by Susie Cortright, Broker Associate, RE/MAX Properties of the Summit, RSPS, PSA
Do you spend your free time scrolling through online listings of cozy ski condos – or second homes perched on ridgelines, enveloped in powder? Do you routinely imagine yourself there, taking it all in, steam rising from your outdoor hot tub as you enjoy the life—or at least the occasional weekend—of retreat and restoration?
It might be time to consider buying a second home in Colorado.
As a Realtor, certified Resort & Second Home Property Specialist (RSPS), and a long-time Breckenridge local, it’s my privilege to give you some insider info – both the short- and long-term advantages of buying a second home in Colorado, as well as some important cautions and considerations.
First, the positives…
Advantages to Buying a Second Home in Colorado
1. Possibility for Long-Term Appreciation
There are two reasons that vacation properties like those in Summit County are generally considered to be poised for appreciation: One, they are located in areas that are popular among visitors and other vacation homeowners, and, two, the supply of homes here is limited.
Of Summit County’s 619 square miles, about 80 percent of it is public land, managed by either the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. That means only 20 percent of land in Summit County is privately owned and managed. (Source).
Once you own a piece of this paradise, you can realize the appreciation over the long term. All while you are enjoying that aforementioned hot tub.
And while no one has a crystal ball and real estate valuations can be affected by any number of events outside our control, certainly, at this time, prices are trending upward. In 2016, across Summit County, we saw a 7.9% increase in Average Sold Price. Breckenridge’s Average Sold Price was up 9.4% and Keystone’s was up 9.1%. (Read the latest market stats.)
2. Potential for Rental Income
Own a vacation property in a desirable area, and you have the added benefits of being able to short-term rent the property when you aren’t in town to enjoy it yourself.
In our resort market, vacation homes are really best thought of as lifestyle purchases, and the rental income is best thought of as something to offset your expenses.
There are ways to maximize your rental income however–by finding the right property, choosing the right vacation rental management company, and making the property available during peak rental times, for example.
As someone who studies rental income from various listed properties, I have seen a number of increases in year-over-year gross rental figures. One Ski Hill Place and ski in, ski out homes in Breckenridge seem to be doing particularly well in the rental market and occupancy rates are high across a great variety of properties.
As Denver and its surrounding communities continue to grow, many of these Coloradans are spending extended weekends and longer vacations in the High Country. Summit County is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the rising population in Denver and the rest of the Front Range. We are, after all, less than a two-hour drive away—and a world apart.
Another nice thing about purchasing a second home in a highly desirable area: there are plenty of people and organizations to help make the process easy for you. And if you choose to offer your second home on the short-term rental market, there are a great variety of solutions to help you take care of the tasks associated with renting it out.
A word of caution: Make sure to discuss your plans for renting out the property with your Realtor before you begin looking, especially if you are considering single family homes. Some subdivisions/HOAs prohibit short-term rentals altogether.
If you do plan to rent out your second home it’s important to be aware that rental income can vary greatly – across the four seasons, and across the years. I can provide you with any available figures about historic or projected rental income, but these past figures may not predict the future.
It’s important to note that, on many Breckenridge and Summit County residential properties, buyers will realize a cash flow only with a substantial down payment, and, even then, they may have a property that just breaks even – a “cash flow neutral.”
Even so, keep in mind that your equity in the property will increase as you continue to pay your mortgage. And if the property also increases in value while you own it, you can gain considerable equity. There may also be tax advantages, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
So, what kind of rental income can you expect?
The answer depends on the property and on what kind of marketing and property management you employ. Again, I can always get rental income projections for you from property management companies. But here’s some basic information to help guide your decision.
Generally speaking, if you want to offer a property for short-term rental in Summit County, we’re going to be looking for those properties with past annual gross rental income between 5% and 10% of the purchase price. (More if we can find it.)
