I’m one of the growing numbers of fortunate people who are able to work from a home office and can live just about anywhere in the US. My only key work requirements are a good phone line, a solid internet connection and a major airport within driving distance (well, a quiet room and a pot of coffee are pretty important as well). After a lot of data gathering, analysis and pro-con list making, my wife and I have chosen to relocate from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Pueblo, Colorado. Our decision was biased by a variety of factors but I’ve been singing Pueblo’s praises for a few years now as a great place to invest in real estate and I’ve decided that living in the community is a way to put my money where my mouth is. Now that we’ve committed to the move, it seems to be a good time to make a written case for Pueblo. So, here goes.
Within Colorado and perhaps elsewhere, Pueblo has a somewhat unfavorable reputation due primarily to a relatively weak economy that has struggled since the decline of the steel industry in the 1980s. So while much of Colorado has boomed during the past 30 years Pueblo has lagged behind in terms of population/economic growth and in some ways has followed a path similar to cities in the Rust Belt. Although Pueblo still has a long way to go to regain economic vibrancy, I see significant progress and Pueblo currently presents, in my opinion, an unbelievable bargain.
So, why is Pueblo such a great deal? In short, Pueblo offers a nearly unbeatable blend of (1) low cost of living, (2) beautiful weather, (3) outdoor recreation, and (4) modern amenities.
Cost of Living
The cost of housing in Pueblo is unbelievably low. A nice house in a nice neighborhood can be purchased for under $200,000 and you can buy a nice older home in a decent neighborhood for under $100,000. If you’re handy you can buy a house that needs some work, nothing major just cosmetic updates, for under $50,000. I’m not joking. This past year I bought a 3 bedroom 1.5 bath 1300 sq ft house in a decent neighborhood near the Pueblo Community College for $22,900. Granted, the place was pretty trashed and I had to spend about $10,000 to fix it up. But, aside from a complete bathroom redo, it was mostly cosmetic updating. It still needs exterior paint, some landscaping and a facelift for the detached garage but I already have it rented to a nice family. If it remains occupied at the current rental rate I will recoup my investment within 4 years. Try that in Denver, Boulder or Colorado Springs or in any other city with a symphony, a university, mountain views and 300 days of sunshine per year.
Pueblo’s climate is delightful. At 38 degrees latitude, Pueblo is about halfway between sunny and dry Albuquerque, New Mexico and the cool and crisp Rocky Mountain environs of Cheyenne, Wyoming, both geographically and climatically. Summer temperatures can be toasty but thanks to the relatively high elevation (~4600 ft), summer evenings are almost always cool and comfortable. Winter can be cold and snowy on occasion but the snow typically melts the next day and you might be able to play golf in short sleeves 48 hours later. Pueblo is one of the sunniest places in the US, receiving more sunshine than San Diego and Honolulu. (Yes, you read that right! Don’t believe me? Check the National Climate Data Center). And, Pueblo summers are far more pleasant with cooler temperatures than you would find in comparably sunny cities like Phoenix or Tucson. Precipitation is light but you’ll see snow in the winter and thunderstorms in the summer. I love the fresh clean smell in the air after a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon. Pueblo also enjoys extraordinarily clean air and water. Try comparing Pueblo to Denver at this EPA website for air quality; or, look at Pueblo versus the US for air and water quality.
Just like any other city in Colorado, Pueblo is a relatively short drive away from world class skiing, mountain biking, hiking, climbing and a variety of other outdoor activities. The Lake Pueblo State Park offers water sports of all kinds and the Whitewater Park on the Arkansas River has become a great destination for kayaking enthusiasts. Thanks to bountiful sunshine you can enjoy many of these activities more days each year in Pueblo than in most other parts of Colorado. Same is true for golf, tennis, etc. There’s probably a lot more that I’m overlooking here but suffice it to say that Pueblo offers plenty for outdoor enthusiasts. A big step down from Boulder or Summit County to be sure but in those communities you’re paying probably 4+ times more for housing.
Okay, this is probably Pueblo’s weakest link and if you live in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs or outside of Colorado in a major city, this is where you’re most likely to find fault with Pueblo. So, this is really a value proposition rather than an argument that Pueblo is better than other metros. That said, Pueblo offers all the major cultural amenities that most people want nearby.
The Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center and the Pueblo Symphony provide a taste of traditional big city culture, the annual Colorado State Fair recruits headline performers, and a local arts scene seems to be emerging – see www.pueblopulp.com for well-written reviews on local happenings.
