Second-home owners: coming to stay?
Mountains can be habit-forming.
That’s one of the bites from the information banquet that is “Second Homes and the Amenity Based Economy,” a study done last year by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, a regional lobbying and research group. The study is touted as the first effort to dig into the habits and impacts of second-home owners in Eagle, Pitkin, Summit and Grand counties.
The study reveals that second-home owners account for the biggest percentage of outside dollars coming into the resort counties, and that the people who have places in the mountains spend as much as five times what year-round residents do on lawn care, housecleaning and other services.
The study also reveals that second homeowners are feeling a strong urge to spend more time in their vacation homes. Of the 112 individuals who responded to the survey, 45 percent said they intend to increase their use of their vacation homes, while 17 percent said they intend to use their vacation homes as their primary retirement residences.
Bill Morton isn’t retired, but he does find himself spending more time these days at his home in Vail Village. Morton was recently named chairman of Jack Morton Worldwide, the firm producing the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
“With more time on my hands these days, we’re spending significantly more time in Vail,” Morton said.
As is the case with most second-home owners, Morton purchased his Vail home for winter vacations. That use expanded to summers spent fly-fishing, playing golf and attending Bravo! Colorado Music Festival concerts.
In addition to his leisure activities, Morton can also stay in touch with work.
“I have a fax machine, a computer and a Blackberry device,” he said. “It’s very efficient to stay in touch from Vail.”
Improvements in communications have made it possible for many second-home owners to do more than spend more time in the area. Some, such as Alan Kosloff, have made their second homes their primary residences.
“We spend about six months a year in Vail,” said Kosloff, who added he is now registered to vote in the town.
Kosloff, who has owned his Vail Village home since the late 1970s, said he knows several people who are doing the same thing.
“It’s definitely a trend,” Kosloff said. “As second-home owners start working less, they spend more time in Colorado.”
The trend, though, seems limited to those who own houses, as opposed to those who purchase condominiums. “We don’t see much of it,” said Rob LeVine, manager of the Antlers Condominiums in Lionshead. “We’ve seen the desire of people to spend more time here for as long as I can remember. But it almost never happens.”
If people do want to spend more time in the area, they’ll sell their condos and buy houses, LeVine said.
People spending more time in homes they already own is a kind of “stealth trend,” study coordinator Linda Venturoni said.
“It’s kind of a funny population growth,” she said. “You have an increase in population without an increase in homes. That’s not something the state demographer tracks. Really, the only way we can measure it is with surveys.”
Spending and voting
Hard as it is to track the trend, Venturoni and Kosloff agreed that second-home owners spending more time in the area will have impacts. But they had different ideas about just which impacts are most crucial to identify.
“Job generation numbers increase as these people spend more time here,” Venturoni said. “Then you’re looking to the question of where the workers live.”
Jobs formerly seen as “seasonal” are evolving into full-time positions, she added.
On the other hand, most resorts already have the infrastructure in place to deal with part-time residents who spend bigger parts of their time in the mountains.
“We’re built for Easter Sunday,” said Jim Lamont, director of the Vail Village Homeowners Association, a second-home owners lobbying organization. “We’re set up for the times the town is full.”
While the study revealed some of the impacts second-home owners have on communities, it also outlined the benefits they bring.
“The economic impact is very powerful,” Kosloff said. “We spend a lot of money.”
In fact, second-home owners represent the biggest-spending group in Eagle County. Of all the money spent in Eagle County, 38 percent comes from second-home owners.
More subtle, but perhaps just as important, is the fact that new voters on a town’s rolls can affect the political climate of a town.
“Second-home owners have been around, but they didn’t vote,” Kosloff said. “As more and more second home owners become voters, they can have a powerful impact.”
Kosloff noted the narrow margin in the November 2002 conference center election in Vail, an election decided by just a handful of votes. With relatively few votes cast in municipal elections, the addition of even a small number of new voters can have a significant impact, he said.
That impact just might reflect the opinions of many year ’round residents. The survey revealed that second-home owners and full-time residents share many of the same beliefs about where they live.
For instance, 92 percent of residents said they value the area’s scenic and visual qualities; 90 percent of second-home owners feel the same way. The numbers are remarkably similar down the list.
“It’s interesting to see what was common between them,” Venturoni said. “It’s great to see that regardless of demographics, most of us are here for the same reasons.”
“We’re on the same page on a lot of things,” Kosloff added. “Over the last couple of years, locals have come to appreciate the contributions of second-home owners.”