Consider that property management companies will take 25% to 50% of your gross rental income as their fee. (I have a resource to help you navigate those companies/fees, and I’ll share it with you as we get started down that path.) Depending on the location of your unit, you also have the option of running your property management yourself, through sites such as VRBO.com, but then you are using your own time and money to market the property, so there’s some costs associated with that, as well, if only opportunity costs.
Rental numbers will vary, again, due to location, amenities and time of year. Of course, ski in, ski out properties command the most each night, and so do properties with attractive amenities. (A hot tub is a must.) Here’s my collection of properties with particularly high short term rental income in relation to list price. It’s a good idea to bookmark that page. It’s changing all the time.
3. Potential Tax Advantages.
I am not a tax advisor and this is not tax advice (so discuss this with your tax professional), but I can tell you that purchasing a second home in Colorado may allow you to take advantage of certain tax deductions. If you choose to rent out his home, you will be able to take advantage of more deductions.
I write about this in more detail here: Tax Deductions for Second Homes, but here’s a quick explanation:
If you use your second home primarily for your own enjoyment (in other words, you rent the home for fewer than 14 days each year), you can deduct your property taxes and your mortgage interest, just like you do with your primary residence, as long as the debt secured by these homes (combined) does not exceed $1.1 million.
If you use your second home as an investment property and rent it for more than 14 days you are required to claim the income but can also deduct a number of expenses related to the rental activity, as well as depreciation. This is the deduction that allows for wear and tear on the home and it can result in significant tax savings.
If the second home is an investment property, you can also take advantage of a Section 1031 Exchange by which you can purchase a second investment property without paying tax on the sale of the first property. (The payment of this tax is deferred.)
In other words, you can use a 1031 exchange to defer taxes on the capital gain of the real estate, and you can use the depreciation deduction to help with your taxes on the property’s cash flow. Read Tax Advantages for Second Homes and my guide to 1031 Exchanges. IRS Publication 527 covers residential rental property, including vacation homes.
Again, you’ll want to speak with a tax professional and/or a Qualified Intermediary (for 1031 exchanges). I have some good contacts if you need them.
4. Second Homes Lend a True Sense of Community.
Why do people choose a vacation home, rather than renting someplace new each time? Because it gives them a stake in the community they love. As a homeowner, you get to know the neighbors, the shop owners, the bartenders, the grocery store checkers. You are living like a local whenever you are here.
Or maybe you’re thinking ahead. Many people in our marketplace find a ski condo or second home while they are living elsewhere with the idea that they will eventually retire here, either in the same property or a trade-up property.
This consistent vacation home can give true cohesiveness to your family in a peaceful piece of paradise. This is a place for everyone to get together, away from the distractions of everyday life. On some visits, you might invite friends and family along. For others, maybe it’s just the immediate family. In any case, the relationships forged in a vacation home are priceless. Such a home represents both a reason and a place to get together.
Especially with larger homes, many people purchase with the idea that this will be a legacy home where their families – immediate and extended – will continue to come and use as a respite for years and generations to come. Again, hard to put a price on that.
5. Quick & Easy Vacations.
When you have a second home, it’s much easier to make the vacation actually happen. If your cozy clothes and skis are in your Summit County second home (along with your mountain bike and kayak for the summertime) you are ready for adventure any time. Not to mention the plates, bowls, flour, sugar, salt, etc.
Hop in the car or on a plane and you’re a world away in no time, without having to worry about bringing along all of your gear – or renting it when you arrive.
So all of this sounds pretty good so far. But I always like to make sure would-be buyers understand the expenses and any potential downside to buying a second home in Colorado.
Cautions and Considerations when Buying a Second Home in Colorado
1. Real Estate Values Can Fluctuate.
Like all investments, real estate prices can rise and fall. As there are so many variables that affect a resort real estate market, no one can guarantee you that your second home will appreciate and certainly can’t guarantee that it will appreciate at any particular rate. All we can go by are historic figures and our knowledge of the past dynamics in our unique real estate market.
