Eagle County creating Vail Valley homeowners | VailDaily.com

Eagle County creating Vail Valley homeowners

Chris Outcalt
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” Seth Ehrlich never really thought buying a home in Colorado’s Vail Valley was a possibility. He and his wife have lived in the valley for six years and started thinking about buying a home about a year ago. They wanted to start a family.

“We were in that situation where we were considering what we were going to do long term,” Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich has a steady job. So does his wife, Jen. They like the lifestyle in Eagle County and wanted to stay here. But everything for sale was outside their price range.

“We really wanted to be here long term,” he said.

They started the application process to buy a home at Miller Ranch. Even that was looking a little expensive, Ehrlich said. But the pair closed on their first home in February and have lived there for month. Ehrlich credits the county’s down-payment assistance program with getting them into the home.

“If we couldn’t have gotten to 20 percent down it would have been out of our price range,” Ehrlich said. “With us putting 10 percent down and getting 10 percent from the county made it possible.”

Without the assistance, they might have moved.

Giving people like the Ehrlichs the option to settle down in the area is the reason the county started it’s down payment assistance program in 2000. Interest in the program was low when it started, but it picked up last year, which was the programs busiest year. And despite a national credit crisis making it harder for people to get loans, the county is on pace to help even more people this year.

“It’s exciting that folks are making the choice to stay where it’s not always easy to buy a home and balance a check book at the same time,” said Jill Klosterman, assistant director of the county’s housing department.

The county has a few different down-payment assistance programs, but one called the Eagle County Loan Fund is the most popular.

People can’t make more than 160 percent of the medium income for the area ” which is about $60,000 for one person and differs based on household size ” in order to qualify for the program. The money can’t be used to buy a home for more than $450,000 and the home has to be in Eagle County. The applicant is also required to take a homebuyer education class offered once a month by the county.

Each buyer is eligible to get up to 10 percent of the purchase price of a home depending on their application. The loan has a zero percent interest rate and has to be repaid if the buyer sells their home, refinances their mortgage or stays in the same place for more than 15 years.

“The program had very low usage since its inception in 2000,” Klosterman said. “Borrowers didn’t need it for lending, but starting last spring and summer we saw a dramatic increase in the use of the program.”

A little more than $800,000 was given to 33 people in 2008, the majority of which was county money; some grant money accounted for the total.

The commissioners hope to be able to dish out another $800,000 in assistance this year, said Commissioners Sara Fisher. Right now, the program is funded on a quarterly basis. The commissioners budgeted $200,000 for the first quarter of the year.

“All three commissioners are committed to the program,” Fisher said. “Trying to balance what’s appropriate for funding and what we can afford is challenging.”

County officials have been tweaking the requirements of the program as demand for it has increased.

“It was really because we’ve seen such a great demand in the product and realized that given the economic realities there are a limited amount of funds available,” Klosterman said. “We’re trying to figure out how to best use those county funds.”

Officials are adding more counseling to the down-payment assistance program. Buyers are now required to meet with someone in the housing department before they’re under contract to buy a home.

“We look at all the ramifications of buying a different priced home,” Klosterman said. “People don’t necessarily understand the bottom line difference, there are significant differences between $300,000 and $250,000.”

Getting the extra information is a good opportunity for potential homebuyers, Fisher said.

“We’re really trying to change it from just being a place where one can find additional funding,” Fisher said. “It helps people be a lot more realistic about what they can afford.”

And it looks like the program will continue to be popular this year, officials said.

“The goal is for this to be a win for everyone and to keep locals who want to continue to live here in our valley and community,” Fisher said.

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

To learn more about the County’s down payment assistance program, visit http://www.eaglecounty.us/housing/ownership/cfm

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