Movin’ on up: Making the leap
SUMMIT COUNTY – If Summit County’s renters think it’s expensive to live here, reality is sure to be harsh when it comes time to buy. For Jim Marsh, there was a moment of pure sticker shock when he began to browse the market. Marsh and his family left Frisco, where Marsh works as an advertising representative at Mountain Gazette, and purchased a condo in Wildernest. With a teenage son and a baby on the way, Marsh and his girlfriend, Lisette Randich, moved this summer into a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot condo.The baby will share the master bedroom for now, but in a few years the family will need another bedroom. “Not being able to afford enough bedrooms for my family is an issue,” Marsh said. “I make a good buck and you’d think I’d have a few more options.”Leaving Frisco was also an issue, because it meant he’d have to purchase a car. Summit County residents pay 182 percent more than the average American for entry-level property. The high cost of housing is the main factor raising the cost of living here to 123 percent of the national average, according to the Northwest Colorado Council of Government’s cost of living study.Market values for a first-time homebuyer like Marsh who is looking for an entry-level property increased 43.6 percent in Summit County since 1998, the study found. Across the nation, the increase was only 18.1 percent. In the single family home category, values went up 46.6 percent, from an average $352,700 in 1998 to $516,900 today. Nationwide, single family home prices rose only 15 percent in the same period.Difficult choicesLocal real estate agents suggest starting small and moving up. It’s sometimes a difficult discussion to have with a young couple looking for their first home.”It’s tough,” said Marsh’s real estate agent, Eric Klein of Buyer’s Resource. “Our single families start at $320,000. To get away from mortgage insurance, you need $60,000 to put down. Locals just don’t have that so they are forced into other options to live the lifestyle they want to live.”
Marsh paid $175,000 for his property. He is genuinely happy to be a homeowner, staying up past 3 a.m. the night he moved in to tinker with fixtures and arrange the family’s new space. He appreciates the 80-foot pine trees just outside the back deck and notes it’s a short walk to the surrounding wilderness area.”In Jim’s case, they’re sacrificing space and are forced to go into a housing situation that won’t work for them long term,” Klein said. “I don’t know what will happen with Jim and Lisette; we’ve talked about the future but we had a housing problem we needed to address right now.”Klein’s office is in Frisco, a desirable location with a tough housing market. Only two two-bedroom units priced below $200,000 were available while Marsh was shopping. Both were just over 700 square feet.Summit County’s renters actually pay close to the national average in cost-of-living expenses, according to the study. Summit’s cost is 4.7 percent higher than the national average.Moving up from renting to home ownership in Summit County is sometimes too much of a leap, causing some people to relocate closer to extended family, where home prices are lower. But many come back, said Courtney Kenady, a real estate broker at The Wellington Neighborhood, one of Breckenridge’s affordable subdivisions that offers deed restricted housing. Upon returning, couples are ready to sacrifice or get financially creative in their quest to own in Summit County.”You’d be surprised, there are some really creative people in this community,” Kenady said.The Wellington Neighborhood was a satisfying choice for the Vanderschaffs when they decided to sell their 800-square-foot condo in Wildernest, purchase a single family home and start a family.Their brand new home that is five minutes from Dennis Vanderschaff’s job at the Breckenridge Recreation Center creates a happy situation for the couple. It works similarly for many of the 85 other families living in the neighborhood.Trixie, Dennis’ wife, said their son Ethan will grow up with other kids riding bikes and enjoying a traditional upbringing.”We know our neighbors,” she said. “People look out for one another. Everyone has a kid and a dog. It will help in raising Ethan.”The Vanderschaffs applied $40,000 in equity earned on the sale of their condo to the purchase of their new home. They paid $315,000. “Anywhere else in the county, we couldn’t get a brand new, three bedroom, two bath home for that,” said Trixie, a nurse at Summit Medical Center. “We didn’t have the money for a fixer-upper. We needed something we could get right in to.”
The couple weighed moving back East before their purchase. When visiting friends, Dennis, who added a garage onto the property this summer, envied similar homes with three-car garages purchased for only $100,000.”But the quality of life just doesn’t compare,” he said.Other options Many young families keep jobs in Summit but move out of the county for property in surrounding areas like Placer Valley in Park County. One option is Blue Valley Acres north of Silverthorne, a 40 minute drive from Summit County, where single family homes start in the low $200,000’s. Jack Carpenter, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Dillon, urges couples looking for a single family home to drive the route a few times before committing to a home there. Klein flatly discourages it.”There are eight houses available (in Blue Valley Acres) right now. To do that drive … I don’t think that’s a satisfactory long-term solution, but we’ll see more people forced into those situations,” Klein said. Working with a couple looking in the lower-priced end who wanted a single family home, but in Summit County could only afford a condo or townhome, Carpenter was set to show them property in Blue Valley Acres.”It’s frustrating,” he said. “I tell people you have to start off somewhere and build some equity.”In a computer search, Carpenter finds several two bedroom condos available for less than $200,000 in the Dillon area. They are generally less than 1,000 square feet or are deed restricted, such as Soda Creek’s affordable complex in Summit Cove. In the single family home market, there isn’t one listed under $300,000.
“For a single family home, you’re looking at or just above $300,000 for a small one,” Carpenter said. His search turned up one home in Summit Cove priced at $324,900 that “needed work.” While locals will sacrifice to pull together a mortgage payment, Klein says a typical problem for first-time homebuyers is coming up with the down payment. Some turn to parents for tens of thousands of dollars toward a down payment.Kenady helps many first-time homebuyers with the same challenge.”We see a lot of people with good income, a good credit score, but they don’t have money saved,” she said.Kenady’s clients frequently take advantage of Summit Housing Authority’s programs such as home buyer classes and down payment assistance, but the organization struggles with scant funding support. More assistance needed More housing programs for mid-level professionals like teachers, managers and government workers are needed to combat the cost-of-living statistics, said Linda Venturoni, special projects coordinator for the council. The situation poses a challenge for employers, who will find it more difficult to attract professionals due to local housing costs, Venturoni said.”This really is where the problems are the greatest and probably where to concentrate efforts,” she said. “It’s important for local employers and local governments to address because it represents positions that are most important to the function of the community.”For those who already bought into the market, property values are pleasing to consider. If not, “it’s difficult for first-time homebuyers,” Venturoni said.Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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