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Values creating Vail homeowners

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily/Bret Hartman Sean Koenig in his apartment in the Red Sandstone condos, part of Vail's affordable housing program. A town employee, he said he is willing to live with restrictions on property values to stay in Vail.
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Melissa Law is eight years old and has changed houses five times, but she’s home now.

Melissa, her sister Jessica, 9, and their mother Kim moved into a deed-restricted townhome in the North Trail complex in West Vail over Easter weekend. They couldn’t be happier.

Buying a place in Vail means the girls can stay at Red Sandstone Elementary School and keeps Kim close to her job with Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church.



When a single mom buys a home in Vail, though, there are some strings attached as part of the town’s affordable housing program.

Most of those strings were made of paper. Law had to jump through numerous hoops in the town’s affordable housing program, providing proof of both residence and employment in town over the years. It added up to a lot of forms.



“I had a lot of part-time jobs over the years, which was hard to document,” Law says. “Fortunately, all my old bosses are still here and they all signed letters documenting my jobs.”

While creating that paper trail, Law also had to pre-qualify for a mortgage, providing a lender with the myriad documents required for that.

With the groundwork laid, there was no guarantee Law and her daughters would be able to buy a home. Affordable homes in Vail are rare, and thus, popular, so there are usually multiple applicants whenever a deed-restricted home comes on the market. After assigning “points” based on time in town and other factors, there were two equally qualified potential buyers.



“That was the most stressful part,” Law said.

Property values

Vail housing coordinator Nina Timm put the names of Law and the other candidate in a model home – agreed to wait a while for Law’s daughters to come to the drawing from school for luck – then drew a winner. When Law’s name was drawn, though, she had to sign a purchase contract on the spot.

Despite the paperwork and stress, Law says this transaction might have been the smoothest of any of the three homes she’s purchased in her life. It might also be the best deal.

Law’s townhome is actually a duplex in the North Trail complex, a three-bedroom, two-bath home with a garage. Thanks to deed restrictions, the maximum purchase price was set at exactly $225,544.11, the amount both candidates bid.

“That’s just a great deal,” Timm said. “You couldn’t buy a unit in Eagle or Gypsum for that price.”

There’s a catch, of course. The increase in value of law’s new home – and all the homes in the town’s for-sale housing program – is strictly limited to no more than 3 percent per year. The deed restrictions also limit what kind of improvements homeowners can add to the price of their units when it’s time to sell.

Those restrictions led Law’s friends in the real estate business to urge her to buy a free market unit. Still, she leapt at the chance to buy a home in Vail without much concern about the limited appreciation.

“I want to live here for a long, long time,” Law said.

Big demand

The concerns about appreciation don’t seem to deter other people from jumping at the chance to buy affordable homes in Vail. There are roughly 80 such units in town, Timm said, at least some of which come on the market every year.

Last year set a record, with 14 deed-restricted units coming up for re-sale. The usual average of re-sales in a year is between five ant eight, she said.

The town’s housing department usually conducts one lottery per year to create a pool of qualified buyers for units. With so many coming up for sale last year, the town held a handful of additional lotteries to find buyers.

“Last year, everyone who came through the lottery process had an opportunity to buy a home,” Timm said. “And demand continues to outstrip supply.”

The town could easily use another 80 units of the type and quality of the ones now in the inventory, she said.

That inventory is diverse, ranging from the duplex Law and her daughters moved into to studio condos. Some are owned by families; others are owners still living with roommates.

Rid of rent

As a town employee, Sean Koenig rose quickly to the top of the lottery list despite having lived in Vail just since 2002.

After starting in Vail as a Geographic Information System employee hired first on a seasonal, then year-round basis, Koenig rented the first several months he worked for the town. “Within six months of living in an apartment, I decided to buy a place. I knew in my mind I was going to be here for a while,” Koenig said.

He submitted an application in June of last year, and in August a unit in the Red Sandstone Creek condos came up. Those units were built in conjunction with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. Town, then water district employees, get the first crack at those units.

Being a town employee was also the only way Koenig could land a three-bedroom unit as a single person. He opted for the bigger unit, and taking on roommates, as a way to offset his mortgage payments.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity to live in the town of Vail,” Koenig said. “I can park my truck and use the bus, walk or bike to work. It’s very convenient.”

It also may be a factor in whether Koenig decides to stay with the town.

Like Law, Koenig said he’s willing to live with the appreciation cap put on his unit in exchange for a chance to live where he works. “It’s a no-lose situation,” he said. “I don’t plan on making millions on this place. The main factor for me was getting out of paying rent. Whenever I do leave, I’ll walk away ahead of the game.”

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Vail’s housing inventory:

– Vail Commons: 53 units. Built in 1997, Vail Commons is just east of City Market. The units are a mix of 24 two-bedroom condos, 13 two-bedroom townhomes, and 16 three-bedroom townhomes.

– Red Sandstone Creek: 18 units. Built in 1999 and located on Red Sandstone Creek Road across from the Potato Patch Club. The units are a mix of two one-bedroom townhomes; 10 two-bedroom townhomes; two, two-bedroom condos; and four three-bedroom condos.

– North Trail townhomes: six units. Completed in 2001, and located at the intersection of Arosa Drive and Garmish Drive in West Vail. The complex consists of four two-bedroom townhomes and two three-bedroom townhomes.

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