Good Luck Buying Mountain Real Estate

By Alan Stark

The mountains will suck you in.

Once you have caught the fever, you will want to live here. It could be the smell of the summer morning air, hiking meadows of wildflowers, the yellow explosions of aspen, or boot-top powder on a cruiser——somehow you know this is where you have to live. And once in the mountains, you will want to buy your own place up high.

Good luck.

Blue Eyes and I bought a mountain house outside of Boulder some years ago. The Cabin was a handmade house on the side of a steep, south-facing hill. It had a huge solar array for a passive and hot air heating system. I built a six-foot fence around the front to keep most of the deer at bay. Inside the fence we had a patch of grass and Blue Eyes planted a beautiful mountain flower garden.
The Cabin 3

The financing was something special. It was the way people without a lot of money bought houses in the 80s. And yes, it was one of those real estate deals that makes me cringe when I think of the number of ways it could have gone sideways. We had mortgages on two small Boulder condos that we owned before we moved in together. The condos were rented to other folks. We had a small savings account and the interest rates at the time were 15 percent or more. We found a bridge loan on the anticipated sale of one condo, we got a mortgage for some of the money, and the owner gave us a second with a balloon payment due in two years.

Geesus.

I think we were nuts, but Blue Eyes sort of gets something in her sights and pushes until it happens. Somehow, we managed the bridge loan, the sale of the condos, refinancing the balloon away, and lived there for 23 years. We decided to be child-free as Blue Eyes hit 35, did okay at work, and paid everything off after seventeen years. But then we both got it in our heads that it was time to move to town.

It takes a while but mountain living can kind of drive you crazy, particularly if you are living outside a town. Nothing is close. Every time you need something, you have to drive to town. And if you live in a small town, they may not have what you need and then you have to drive down to the stores in the flatlands. It’s the same thing for specialists and, often, decent auto repair.

Between worrying about forest fires in the summer and digging out in the winter, we concluded our mountain chapter was over. I forgot to mention the driveway—it was steep. In summer friends would need a drink to calm their nerves after coming up the driveway. They wouldn’t visit in winter, when going up was a four-wheel drive proposition and coming down was essentially a luge run. I’d just get the truck in the icy ruts and let her slide on down the driveway. Not all that bad once you got used to it.

We sold The Cabin for a good deal more than we paid for it. We bought an old ranch house in Boulder that we called The Creak House because that’s what it did when you walked across the living room floor or the wind blew at more than 10 m.p.h. There was also an irrigation ditch on a hill behind the house. We lived in The Creak House for two years, then renovated it to make it more solid and dress it up a bit. We still call it The Creak House.

But we still spend time skiing and hiking up high. And there is always that sort of ache when you come back downhill from the mountains. It’s like you are leaving something of yourself behind as you inch along I-70 with someone asleep in front of you in a Suburban and some maniac in a krautmobile on your rear bumper. And you forget about the forest fire danger and digging out and begin thinking about living in the mountains again.

And oh Geesus, here we go again.

We just signed a contract on a 400-square-foot condo in Breckenridge. I know. I know. Four hundred square feet is just about enough space to swing a cat by its tail. But oddly, it’s something both of us really want.

And how is the deal? In it’s own way as odd as the deal on The Cabin. We have both quit work in the last couple of years. No, not retired, we just quit working for serious pay. Blue Eyes runs a website called clothroads.com that helps indigenous third world textile artisans sell their stuff. I sit on the board of the Buffalo Bicycle Classic and am working on setting up Bryan Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol to partner with the National Forest Service to patrol Brainard Lake and Moffet Tunnel next winter.

But since we don’t have real jobs, we can’t get a mortgage. Between the two of us we have signed seven mortgages and as many refinances. We have always paid on time. That deal we put together for The Cabin thirty years ago? That sort of stuff is simply not possible given that the banks nearly put us all in the toilet with buckets of much worse loans than that. So we pitched the owners of the condo on carrying the loan.

Nope.

We almost gave up, and then decided to use our current home as a piggy bank and buy the condo with an equity loan. I know. It must sound like 2007 all over again to you. But the condo is furnished and has a rental history that will cover the cost of the equity loan. Through most of the summer and fall and mid-week in the winter, we’ll get 150 days in the condo if we want

The mountains will suck you back in.

Alan Stark is a freelance writer and recovering book publisher who lives in Boulder (and maybe Breckenridge).

6 thoughts on “Good Luck Buying Mountain Real Estate”

  1. hey, alan, congrats on getting back to what matters up here in the pointylands!

    it’s okay to live small but dream big~

    my other half and i gave up ‘life’ in the city (denver) and own a teeny little 1880’s victorian-era miner’s house in the mountains west that is less than 600sqft (yes, an actual freestanding house!)

    we live happily in small circumstances at 9200′; the two of us, 3 dogs, 3 cats, and 6 ferrets. while way poorer in money, we are so much richer in simpler less-tangible ways; living where others come to vacation, or just weekend. we have paradise out our front window, utopia in our backyard.

    alas; the downside…yes, you jackasses in ‘Suburbans or krautmobiles’ (thanks for that alan), I’m talking to you…learn some manners and respect and stop pulling off the highway and pissing on my streets/exit ramps/culverts/yards because you can’t be bothered to wait for the next gas station, cuz you know, “hey, you don’t live here, so what does it matter?” i’ll tell ya. the creek you piss in today, you’ll be drinking next week…where do you think your water comes from, city-boy?

    seriously, tho, your poor planning does not give you permission to use my town as your urinal, asshat. )

    uh, gee, do i sound angry? yeah, alan, i guess there’s a downside to living in paradise, eh? other people always have to try and ruin it. is it jealousy? or just selfish entitlement- mindedness?

    anyone? anyone?

  2. rough roads, steep driveway to the casita, lack of convenience (shopping), volunteer fire and emt dept, rusted dodge truck in the yard, loose horses, loose dogs, on and on. keeps the Nazi communist “hoa” types out. may keep the bmw, lexus, audi types out too! an unincorporated village is a good start. makes you more independent, a good planner.hey daoine ‘o I take offense at the continuous use of “jackass” to belittle anyone. I’ve been hiking with my adopted jackass I adopted from the b.l.m. since 1992 and I find jackasses are usually better suited to hike with than humanoids. (actually she’s a jennyass)

  3. haha, tom, ok, point taken! i apologize to your jackass-jenny…i meant no offense to her! :) (kinda like when people use the invective ‘weasel’ and i take offense on my ferrets’ behalfs.)

    i was admittedly more than just a bit vehement and vitriolic in my original post…i’d had my fill of weekend inconsiderates once again using my neighborhood and surroundings as their latrine and alan’s post struck a somewhat tangential chord.

    add more-than-a-few fine local microbrews and the insults pour out like those porters and stouts. after re-reading posts like my last one i should have a breathalyzer on my keyboard, i swear i should. or just not sit in front of the computer when beering.

    all-in-all, my little town still has dirt streets and no police force; we’re pretty lawless up here, but we like it that way and everyone gets along just fine…we actually *talk* to our neighbors if there’s a problem, not go running to call the sheriff. yep, rusted-out cars and trucks in the yards, dogs at large and all; this is why we moved here. beats the city and their hoa’s and rules.

    here’s to small-mountain-town-wacky-living! :)

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