Steamboat Springs Everywhere one turns in Steamboat Springs this summer, there are construction sites.
Old buildings are being torn down at the mountain while cranes erect new condominium hotels. Public school construction is bracketing Old Town, and mixed commercial-residential projects are nearing completion on Lincoln Avenue.
But all of the multi-story buildings obscure an emerging trend. The number of new single-family home starts through the end of June is less than 50 percent of historic averages in the city, according to records kept by the Routt County Regional Building Department.
The graph charting annual single-family home starts in all of Routt County since 1992 resembles a popular ride at Six Flags, cycling up and down between 175 and 225 homes.
Annual numbers are substantially lower within the city limits, and as the heart of the summer slips away, the local market doesn't seem likely to approach those standards by the end of the year.
"I think it's off a little more than usual" cycles, Building Department Official Carl Dunham said.
Just nine single-family permits had been issued in Steamboat through June 30, compared to an average of 21 during the first six months of the year since 2001. And when one researches the records back to 1992, Dunham said, the average jumps to 30.
Dunham's department issued eight permits for single-family homes in July, but none was for new homes inside the city limits.
A variety of factors, most notably the struggles of the national economy but also including the relative scarcity of building lots in the city limits and a late winter that has delayed some new subdivision development, have contributed to the trend.
P.J. Wharton, senior lender and executive vice president at First National Bank of Steamboat Springs, said the remaining building lots available in Steamboat are very expensive.
His bank saw home lending that exceeded its expectations through the end of May, Wharton said, but activity has declined in the past six days.
"What we've seen is that custom homes that began last year have been completed and gone to mortgage. Speculative builders, who last year would have sold homes, (bought) now and converted the cash to a new project, have not done that this summer and are still marketing their homes."
Out of the 'Boat
Tom Fox of Fox Construction said his custom home building activity is concentrated outside the city.
"We have a pretty full schedule," Fox said. "We just don't have a lot going in town. We only really lost a couple of projects this spring. One couple sold their ranch and moved to the Montrose area. One or two people were a little nervous and went on hold for a year."
Jamie Letson of Letson Enterprises said he is busy this summer but might have been busier had it not been for the decline in the stock market. He is building a $1.5 million home for clients in a rural subdivision south of the city. However, two other prospective custom homebuilders who were in advanced talks with him put their plans on hold because they had intended to finance the projects by selling securities. They were unwilling to take the hit.
Letson, whose crews are adding a second story onto an existing home in Whistler Meadows, inside the city, is also talking to couples planning to start construction in the fall and next spring, he said.
Fox is building two large homes at Sidney Peak Ranch, among other projects. He was poised to undertake a spec house valued at more than $7 million with investment partners, but acting on advice from the real estate community, they opted to hold off.
Wharton said home building continues in the low end and the upper end above $2 million.
"Some people are building more modest modular homes in Hayden and on Steamboat's west side," he said.
Fox said high-end builders in their late 50s and 60s have already made their money and feel a sense of generational urgency.
"We constantly hear that they're building a place to spend time with grandchildren," he said, and they don't feel like they have time to put it off.
Single-family home building in the city limits hasn't dried up entirely this summer.
Alexa Nachtweih of Resort Ventures West and Wildhorse Meadows reported this week that ground has been broken on the first home in The Range at Wildhorse.
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