Residential construction is underway in Wellington just northeast of the Anheuser Busch plant, April 2017. Joel Blocker for BizWest

Wellington grows up: Larimer County town sees home prices soar as housing stock upgrades

WELLINGTON — Seventeen years ago, when Kareen Kinzli Larsen started selling real estate with the Kinzli Team at Re/Max Alliance in Wellington, the town was at the start of its first major spurt of housing growth. That trend has continued, with a mid-2000s interruption, and it has Wellington on the cusp of what could be its next big explosion.

Larsen’s family has been selling real estate in Wellington since the 1980s. She moved back there in 1999, became a certified Realtor and joined the business. In those days, Wellington was just building its first higher-density residential neighborhood. It quickly became the fastest-selling neighborhood in Larimer County, Larsen said.

“You get significantly more for your money in Wellington than you do in Fort Collins,” she said, noting what was — and still is — one of the town’s greatest attractions.

For much of its last decade-plus of housing growth, Wellington has been a “bedroom community” for Fort Collins, a place for people who work there but can’t afford or don’t want to pay its high housing rates.

Wellington, Larsen said, was well-suited to first-time homebuyers, retirees and anyone else looking for entry-level housing. That’s not so much the case anymore. It’s still dramatically cheaper than Fort Collins — Wellington has a median home price of $311,200 (according to the Fort Collins Board of Realtors) and Fort Collins’ is $385,440 — but a new type of home is emerging in Wellington.

Just six years ago, Wellington’s median home price was around $180,000, Larsen said. The 72 percent increase it’s seen over that time is partly because of the town’s changing home-buying needs and partly the residual effects of the late-2000s housing crisis.

Wellington had a very high foreclosure rate from 2007 to 2012, and it still has the third-highest foreclosure rate of any community in Larimer County at one of every 1,710 housing units, according to data from RealtyTrac.com.

During the housing crisis, Wellington was left with numerous half-finished neighborhoods and housing developments, some with infrastructure, some without. Builders swooped in to buy lots on the cheap during the ensuing auctions — Larsen said that she and her husband even bought a pair for $15,000 each.

“We’re running out of lots to build houses on,” she said.

Those “paper lots” are a large reason why Wellington saw a reduction in building permits in 2016 compared with 2015; the focus is on completing those, not building new neighborhoods. There’s only one development, called Sage Meadows, that’s waiting to break ground in the town.

Larsen also said that Wellington’s median home price has increased so much because the town simply didn’t have houses worth more than $300,000 before. Up until the mid-2000s, she said, there was only one neighborhood in Wellington with prices that even touched $300,000, and now the town has several.

Those houses are meant to appeal to a class of homebuyer that Wellington wasn’t necessarily catering to before — those who moved to Wellington to escape Fort Collins’ prices and want to buy a second, bigger house in Wellington.

“There are buyers who look at prices compared to Fort Collins and buyers who establish in Wellington and are looking for an upgrade,” Larsen said. “Our options have changed.”

When asked why buyers would look for houses like that in Wellington as opposed to, say, Loveland, with a $333,750 median home price that isn’t astronomically more expensive than Wellington’s, Larsen believed education was a big factor.

“We have the advantage of being in the Poudre School District while Loveland doesn’t,” Larsen said. “That’s very high-priority for buyers that we work with. It’s a way to get into the Poudre School District and still not pay Fort Collins prices.”

Whether it’s correlation or causation, this is coinciding with the start of some of the most serious commercial growth Wellington has yet seen. It started with Cameron Oil, which opened an oil and natural gas support services facility there in 2014. Since then, Larsen said, numerous light-industrial and commercial lots have started to fill up. Wellington has also seen lots of turnover in its main-street businesses, with old mainstays closing and new companies moving in. She declined to specify who or why, but Larsen also said that she’s heard from businesses in Fort Collins that are either looking to move to Wellington or open a branch there. That would be a boon to a town that has been historically underserved in terms of restaurants and commercial opportunities.

All of this is as it inches closer to 10,000 people, which Larsen called the “magic number” for when a town really starts to explode. Wellington had 6,289 people in the 2010 census and 6,725 as of 2013. It may hit 10,000 by the end of the decade.

“I think people see opportunity here,” Larsen said. “I think businesses are finally seeing at the new rooftops going in. I think Wellington is being noticed.”

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