Steamboat Springs In June 2004, after a year and a half of living and working in Steamboat Springs, my parents helped convince me that there was no better investment than real estate in a Colorado ski town. They were right.
Less than three years later, using the equity from my base area condominium, my wife and I had enough money for a down payment on a free-market, single-family home in West End Village. We signed off on an interest-only, seven-year, adjustable-rate mortgage to buy as much house as we could.
Our story should sound familiar, as it is shared by so many Routt County residents who squeezed their way into the real estate market in the middle part of this decade. And why wouldn't we? For several years, there wasn't a better investment out there than Steamboat Springs property.
Locals weren't the only ones trying to get a piece of the market. As retiring baby boomers with money to spend sought homes in desirable locales like Northwest Colorado, the buying frenzy shattered previous real estate transaction records - surpassing $1.5 billion in 2007 in Routt County. Major development firms from across the country gobbled up property here to capitalize on the out-of-control demand for luxury mountain resort residences.
Then the bottom fell out, and with it went tourists, sales tax revenues and jobs.
On Friday, the Pilot & Today will unveil Part 1 of a five-part series titled "House of Cards: The rise and fall of Routt County's real estate economy."
Five reporters, three photographers, three editors and a designer have spent the past couple of months planning, reporting and writing this in-depth look at the buildup and subsequent fallout of the real estate-driven economy.
To be clear, the series does not seek to assign blame for what we've experienced during the past couple of years. Rather, it's simply an honest accounting of how we got to where we are today, how people are dealing with unexpected challenges and, finally, when and how we could emerge from the recession. The series incorporates the perspectives and personal experiences of everyone from Realtors and lenders to small-business owners, homeowners, the local work force, government officials and economic experts.
By definition, a house of cards is a situation that is shaky, or in constant danger of collapse. Many of us bought into the idea that Routt County was immune from external forces and that the value of our properties would continue to escalate at unprecedented levels. In hindsight, it's easy to see how unsustainable that buildup was, exemplified by the subprime loans and risky financial decisions so many residents and investment property owners made. Hence, the house of cards.
I encourage you to take a look at our first installment Friday. I think you'll look forward to parts 2 through 5, appearing each Friday through Aug. 28. The series will be online at www.steamboatpilot.com/houseofcards.