Price per square foot can be deceiving

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— The days when house hunters could hope to purchase a single-family home in Steamboat for $100 per square foot appear to be long gone.

But people can still find homes well less than $200 per square foot. They can also pay more than $200 per square foot for a home of 2,500 square feet or less, especially if that home was built within the past two years, or alternatively, very early in the century.

Data tracked by the Multiple Listing Service of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors shows that during the 12 months beginning May 22, 2000, and concluding May 22, 2001, 148 homes of 2,500 square feet or smaller were sold in the broader Steamboat Springs area. Those statistics don't necessarily reflect all of the home sales in that category only those placed on the multiple listing service. Home sales made without the involvement of a Realtor would not have shown up on the report.

The statistics show that some of the oldest homes in Steamboat are just as apt to sell for more than $200 per square foot, as are the newest homes.

A home at 634 Oak St. that was built in 1891 sold last July for $263,000. Measuring just 1,130 square feet, the home has three bedrooms and no garage. The price per square foot works out to $232. That home was on the market for 82 days and sold for a price that was reasonably close to the original asking price of $289,000.

David Baldinger Jr., a Realtor at Steamboat Village Brokers, said he regards price per square foot as a valuable tool for evaluating the choice between two homes.

"I think it's a good general guide to comparisons between homes," Baldinger said. "It's valuable to me in analyzing the replacement cost of a home."

If a client is trying to choose between homes, price per square foot is a good basis of comparison.

"Then you make adjustments based on the condition of the homes," Baldinger said.

One of the critical aspects of understanding price per square foot, he said, is to take into account the land the home is built upon. Once buyers have assessed that aspect, they can begin comparing it to the replacement cost of the home. The price of new lots can be overlooked when an existing home is shown by a Realtor, and the client gasps at the price per square foot.

"If it's listed for $300,000, but it's on a $100,000 lot, I might realize there's no way I could replace it for that cost," Baldinger said.

So, subtracting the price of a comparable lot from the price of an existing home might present a truer picture.

A home at 449 Seventh St. in Old Town sold last summer for $267,500. Built in 1911, this home offered a two-car garage but just 1,250 square feet. The price per square foot was $214. A home built in 1910 on Seventh Street sold on May 1 for an even $500,000. It includes more than 2,070 square feet but just two bedrooms. The math is fairly easy the house sold for $240 per square foot.

Dutch Elting of Prudential Trimontane Real Estate understands the sticker shock people experience when they first come to her to shop for a family home. They have to learn to appreciate the price differences in Steamboat based on location.

Baldinger agreed. Buyers intent on a home in Old Town may find themselves paying a premium because that neighborhood is trendy and because undeveloped lots in Steamboat's downtown neighborhoods are very scarce.

Home buyers can also find homes closer to $150 a square foot. A pair of homes on Anchor Way in Steamboat II, just west of the city, sold for $200,000 and $210,000 during the past 12 months. Each house was right at 1,400 square feet, yielding prices per square foot of $142 and $150 per square foot. Another home on Meadow Lane, near Whistler Park, sold for about $170 per square foot last year.

The least expensive homes on a per square foot basis, included a country home on County Road 35 that sold for $260,000. It worked out to $110 per square foot. The house sits on 5 acres. Another home near Steamboat Lake, a half-hour north of Steamboat, sold for $292,000, coming out at $119 per square foot. That house is on a 1-acre lot.

Nine homes in the Willowbrook subdivision south of Walton Creek Road off Chinook Lane have sold in the past 12 months. All of them are between 1,100 square feet and 1,400 square feet, and several have sold at prices that work out to more than $200 per square foot. One sold for as low as $189 per square foot.

The manufactured homes are situated in a quiet neighborhood very close to Walton Creek itself and an extension of the Yampa River Trail. Whistler park is within walking distance.

Baldinger said it's important when evaluating smaller homes to realize that the cost of the basics that must be included in virtually every home aren't being amortized over as many square feet as they would be in a larger home. For example, an 1,100-square-foot home like those in Willowbrook still has a lot a couple of bathrooms, a kitchen full of appliances, a furnace, probably a laundry room or laundry closet, and perhaps a gas fireplace. A 2,200-square-foot home might not offer much more in those categories, and as a result, have a lower price per square foot.

Elting has listed his own home on Laurel Lane at a price that equates to $365 a square foot. But you have to understand that it's a 1-acre lot with unmatched views of Emerald Mountain.

"Somebody's going to buy it," Elting said. "They'll realize the lot is worth $350,000."

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