2. Financing can be (a bit) Costlier/Trickier.
On second homes and investment properties, most lenders are going to require at least 25% down, though there are exceptions. I recently met with a lender who can offer Investment Occupancy loan-to-value ratios of 85% and Second Home Occupancy loan-to-value ratios of 90% to qualified buyers.
Also, if you are looking at ski condos for your second home, note that any condos a lender may classify as a “condotel” or “resort condominium” can potentially be more difficult to lend on.
Condotels and resort condos are those hybrid properties that have particular features like a hotel, but each unit is individually owned. They may have a front desk, for example, and offer concierge service and lavish amenities, just as you might expect in a luxury hotel. Some examples of resort condos in Breckenridge: Beaver Run Resort, Main Street Station , The Village at Breckenridge, BlueSky Breckenridge, One Ski Hill Place and Crystal Peak Lodge to name a few. We do have local lenders in our area, however, who have already approved many of these properties.
Most of the loan programs we see on these types of properties are 5/1, 7/1, 10/1 ARMs and 10- and 15-year fixed rates. Just recently, a lender entered our marketplace, however, who can offer conventional 30-year lending on certain condo projects, including a number of those with an on-site front desk. We will talk more about your options here and I can introduce you to lenders, if necessary, as we begin working together.
On a related note, your homeowner’s insurance may be a bit higher on your second home. Renting the property may affect your rates, as well. Your insurance company may also have some additional requirements for using the property as a second home. For example, if your home is worth $500,000 or more, you might need to purchase a security system that automatically notifies someone if the temperature falls below a certain level. In the case of condos, most of the time you will just need to get contents and liability coverage for your individual unit.
3. There are a Variety of Expenses to Consider.
Before you buy, it’s important to be aware of these (sometimes hidden) costs involved in buying a second home in Colorado.
HOA fees. The HOA fees for single family homes tend to be fairly minimal, but for condos and townhomes, it’s typical to see HOA fees upwards of $400 a month. These fees might pay for snow removal, trash pickup, and cable TV, as well as on-site amenities such as hot tubs, fitness centers, pools, and saunas – or all of the above. Some Association’s fees even pay for electricity and heat.
Keep in mind that your HOA fees, whether a townhome, a condo or a single family home, will be included in your debt-to-income ratio, which your lender will use to determine whether you qualify for a loan.
The higher the HOA fees, the more amenities the condo probably provides. And that makes sense for some items, but maybe not others. If your complex has eight hot tubs and two pools, but you know you won’t ever use them, it makes no sense for you to pay for them (unless you plan to rent out your unit.) If they are part of your HOA dues, however, you will have to pay for them regardless of how much you use the amenities.
Utilities. One cost that sometimes takes people by surprise is the price of heating their Summit County property.
Anywhere it snows enough to ski through the middle of April, it’s going to cost a bit to heat your place.
The first home I owned here was a drafty little cabin at an elevation of 11,000 feet. We had a single wood-burning stove for heat, and so, in the depths of the wintry night—every single wintry night—I’d have to leave the cozy bed and feed the fire.
It was kind of romantic at this time of my life. (Not really. Not really at all.) But I truly don’t recommend it. Nowadays, there are a variety of ways to heat your home, and each has its benefits and its drawbacks. As your Summit County real estate agent, I will be able to educate you on a case by case basis.
Many of the newer properties are heated with in-floor radiant heat, which warms everything from the floor up. It keeps your toes nice and warm, even on the tile and slate floors. Gas fireplaces are common in Summit County condos, so if you have your heart set on one, I’m happy to make sure we look at the right properties.
Some of the newer construction is tremendously energy efficient. Some is not. And some of the older properties might be a little drafty. I’ve previewed units where my hair blew back when I stood at the window. (I won’t be showing you these unless, of course, you want a fixer-upper). The bottom line is that the price of heat should always be a consideration. As we look at properties together, we’ll pay close attention to the heating method and the utility cost for each.
