Living in the Tahoe Basin, the wilderness begins in many of our backyards. While many people find comfort and ease being in a city surrounded by people, there are a few who find the natural mystery of the wild to feel like home.
In Tahoe, nature can be explored on a daily basis whether it’s an epic backcountry tour or a walk through the trees. For certain people, nature resonates deep in the soul intertwining beauty, history and knowledge.
One Tahoe local who has discovered her connection to the wilderness is Carolyn Highland. Highland is an author and 4th grade teacher at the outdoor school, Tahoe Expedition Academy in Truckee.
She just published her book, Out Here: Wisdom of the Wilderness, which is a collection of essays about the physical and metaphorical lessons learned and experiences taught by Mother Nature herself.
Highland has published over 50 essays in print and online over the last 20 years, most have a direct correlation to her experiences in the wilderness.
While Highland grew up in Maine, she has spent her life slowly moving west. Before moving to the area, she received her BA in creative nonfiction writing from Northwestern University in 2012. While she has been writing for years, Out Here: Wisdom of the Wilderness, takes readers on a journey through the human experience where greater truths are revealed by outdoors.
One of Highland’s first experiences that inspired her admiration for the outdoors was when she was a young girl living in Massachusetts. The snow was falling outside in the middle of the night.
Spontaneously, her father broke out the snowgear, snowshoes and they took to the outdoors. Highland says that she remembers how magical that moment felt and she was truly in awe. “The memory still sticks with me so many years later,” said Highland. She uses this experience as a focal point in her teachings.
The book delves into the importance and intrinsic connection we as humans have to the earth and wilderness. “So much of the problems we are seeing in society is from the disconnect,” she said.
Highland says that abusing resources and destruction of important places comes from not getting to know nature. “You protect what you love and you can’t protect something that you don’t know,” she said.
Highland says that not only is nature therapeutic and calming, but can put people in better touch with themselves.
In Wisdom of the Wilderness, Highland shares metaphors that help make sense of different challenges we face in life exposing expectations and reality.
She explains how an experience that may not be the most comfortable or easy could turn out being more rewarding.
In one part of the book, Highland is trying to decide if she should sleep in her tent or under the stars. While she might be more comfortable in her tent, she won’t get to experience sleeping next to her friends under a big starry night sky. The book explores pushing yourself incrementally, but Highland says to find your limit in the process.
“The more we spend outside, the more we understand ourselves,” she said.
Through her adventures, she explains what may seem as going wrong, may actually be creating opportunity for growth or something even more enjoyable. “Be aware in those situations when things go wrong or unexpected because it can be a learning experience,” said Highland. Highland’s book shows how nature is truly humbling and in the backcountry; humans are not in charge. In those moments the book inspires people to think about the situation, choices, acceptance and reaction.
The messages Highland shares in her book are universal, timeless lessons that are relevant not just for the outdoor community, but to all humanity. “As a writer, my purpose is to have readers connect to my writing,” she said.
One of the most important points she wants people to take away from her book is to get inspired to connect with the outdoors.
“Ideally I want people to be inspired to form a relationship with the outdoors, whatever it looks like,” she said. Highland says that living in Tahoe is an incredible basecamp to exploring the outdoors.
“What I love about Tahoe is being able to explore my immediate surroundings. It feels like a dream,” she said. “I am stunned by the diversity of landscape in California.”
Highland’s writing has also been featured in course readers through the National Outdoor Leadership School, NatureBridge, the Prescott College Outdoor Program, and Second Nature Wilderness Program.
When Carolyn isn’t writing away she can be found in nature ski touring, trail running, mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, camping or swimming.
This past year has been a curveball for real estate in the Lake Tahoe Basin. While prices were already steadily increasing, the pandemic and mass exodus from heavily populated areas that followed, blew up the housing market.
Online real estate platforms show historically low inventory along with the skyrocketing prices all around the lake.
Real estate brokers both agree that low inventory and rising prices will continue for the foreseeable future.
California has seen six years of double digit growth in sales according to Deb Howard, broker and owner of Deb Howard & Co.
