Steamboat Springs Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of Routt County paradise whether they are local wage earners or families from Arizona. But the pie is only so big, and Routt County locals and non-locals are forced to divvy up what space is available.
Records from the county assessor show that the biggest slice of that property pie now goes to people who call somewhere else home.
Of the 10,958 residential homes, condominium and mobile homes in Routt County, some 4,343 that's 40 percent are owned by out-of-towners, according to data gathered by Amy Williams, Routt County assessor. In Steamboat Springs, 5,914, or 54 percent, of the residential units are owned by people who live out of town.
"They're all real people, like ourselves," said City Councilwoman Kathy Connell, who runs Colorado Resort Services. "They're from all walks of life, with variable income levels, who have chosen to invest their expendable money in real estate here."
Not all second-home owners buy houses here for a vacation spot; some purchase residences in Routt County only to rent.
Pat and Robert Tobey, who live in Englewood, have several condominiums in both Aspen and Steamboat.
"We've had ours for about 20 years in Steamboat," Pat said. "We never use it, we just rent it out. We bought all of our condos a long time ago as an investment, and they've turned out to be very good investments."
One thing that doesn't come with second homeownership is the right to vote in local elections except in special circumstances.
"Some people consider this taxation without representation," County Clerk Kay Weinland said, "but these voting rights are known to these people when they purchase it here. It makes sense that they don't vote on local issues."
Colorado residents who own property in Routt County but live elsewhere in the state are able to acquire an absentee ballot to vote on special issues like sewer and water districts, Weinland said.
The Crebb family, from Tucson, Ariz., has a condo in Steamboat Springs that they don't rent. Eighteen-year-old Kelsey Crebb said that she and her family visit Steamboat a few times a year a couple times in winter and usually once in the summer. The Crebbs have owned their property here for about 30 years.
For some, buying a parcel of land, a home or a condominium in Routt County promises a home away from home in a beautiful resort area. For others it represents a desirable lifestyle put on the backburner while other priorities are attended to. And for still others it is just a good financial investment.
While people's reasons for buying a second home vary, one thing is certain: the more demand there is for homes and land in Routt County, the higher the costs. That can lead to other problems such as traffic congestion as residents move to outlying areas Hayden, Craig and Oak Creek for example where housing prices are more affordable.
"The issue is not just who owns the homes but who is buying the land," Regional Affordable Living Director Rob Dick said. "The key is the land. The local wage can afford to pay the mortgage on a nice home as long as reasonably priced land $25,000 to $35,000 is available to build it on."
There are 5,311 parcels of vacant land currently listed in Routt County. That includes agricultural, commercial and residential zoned property. Of those, 3,959, or 75 percent, belong to people who live outside of the county.
"My guess is that if you add up the acreage in the out-of-district owners' parcels, the number would be higher than 75 percent, meaning that those parcels that are owned by outsiders are larger," Dick said.
Prices for land and homes are set at levels that outsiders are willing to pay, and not what residents can afford.
"It's probably what's driving the market to be a seller's market," said Jill Limberg, president of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors .
In a seller's market, the seller is able to set the price for a home being sold because demand is so great. In a resort area like Steamboat, the pool of buyers is not restricted to local residents. Instead, the pool includes anyone who has the money to spend on a home in a resort area.
"So the prices are driven up and up. There'll be no relief," Limberg said. "People who can't find property in Eagle come here to buy it as much as people don't want to hear it. It blows my mind the prices that people are willing to pay for homes around here. And as long as this continues, there'll be no relief."
Eagle County Deputy Assessor Mark Chapin said the same phenomenon is "pushing the market out of sight" in Vail. There, 63 percent of the residences belong to second-home owners, he said.
"It's really difficult from an employers' perspective, with low unemployment these days." Chapin said. "It's really hard to get employees in Eagle County."
Like Vail, Steamboat Springs is a resort community that depends upon its second-home owners and visitors to keep the economy healthy.
"The second-home owner and newcomer usually has much more economic power to pay for land and housing," Dick said. "The power is derived from economic opportunity outside this community. The local wage earner is, by and large, unarmed against the outsider when it comes to economic power to buy land and property in the valley. So in the economic struggle for land ownership, which is going on right now, the outsider wins and the local wage owners gets forced further and further out of town."
The trouble is, the trend isn't likely to turn around anytime soon.
"Unfortunately there's nothing we can do to stop this or even curb it," Limberg said. "The only thing we could do is get people to rent their spaces while they're not here. But we can't force them to do it unless there's a covenant in each neighborhood to require it. To be honest, I've never seen that before."
Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall agreed with Limberg.
"Whether or not there's anything we can do about this has come up before," Evans Hall said. "Summit County recently tried to force people to rent their vacant second homes, but with very little success. People don't want to rent their spaces out. They don't need the money and they want their homes and condos empty and untouched."
From Connell's point of view, the key is not to foster the us-versus-them mentality.
"There's a lot of prejudice about second-home owners here," the councilwoman said. "But polarizing our prejudices is no way to solve these problems. We will never solve our community problems if we don't recognize that second-home owners of condominiums and trophy homes are part of the community."
It isn't entirely hopeless for working-class residents wanting to buy a place of their own. There are financing options from local lenders who help those who can't afford a hefty down payment, said Amy Flint of GMAC Mortgage Corp.
GMAC offered special financing to prospective buyers of the Villas at Walton Creek. The financing provided up to 100 percent of a down payment to those who qualified, and Flint said
"Special financing is really available to primary residents," she said. "Second-home owners are typically not eligible for down-payment assistance. We have a lot of primary residency programs developed for people in the area who need help."
Valerie Lish, the Re/Max listing agent for the Villas at Walton Creek, said that about half were bought by locals as primary residences.
"About 30 percent of them went to second-home owners who don't rent their space, and the remainder went to second-home owners who do rent their space."
To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org