Accommodation Unit License and Tax. Along with the rise in popularity of such sites as BookbyOwner.com and Airbnb.com, many resort towns are being a bit more deliberate in the ways that they license rentals and collect lodging taxes.
If you purchase a property in Breckenridge, for example, shortly after your closing, you will receive a mailing from the town’s Finance and Municipal Services Division. This letter will help you determine if you need an Accommodation Unit license and, if you do, what your fee will be. A license is required in the town of Breckenridge if you plan to rent the unit on the short-term market (“short term” is defined as fewer than 30 consecutive days.) Fees are based on the number of bedrooms and range from $75 to $175.
Real Estate Transfer Tax. Many resorts and ski towns (ours included) charge a real estate transfer tax. A real estate transfer tax is a one-time payment, made at the time of closing. The amount of real estate transfer tax in Summit County varies according to the location of the property purchased but will be either 0%, 1%, 1.5% or 2% of the total purchase price.
You can read more about this in my article Summit County Real Estate Transfer Tax, but here are the basics: Transfer tax is traditionally paid by the buyer, though this is negotiable. When we begin looking at homes, I’ll be sure to tell you the transfer tax rate of each property. In general, properties in Breckenridge and Frisco will have a 1% transfer tax. Some areas of Keystone have a 2% resort transfer fee and some areas of Copper Mountain have a 1.5% resort transfer fee.
Property Taxes. Many out-of-state buyers are pleasantly surprised at how low our Colorado property taxes are. For a complete explanation of how property taxes are calculated, read my in-depth post on the subject here.
Repairs, Maintenance, & Home Care While You Are Away. With second homes, you are not always on site if/when something goes wrong in the home. If you are renting out the home and have contracted with a vacation rental management company, these maintenance and repair issues will likely be part of your agreement.
If you are not renting out your home and the home is vacant when you are not here, our community does offer a variety of easy solutions, including a fairly large industry devoted to helping you with property management tasks – checking on the property, handling the snow removal, making sure heat tape is functioning property, etc.
There are also gadgets to help second home owners. One that we see on vacant homes in our marketplace is a Water Cop Leak Detection System. This is a series of sensors installed where leaks could occur (toilets, sinks, icemaker, etc.) If a leak is detected, the master plumbing valve is automatically turned off and a call is placed to the monitoring company, which then notifies you. Again, insurance companies like these types of systems and sometimes require them.
Especially in Summit County, it’s important to be aware of costs associated with snow plowing and snow shoveling. We’ve had so much snow this year, many of the area roofs needed to be cleared by mid-January and that comes at a cost.
4. Purchasing a Property in Place that is Somewhat Unfamiliar to You
Chances are, you know the real estate market and the most desirable communities near your primary residence. But vacation markets can have different real estate dynamics. There are also various other considerations depending on whether you want just a second home to share with family and friends – or you want something that will bring in some rental income.
That’s where a good local Realtor can really help you. She can help you find the best deals, the places that have historically seen the best appreciation, and the places where you will be happiest, based on your individual wants and needs. An informed Realtor is important, so choose a good one!
I hope this gives you a little sense for the pros and cons of buying a second home in Colorado. Of course, I’m always available to answer any additional questions you may have.
And if you haven’t already, I heartily recommend you download my Summit County Real Estate Handbook – Buyer’s Edition. This is a 13,500 word guide that goes into more detail on these topics.
You might also enjoy:
- Investment Property Homes and condos with high (historic or projected) short term rental income in relation to list price.
- Breckenridge Real Estate and Vacation Rentals How to have someone else help you pay for your dream home or condo when you’re not here to enjoy it yourself…
- Rental Property Management Options Who is going to take care of your property while you’re gone, and how are those short-term renters going to find and book your property
- Breckenridge Luxury Homes Explore the luxury and ultra-luxury communities of Breckenridge.
- Breckenridge Luxury Condos Learn more about the most luxurious buildings in Breck and see today’s listings. (Many of these units deliver exceptional rental income).
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