According to Howard, on the South Shore there are currently 51 residential listings with a median home price of $1,275,000. There are 99 pending sales with a median price of $750,000 with the overall median home price at $673,000.
California Association of Realtors updated their 2021 forecast to show an increase of home sales by 11% and 8% increase in home appreciation.
According to Howard, at this time last year, the median home price was $435,000. This shows a current market upswing of 54% and sales have doubled since this time last year for the same period.
However, more narrowly in the basin, similar trends are occurring.
“Much of our current markets in both California and Nevada have been shaped by the lack of inventory, Bay Area business models and changes in the response to the pandemic,” Howard said.
Howard refers to the shift of those from out-of-town coming to the basin last year as the “pandemic migration.”
“Impacts of the pandemic and exacerbated by this migration is the absorption of what was already a limited supply of inventory and fueled a huge demand for our every real-estate product, be it cabins to lakefront and everything in between,” Howard said.
With new business models such as remote work, along with the ability to live in a desirable location, the pandemic exacerbated an already limited inventory and competition by creating a huge demand for the real estate at Lake Tahoe whether it was a small cabin or lakefront property.
The current absorption rate is below 1% and continues to trend lower, which simply put, means there are more people wanting to buy homes than are available leading to an absolute sellers market.
According to Howard, from last year alone there was a 54% increase in home prices, doubling of sales and numbers continue to steadily increase.
“We will continue to see high demand with very limited supply,” she said in regards to her spring forecast.
Howard believes those who bought homes in the basin during the “pandemic migration” are here to stay even if schools open and vaccines are more available. She predicts that new buyers will at least be here for the 5-7 year life-cycle of owning a home.
“Those that went through the season’s highs and lows mostly likely will be here to stay,” she said.
Sabrina Belleci, broker and owner of ReMax North Lake Tahoe, says that even if homeowners decide to return after schools open, she forecasts they will keep their homes as second homes.
She said that a majority of people buying homes in the last year were from out of the area but familiar with the basin whether it was for vacation or a second home. Many with a second home made it their primary residence.
However, those who have been in the area for a while are seeing enormous equity in their homes, inspiring them to continue to sell.
As homeowners see their property value skyrocket, realtors forecast they will continue to sell and that there will be an “uptick” especially post-pandemic.
“There is a pent up demand for getting out and enjoying life again,” said Howard.
Howard also predicts that after the pandemic people will be looking for a change and the more widespread availability of the vaccine will bring more feeling of safety to do so which could potentially free up inventory in the future as communities become more vaccinated.
“This will free up a bit of inventory and hopefully we will see a more balanced marketplace for our residents, but also local housing, which is problematic as it relates to the spiraling home prices,” said Howard.
Belleci says that she sees real estate in the basin continuing on the same trajectory with inventory opening up “a little” in the spring, but she does not see the demand dropping unless there are unforeseen economic repercussions.
Belleci says that while competition from buyers is still high, she has been seeing it dropping a bit in the recent months. Even as competition begins to minimize, Belleci says that people are still getting discouraged with the unbalanced market, but there is hope.
Belleci says that buyers still need to expect to pay over and above to get a seller to accept and buyers will still need to be prepared to make several offers before being accepted.
Howard says that there is hope due to the low interest rates, but the best option for buyers who don’t have an enormous offer, should consider properties like duplexes or mother-in-law units that have the potential to be rented out for additional income to help make payments.
“We have left our locals behind,” said Howard.
Belleci and Howard both say there is work being done for more affordable housing in the basin.
“There is plenty of housing in the basin, they are just sitting empty,” said Belleci. “Over 70% are sitting empty.” Many of the empty houses are secondary houses or short term rentals.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, along with other partners, is working on more affordable housing, housing options and incentives. In January, their Governing board approved a 248-unit workforce housing project in South Lake Tahoe south of the “Y” on surplus land which was donated by the California Tahoe Conservancy. Last year, the TRPA created the Tahoe Living housing working group in efforts to bring housing advocates, the public and others together to discuss policy changes for more affordable housing possible around the area.
Due to Measure T, many vacation rental property permits will be expiring in South Lake Tahoe, which could potentially open more inventory, but realtors are waiting to see what the impacts will be.