‘There were a lot of rumors’: Breckenridge officials have approved a Summit County commissioner’s deed-restricted home sale after disputing personal items sold in tandem deal
As claims of bidding wars and excessive pricing of personal property swirled, documents show Lawrence worked with the town of Breckenridge to finalize what town officials deemed a ‘reasonable’ sale
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence was approved to sell her deed-restricted home this month after Breckenridge town officials originally disputed attempts to sell personal items for $25,000 — a price they deemed too high.
Following a series of changes to Lawrence’s personal property listing, which included removing a few items that officials said needed to be sold with the home, town officials and Lawrence said they arrived at an amicable resolution that allowed the commissioner to sell her appreciation-capped Wellington neighborhood property.
Lawrence said she hired a broker to publicly list her home and documented the sale of her belongings to avoid any appearance of secrecy around what became a coveted property for buyers.
“The intentions were to be absolutely as transparent as possible,” Lawrence said. “Little did I know that that would come back to bite me.”
As Lawrence engaged in a back-and-forth process with Breckenridge officials to resolve the dispute, allegations that she was abusing the deed-restricted process swirled.
Those claims came to a head during a Feb. 14 Breckenridge Town Council meeting when a member in the audience, Sara Furey, accused the commissioner of working out a side deal with a buyer and fermenting a “bidding war” for personal items. She also claimed Lawrence was only accepting a cash offer on the house, which Furey said limited the pool of who could buy.
Furey declined to comment for this story.
Spencer Lane, a broker for Breckenridge Associates Real Estate who represented Lawrence’s sale, said Lawrence did accept a full cash offer from her buyer but added, “there was never a stipulation that we were only accepting or looking at cash offers.”
Of the eight total offers that were received, three were cash offers, Lane said, adding that personal property offers were as high as $30,000. Lawrence sold the items for roughly half that amount, according to a signed affidavit obtained by the Summit Daily News.
Town officials have defended the nature of the sale and said Lawrence worked with them to meet the terms of her deed restriction.
“My job is not to judge character or intent but to ensure that all sales are consistent with the rules, and in the end this one is — or we would not have released our deed of trust,” said Breckenridge housing director Laurie Best, who oversaw the sale.
‘Ultimately, I think the process worked’
Facing a deficit of affordable housing, local governments in Summit County have used deed restrictions to keep members of the county’s workforce housed in the community. By capping how much a home can sell for, coupled with employment requirements for a buyer, officials can maintain crucial housing stock for middle- and low-income residents.
According to Best, Lawrence’s home was capped at a selling price of $462,188 along with a 3% commission for real estate agents. The home went under contract on Feb. 10 and closed on March 10.
A Feb. 10 copy of a personal property agreement, which Best provided to the Summit Daily News, shows that Lawrence initially tried to include her shed, washer and dryer in the sale for an additional $25,000. A Feb. 14 memo from the town’s housing committee stated that town staff felt the price for those personal items was “too high.”
“Staff will communicate with the homeowner that we do not agree with the price and feel it is a violation of the deed restriction and will not release the deed of trust or note if the agreement stands,” the memo states.
According to Best, town officials discussed the pricing with Lawrence, who sent an email to officials on Feb. 17 with an adjusted list of personal items she was hoping to sell. The email was provided by Best to the Summit Daily.
“We are still unclear on what exactly the town is asking for on an amended (personal property agreement),” Lawrence’s email reads. “Please see below and let us know if we are free to proceed with our buyers.”
The list included several more items, such as a “french door refrigerator” ($1,600); “upgraded double oven” ($1,200) and “enhanced light fixtures” (>$500). The most expensive item was Lawrence’s shed, listed for $10,000. The total price for all items was $19,500.
Best said officials told Lawrence the oven, fridge and light fixtures — though all upgrades she had made — needed to remain with the house and could not be included in the personal property agreement.
Best also said she acknowledged the home needed improvements when Lawrence first moved in.
“They definitely had to invest in certain things,” Best said, “and probably had a lot of money in the house that they were not able to recoup.”
