It takes Coulson Rich about 30 minutes a day to drive to his job as a teacher in Lander — if it’s a clear day, that is.
On a bad weather day, his commute from Riverton can take much longer.
The two communities may be just 24 miles apart, but there’s a world of difference between their real estate prices, and that pushed Coulson and his wife, Lori, out of Lander and into Riverton when Coulson accepted a Lander teaching position last March.
“We were looking online for homes about a week,” Coulson recalled. “We came up to visit, and I think we looked at two homes. One was under contract three days after it showed up and about a day after we looked at it, and the other — everything else was out of our price range.”
The one fixer-upper they looked at in Lander needed a lot more work than the couple was comfortable with, particularly for the list price. So, they started looking in Riverton instead.
There, they found three times as many opportunities within their price range. Also, instead of facing a seller’s market, they found a buyer’s market.
“Our experience in Riverton, we looked at a home online and we contacted a Realtor up there to go look at the home,” Coulson said. “And the morning we went to look at it, our Realtor mentioned that the owner had just dropped the price.”
The Coulsons had been pretty comfortable with the price before it dropped. After their experience in Lander, they decided they probably weren’t going to find a better option.
“It wasn’t a desperation move,” Coulson said. “We were happy with the price and the property.”
But it also wasn’t their ideal. The two had hoped, and still do hope, to get to Lander eventually so that Coulson is closer to work and not trying to commute in winter.
The Coulsons are not the only essential workers making this decision about where to live while working in Lander. Coulson commutes with two other teachers who also live in Riverton and work in Lander.
Lander Has Long Been Pricier
Despite their proximity, Lander has always had a pricier real estate market for as long as Riverton Real Estate Broker Skye Coleman-Weisz can remember. He is the owner of RE/MAX in Riverton.
“Lander has always been about $100,000 more expensive than Riverton,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “They spiked higher during COVID than Riverton did. (Riverton) went up about $60,000, and (Lander) went up about $100,000.”
Realtor.com, meanwhile, shows a $40,000 price differential now between Lander and Riverton, with medians in Lander at $355,000 and medians in Riverton at $315,000.
Wyoming is a nondisclosure state, which makes it hard to understand true price differentials in real estate markets without talking to the Realtors and the homebuyers who live and work in the area.
Lander also has more top end sales, too, Coleman-Weisz told Cowboy State Daily. “I mean, it’s very rare to have a sale in Riverton (reach) $800,000 to a million bucks. Lander will have, you know, in the million-plus, gosh, one to four of those a year.”
Outside Money Driving Trend
Money from outside states is part of what is driving prices higher in Lander, Coleman-Weisz said.
“Like our local buyers, our economy base is basically the same,” he said. “I mean your jobs are going to pay almost the exact same. But you’ve got out-of-area buyers going into Lander more readily than Riverton, paying more money.”
Coleman-Weisz believes it’s largely perception — perhaps some of it unfair — that’s causing so many out-of-staters to choose Lander over Riverton.
“You know, people read an online article about how great Lander is, and then they may look at crime statistics and say, well Riverton has higher crime,” he said. “But that’s just because Riverton’s ZIP code incorporates so much more area than Lander’s.”
People actually living in Riverton don’t necessarily see any more crime than Lander, Coleman-Weisz said.
“It’s just the Google crime stat,” he said. “Both communities, I don’t think anybody really locks their doors very often.”
Coleman-Weisz doesn’t believe Lander’s recreational opportunities, like its world-class climbing, are contributing much to the price differential. But others have cited it as a contributing factor.
In addition to great climbing opportunities, Lander is near the base of the Wind River Mountains, which has all kinds of outdoor recreation.
Coulson can see those mountains from where he lives, and lamented the fact a little bit that it takes him an hour to get to them from Riverton.
“You also have a little more natural aesthetic to (Lander),” Coulson told Cowboy State Daily. “And so, I know that especially during the pandemic, I’ve heard a lot of people in Lander say, you know, people come from out of state, and they pay over the asking price just because of the aesthetic.”
Coulson has also heard a lot of people cite outdoor recreational opportunities as one reason prices are higher in Lander.
Lander Not Out Of Reach Yet?
Coulson and his wife, Lori, haven’t given up on owning a home in Lander at some point.
“We’d probably eventually like to move closer,” he said. “Something that’s tough to put a number on is the amount of time I spend — about an hour, maybe an hour and 15 minutes — commuting each day.”
Assigning a minimum wage value to that time might make it seem that time isn’t worth all that much.
But that’s not how it feels to Coulson day in, day out.
“I don’t think that is the most accurate way to gauge it,” he said. “So, we are looking long-term at trying to get into the neighboring rural area or town.”
Meanwhile, Riverton has announced that it’s building a new regional hospital, which Coulson suggested could change some of the market dynamic in its favor.
“That might help us sell our house down the road,” he said. “That’s been brought up in conversation.”
Coulson isn’t concerned at this point that Lander homes will become completely out of reach, like they have for Jackson Hole workers.
But Coleman-Weisz isn’t so sure.
“Riverton gets a lot of people who work in Lander living in Riverton because of the price inequality,” he said. “I could see Lander in a few years becoming much more of a potential second-home, vacation-type area, where I think most people who end up living and working here will have to live in Riverton, if the trends keep continuing.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.