Steamboat Springs Residents of two Steamboat Springs neighborhoods are translating mobile homes into newfound security and upward mobility.
Permanent structures are beginning to replace trailer homes at Hilltop Homes in Old Town Steamboat. And a couple of miles away at the Fish Creek Mobile Home Park, residents are investing in substantial remodels of longstanding mobile homes. At Fish Creek, the catalyst for such investment was the recent purchase of the park by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.
For 20-year Steamboat resident and professional fishing guide Keith Hale, the change in ownership means an opportunity to own his first home.
"It's not a great mobile home, but it's that or keep on renting," Hale said. "And it's on a great lot. It's exactly 68 steps to the river."
Mobile-home parks are achieving new stature in mountain towns, where the price of entry-level housing is skyrocketing. At Smuggler Park, in the heart of Aspen, aluminum mobile homes from the 1980s are being sold for as much as $600,000. And ambitious homeowners who build small footprint frame homes on Smuggler Park lots can see their property values crest $1 million.
Residents of Fish Creek Mobile Home Park are beginning to feel secure enough to sink five figures into improving their homes. The change has come about since early September, when the Yampa Valley Housing Authority closed on the purchase of the mobile-home park from Bob and Audrey Enever for $3.2 million. That milestone ensures the park won't be sold to a developer who could evict the trailer owners in favor of building luxury housing.
"That's the only reason I decided to buy there," Hale said.
Hale is one of the fortunate ones - two other mobile-home parks, Westland and Trailer Haven, have disappeared in the past five years in favor of redevelopment.
Hale said he wasn't seriously looking to purchase a home until his friend Gary Osteen almost insisted he seize the opportunity. He was skeptical at first, but then he saw two Fish Creek mobile homes advertised and sell almost overnight. Next, Fish Creek resident Chris Ward, who has developed a specialty in remodeling and re-selling mobile homes, advertised two of his neighbors' homes for $100,000.
"They had new everything," Ward said. "I re-did the electrical and drywall; they had slate floors and granite countertops."
Hale balked at the price, but they too disappeared quickly. When he had an opportunity to purchase a mobile home Ward was already preparing to remodel, Hale grabbed it for $56,000.
Ward backed into his business plan for remodeling and flipping mobile homes in December 2006 when a neighbor's pipes burst. It was before the announced sale of the park by owners Bob and Audrey Enever. Ward was studying real estate at Colorado Mountain College at the time.
Ward helped his friend stabilize his plumbing, and when another neighbor said she had to get out of her trailer, things began to click for him. He helped the owner fix it up and sell it, collecting a contracting fee in the process.
Ward lived in Fish Creek for 15 years and raised a family there. He began acquiring neighbors' homes and undertaking extensive remodels with the intent of selling them for a profit. But he also took satisfaction from seeing families acquire homes.
"I wanted to see the transformation of these mobile homes into real houses," he said.
He bought a mobile home in the park for $14,000 cash and borrowed another $10,000 from a bank to finance a remodel. Later, he sold it for a tidy profit. Then he repeated the process, remodeling homes to include stucco and stained wood exteriors with landscaping.
Although Ward was studying real estate at the time, he wasn't selling real estate when he flipped his first trailer. Mobile homes (where the owners do not own the lots) are sold like motor vehicles, he explained.
The Hilltop Homes owners are five years ahead of the process under way at Fish Creek. The 17 owners collectively purchased land in their neighborhood from their landlords with the help of the old Regional Affordable Living Foundation in June 2000. They won city approval to subdivide the land in June 2002. That was the key step that led to individual ownership of the building lots.
Today, a few residents are either constructing stick-built homes or have brought in modular structures to replace old mobile homes.
Realtor Jayne Hamm of Century 21 Ski Town Associates purchased the mobile home of Ernie Harms, son of original trailer park owners Leland and Ilagrace Harms. She had it hauled away and hired contractor Dave Combs to install a handsome new home that accommodated her No. 1 priority - a parlor with room for a full-sized billiards table.
"I'd been bugging Ernie Harms to sell me the space for five years," she said. "He finally let me have it for $130,000."
Hamm originally moved to Hilltop in 1989 when she paid $350 a month to live in trailer No. 2. She moved away and lived in both a condominium and a single-family home in Steamboat before her return a year ago.
"It's a great little community," Hamm said. "It works."
At Fish Creek, the Housing Authority has formed a committee to oversee the park's operations and explore the possibility of converting the park to ownership units for homeowners who desire that option.
"I'm hoping to subdivide," Hale said, "but either way, it's a win-win for me."
Ward continues to pursue his real estate license and says he's done flipping trailers.