Housing Helps assistance aids Breckenridge business owner with buying a home, planting roots in community

Sarah Olson and Andy Waugh stand outside of their new home on the morning of Friday, July 15, 2022. The Olsons purchased their home with the assistance of Summit County government program Housing Helps, which incentivizes locals to buy houses with an added deed restriction paid for by the county up to 15% of the property's market value.
Tripp Fay/Summit Daily News archive

Sarah Olson has lived in the county for eight years. For many of those years, in her mind, there was never a possibility that she could ever buy a home in Summit County. 

This spring, she was proven wrong. Now, boxes scatter the Dillon Valley condo she bought with her husband, Andy Waugh, in May.

‘Should we just leave?

Olson and Waugh moved away from Wisconsin in 2014 with hopes of a better life in the Colorado mountains. When they got here, however, their living situation was so bad, Olson said, that she and Waugh would have a conversation, on a weekly basis, about whether or not they should leave the county. 

For six-and-a-half years, they lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Dillon Valley that Olson said had “not been really cared for” in what seemed like two decades. 

“We were the third sublease in our apartment, so everything was just kind of looked over,” she said. “Every time another person would move in, nothing got repaired. We had boiler issues every week, it felt like we had no water. One winter, we didn’t have hot water for almost 45 days.” 

Their carpet was almost 20 years old and their walls had turned yellow from the previous owners’ years of cigarette smoke. Olson said they constantly bleached their walls to keep the yellow stains from seeping through the paint. 

“It was exhausting,” she said. “Every time we got an opportunity, we were like, ‘Should we just leave? Should we just go?’ — because we were just so frustrated and so tired of not getting better for the amount of money that we were paying.” 

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. During that time, Olson collected funds, organized and opened a business — Piper Gretchen Nails in Breckenridge — in just six months. 

“That, honestly, is one of the reasons that kept us here. If my business hadn’t taken off, we may not have stayed,” Olson said.

Housing Helps

That’s when they started a conversation with realtor Sara Gambino, a broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Colorado Real Estate, about looking for a home. Only a few months later, in the fall of 2021, Olson said she got a call from Gambino about a housing program called Housing Helps. 

Housing Helps is a Breckenridge and Summit County government program for local buyers who work 30 hours a week in Summit County. The county launched the program in 2019 to produce more housing stock for the local workforce. 

Here’s how it works: A buyer puts in an application to Housing Helps, and once they are approved they start a housing search. Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz said any local who qualifies can apply if they’re looking to purchase a home.

When a buyer’s offer is accepted, the county gives up to 15% of the home’s market value back to the owner to use at their own discretion as an incentive to add a deed restriction to their home. 

“We’re not buying the property, per se. (The county) is just buying the deed restrictions that limits the use of that property to require it to be occupied by a member of the local workforce, not be short-term rented,” said Dietz.

He added that Housing Helps is a great opportunity for people who make too much money to qualify for a deed-restricted neighborhood but not enough money to buy one of Summit County’s million-dollar homes. Deed-restricted neighborhoods can also be very competitive.

“I’ve seen it be helpful for people, for locals. I’ve seen it, you know, be the difference between them getting a property and not getting a property,” said Gambino. 

Olson and Waugh were Gambino’s second clients to try Housing Helps, and for them, the program was successful. 

The two had a meeting with a lender in October 2021 and were “given homework” to prepare for the purchase. Throughout the winter, Olson said they worked to increase their credit scores and pay off debt.

By the time April came around, they were ready to purchase. 

A ‘really smooth process

On April 26, the lender told them to call Gambino for a housing search.

Not expecting much, Olson reached out right before she and Waugh were about to leave for vacation.

“While we were gone, a unit became available. It was literally like there was no conversation,” she said. “As soon as we got back into state, we went and saw it and wrote an offer right away.” 

They didn’t get their first offer, but it didn’t take much longer for the couple to find success. 

Just two days later, Olson and Waugh applied to a different condo, one Olson said they liked even better. That night, their offer was accepted. 

From the time they started their search on April 26, it took only nine days for them to be under contract. By May 5 it was official. They closed and were handed the keys to their new home on June 2 and are still unpacking boxes. 

“I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my head around it yet,” Olson said. “I don’t know if my husband’s fully wrapped his head around it yet. It’s so crazy. We never thought we would own property or a home in Summit County. It just seems so unattainable.” 

Olson and Waugh did have to put a mortgage on their condo, but Olson said it has saved them money, up to $350 per month.

Their new home was $416,000, and they put their 15% from Housing Helps toward the down payment. The money went straight from the county to the title company.

“It was a really smooth process,” Olson said. 

At their previous apartment, Olson and Waugh paid $2,000 a month. If they had resigned the lease on July 9, the rent would have gone up to $2,250 because of a recent remodel at the complex. 

Olson said the complex had done a kitchen and a bath remodel. While the remodel was nice, she said, it didn’t fix a lot of the problems they had while living there.

A home of their own

Their current home is a newly remodeled one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo in Dillon Valley, and Olson added that only a few repairs were necessary when they moved in.

“You could have walked in the door and put down roots immediately,” she said. Her favorite part is the west-facing patio that faces the Tenmile and Gore ranges. 

After eight years of living in the county, Olson said she’s finally able to relax. 

“It’s been really, really awesome to be able to move in here and know that this is our home,” Olson said. “We’re staying, and nobody can tell us that we have to leave.”

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