Pueblo is a great sports town. There are probably more die-hard Denver Broncos fans in Pueblo, on a per-capita basis, than in Denver. If you don’t believe me drive around and count the number of homes that prominently display their loyalty to the orange and blue. Have lunch at the Coors Tavern and check out the history of Pueblo sports plastered all over the walls and ceiling. Pueblo is home to the oldest high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi, the annual Bell Game between Centennial and Central would make even the hard core football fans in Odessa, Texas (of Friday Night Lights fame) jealous. CSU-Pueblo just completed an extremely successful D-2 season and I get the feeling that we’re seeing the beginning of a college football dynasty. Football is probably the most popular sport in town but there is something for basketball, baseball and hockey fans. If it’s not enough, drive 90 minutes to Denver for a full suite of professional sports tickets. Will you really go to that many more games if you live in Parker?
If you’re a connoisseur of good food, you will find plenty to like about Pueblo. Incredible New Mexico style green chili is the local favorite and can be found smothering burritos, enchiladas, eggs (huevos rancheros) and more. Italian restaurant options are equally good and there are loads of other Pueblo favorites to be discovered. Try a Pass Key Special, eat a “Slopper” at the Coors Tavern, have a Papa Louis at the Broadway Tavern, get a “Dutch Lunch” at Gus’ Place. You’re going to love eating in Pueblo.
Okay, the Pueblo naysayers are waiting for me to turn to public schools and crime. Isn’t Pueblo a dangerous place to live? Aren’t the schools some of the worst in the state? Not if you look closely. Pueblo does have one or two really bad areas. The toughest part of town is the Eastside, a great community with a lot of pride, but home to plenty of crime and low performing schools. What’s happening on the Eastside gets included in all the statistics for Pueblo as a whole and really brings down Pueblo’s profile when it comes to crime statistics and test scores. So, before you dismiss Pueblo, take a closer look at disaggregate school performance and crime statistics. Life in Belmont, Aberdeen, Mesa Junction, the Northside, Pueblo West and in many other neighborhoods is safe and family friendly. It’s true that Pueblo schools leave a lot to be desired but public schools are facing big problems just about everywhere I’ve lived as a parent (Eugene, Oregon and Ann Arbor, Michigan) and state budget cuts don’t appear to be ending anywhere or anytime soon.
We currently live in one of the top school districts in Michigan and the US with greatschools ratings of 10 for the high school, 10 for the middle school and 9 for our elementary school. Should be perfect, right? Not for us. We found our daughter in a class of 60 6th grade students with 2 teachers where the social stratification scene was already completely overwhelming any effort to focus on academics. Our son was being labeled as a problem child because he was too bored with hour after hour of sitting quietly and listening to teachers talk rather than allowing his natural curiosity to explore ideas and stretch boundaries. Gym was offered a whopping 2 times per week for 45 minutes and recess was scheduled once per day at 2pm. How is an active 2nd grade boy supposed to contain his energy when he has to wait until 2pm most days to run around? We solved the problem this year by sending our kids to a private Montessori school but at significant expense. Like most things, private schools are more affordable in Pueblo and we will likely take advantage of one of several good private school options because the wait lists for the high performing charter and magnet schools are probably too long. For high school, we are intrigued by the early college programs offered through Pueblo Community College. Educating our kids in today’s world will be a challenge wherever we live. Pueblo is no exception but it does offer many innovative options at a more affordable price than in most communities.
Another great thing about Pueblo is the ease of driving around town. Colorado Springs and Denver metro are pretty congested and it takes a long time to get from point A to point B. Once you arrive parking is usually a hassle. You can get just about anywhere in Pueblo in less than 10 minutes and convenient parking is nearly always available. It’s a beautiful thing. Life is too short to spend in traffic.
For people who sling mud at Pueblo, let them sling until they realize they’re paying 2-3 times extra for more traffic, worse weather and, typically, a neighborhood that resembles just about every other subdivision in the Western US built in the last 2 decades, devoid of personality and completely car-dependent. If you’ve seen the opening for Weeds (tv series on Showtime) to the tune Little Boxes then you know what I mean. I love Denver but most of the newer suburbs look like everywhere else and remind me of “Aggrestic”.
I predict that Pueblo will be “discovered” in the next 10-20 years, especially as boomers retire with insufficient funding, parents refuse to pay $50k per year to send their kids to college and more and more people telecommute from home offices and realize they can live just about anywhere. I could certainly be dead wrong on this, and I’ve been wrong about many things, but I’ve decided to make a bet on Pueblo’s future and, believe me, I feel much better about investing in Pueblo than I do about investing in the stock market.
So, if you’re in position to relocate and you’d like to find a place with low housing costs, good weather and a pleasant lifestyle, take a close look at Pueblo – the sunshine capital of Colorado.
Full disclosure: I grew up in Pueblo and graduated from Centennial High School. I left for college and career living in California, Europe, Oregon and Michigan along the way. I have family and friends living in Pueblo and I began investing in real estate in Pueblo in 2010. All of these factors certainly bias my decision and make Pueblo a more attractive home for my family. But, I don’t think this biased viewpoint changes the livability equation. Why move all the way to Panama? Pueblo doesn’t cost much more and the Denver airport is less than 2 hours away.