Aztec from their previous home in Forest Lakes has been relatively seamless. Romero, a nurse in Ignacio, said the 40-minute commute to work has not been too bad, but she acknowledged the mild winter this year has certainly helped.
Her kids, a 12-year-old, 7-year-old and 4-year-old, have enjoyed the transition, too.
“They really like having a bigger yard,” she said. “They meet so many people from different cultures.”
While more affordable housing prices and lower taxes originally drew her family to town, Romero said, “Aztec has been super welcoming.”