Ultimately, Lawrence was permitted to sell personal items including her shed, snowblower, patio furniture, washer and dryer for a total of $15,700, according to a Feb. 20 contract. Her home sold for $476,054, which included the 3% commission for her broker.
Best called Lawrence’s final personal property agreement “super reasonable.” The shed alone, Best said, was likely worth thousands. Lawrence said she paid over $8,000 to custom build it.
Asking sellers of deed-restricted homes to adjust their initial personal property agreement is a common practice, Best said, adding that “it’s not unusual that we see an initial list and we say ‘no.’”
What is not allowed, Best said, is when sellers attempt to use their personal property sales as leverage over buyers — essentially refusing to sell the home unless a buyer agrees to take items they may not want or may find overpriced.
“You can’t require somebody to buy your furniture, to buy your personal property, in order to acquire that unit,” Best said, adding this was not the case with Lawrence’s sale.
Sellers also must include certain items in the home sale, Best said, as well as sell their personal property for a reasonable price — though the latter is more subjective and is determined by town officials on a case-by-case basis, according to Best.
For example, another recent sale of a deed-restricted home “included the water heater as a separately paid item,” according to the Feb. 14 memo from Breckenridge officials. The town “had the seller pay back the funds for this as the water heater is part of the home and, therefore, included in the sale,” the memo continued.
Speaking on Lawrence’s sale, Best said: “There were a lot of rumors. But ultimately, I think the process worked.”
‘I know I did the right thing’
Understanding the rules around deed-restricted sales can be a challenge, town officials say. Covenants, the guiding documents that dictate the stipulations of ownership and sales — such as work and income requirements as well as conditions for home improvements — differ between homes and neighborhoods.
“It can be confusing for buyers to know exactly what the tenets of that covenant are,” said Shannon Haynes, Breckenridge’s deputy town manager. “Whether there’s malicious intent on the part of the seller — I don’t think that that’s the case. It’s a complicated process.”
Deed-restricted home sales can also become emotionally charged, officials said, because of the imbalance of the county’s housing supply and its demand. With low housing inventory and the average single-family home selling for more than $2 million, deed-restricted units are highly desirable among members of the workforce — presenting sellers with difficult decisions.
“That’s one of the reasons why we’ll be going forward with a lottery system,” Haynes said. “The intent is that that will take the choosing out of the hands of the seller and allow for people who are interested to all have an equal opportunity.”
Haynes said the town has heard rumors of sellers using their personal property to “game the system” and inflate their overall home sale. Haynes said there are “a lot of people who are pointing a finger and saying that that’s what happened here,” before adding, “I don’t believe that to be the case.”
While most deed-restricted units afford their sellers the autonomy to choose the buyers, a proposal to use a lottery system for new units has been considered “for quite a while,” Best said.
Officials are still hashing out the details, such as whether to implement a weighted lottery that — while still random — could give a greater chance to residents based on factors like income and years spent in the county.
Best said the proposal could be rolled out as soon as this summer and would only take effect for units new to the market, such as the Stables Village neighborhood set to begin construction this year, though she added it could be expanded to existing deed-restricted homes at a later point.
Currently, Breckenridge has about 1,200 deed-restricted units with an average of two residents in each of those homes, according to Best. Still, she estimates the town has a deficit of more than 1,000 units.
“You always have one person who is happy who got the unit and 50 people who didn’t and are upset,” Best said.
Lawrence said she feels it was the “desperation” to secure a home that led to negative claims around her sale.
“When their friend or coworker wasn’t picked, people became so angry,” Lawrence said. “The anger is what astounded me.”
Lawrence maintained there was no “preconceived buyer” in mind when she listed the property and said that, despite receiving offers for personal property higher than what she asked, she accepted a lower offer because of the story of her buyer — who she said has been a “longtime county resident.”
Best confirmed that Lawrence’s buyer met the 30-hour-per-week minimum to occupy the home and that the buyer has lived in Breckenridge for several years.
“Could I have taken a side deal for more money? I certainly could have,” Lawrence said. “At the end of the day, I know that I did the right thing. I helped a local family.”
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