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Tear down replaces turn key

Kimberly Nicoletti
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
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Amy Smits and her husband have been looking for a tear down for three years, and in December, they finally found one.Their dream property is a tiny house at the top of Ptarmigan Mountain in Silverthorne. It has no running water but it has an outhouse. Smits describes the roads leading to it as not fun, but if you take them slow, you can make it.They paid $165,000 for the shack on two-and-a-half acres a price nearly unheard of for vacant land in Summit County. She figures if she doesnt build on it, the land will still appreciate.In April, an A-frame lower on Ptarmigan Mountain marketed as a tear down went under contract after five or six months. The asking price: $334,900. A local family bought it because it was the most affordable single family home in Summit County plus, with a 1.25-acre lot, they could live in the small house while building another.Since Smits is a real estate agent (at Keller Williams in Silverthorne) and a homeowner on Ptarmigan, she might be biased when she says the price is absolutely worth it, but she makes a good point: Ptarmigan is one of the few communities where houses sit on lots of usually an acre or more.Greg Morrison, whose family has owned land on Ptarmigan since the 1960s, agrees that, even at $300,000 to $400,000 for a tear down, financially, its a great investment.I think the prices are very competitive for the rest of Summit County, said Morrison, who is now building a $1 million home on his lot.Frisco Coldwell Banker real estate agent Ronda Campbell agrees that a $250,000 tear down is worth it, but she questions the financial viability of a $450,000 tear down especially one that already has plumbing.Ptarmigan Mountain, with views of the Gore Range (and, in places, Dillon Reservoir), is known as the banana belt because it tends to be a little warmer than the rest of Summit County. In the 1960s, it began as a community of weekend visitors who stayed in their A-frames without running water. Now, its a full-time community, with larger homes being built or added onto.In the last year, Smits has seen tear downs begin, and she believes it will become a trend if its not already. Frisco ReMax real estate agent Henry Barr said it all ties back to diminishing land availability, stating that there arent many lots priced at $300,000 or less.In Frisco, tear downs span from downtown to a small community called Bills Ranch, because Frisco doesnt have any more land to speak of, Barr said. Granite Street, in Frisco, began transforming from small hotels to luxury condos a couple of summers ago. Mostly local developers oversee the projects, as opposed to huge companies. For example, the owner of Sky-Vue Motel chose to scrape the modest motel and build duplexes, since real estate prices are so high. But its not easy to find a deal in Frisco.Everybody in Frisco is asking a premium for land, Campbell said.Locals who have owned their properties for a while make up a good portion of people tearing down properties a financially safer bet, since they purchased at lower prices.

Some property values simply warrant larger homes. Brian Wray, owner of Mountain Log Homes of Colorado, helped scrape and haul a cramped, poorly planned three-bedroom house in Breckenridge for $17,000. The home sat on a ski-in/ski-out parcel, so the owners built a 6,500-square-foot log home.In their case, Wray said a remodel or addition wasnt feasible because the owners wouldnt have saved much money, and in the end, they would not have gained what they wanted.Wray said that as soon as Summit County reaches build-out, scrapers, additions and remodels will become common. Casey Kellermann, of Slifer, Smith & Frampton in Breckenridge, predicts vacant land will sell out in four to six years. Already, property values are rising in an accelerated manner as lots diminish, said Dave Koons, owner of Kodiak Enterprises and president of the Summit County Builders Association.Were right on the heels of Aspen and Vail in terms of that property valuation situation, Koons said.So how do owners decide which route to take? Its all individually driven, but some guidelines exist.Additions tend to cost nearly the same as new construction $200 per square foot and higher Wray said. Obviously, the alternative avoids tear down costs and doesnt require the same amount of newly constructed square footage. But owners should always go into additions and remodels cautiously, because they never know whats behind the walls; it could be rotted wood or mold, or it could be intact. If its the former, the costs increase.Remodels tend to be the least expensive method, but, again, if shoddy construction lurks behind walls, homeowners face more expenses. Its for that reason that Koons prefers tear downs.He said buildings constructed before, and even during, the 1980s were substandard.The building departments really didnt have their act together at that time, Koons said. I cant tell you how many substandard roof (and other) structures Ive seen looking at remodels.For example, a couple of years ago he started an addition and remodel on a Peak 7 home built in the late 1970s or early 1980s. It turned out that the building didnt have a frost wall foundation; it just had a slab on the ground and a retaining wall in the back. He also had to completely rewire the house, because he realized the house never had an electrical inspection wire wasnt tucked in electric boxes but rather tacked behind door and window trim.Ive seen extremely unsafe conditions hidden, he said, adding that asbestos is common.More and more, his response to homeowners desires to remodel is, Wow, youre really doing a lot to this house. Dont you think you should maybe start over?He worked on a $300,000 to $400,000 remodel in Frisco and estimates that a complete tear down and reconstruction would have cost 15 percent to 25 percent more.Because he believes construction has come a long way from radon mitigation to better wall and roof systems he advocates starting from scratch.Its worthwhile for public health and safety to consider the tear down over the remodel and addition, he said. We really are doing things today that far exceed things we did in the past in terms of building science. ≈


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