An Insider's Guide to buying Mountain Property
After all of those memorable ski trips renting a condo, staying at your friend’s place or in a hotel, you may be considering buying your own mountain property. There are certainly benefits to owning versus renting including convenience and pride of ownership, not t
o mention the possibility of appreciation. However, there are also several points to consider with such an investment. In the eight years I have owned and operated Eagle Point Resort, I have learned through witnessing others, visiting many resorts across the west, and through my own personal experience that there are many important considerations about mountain property ownership that likely differ from your primary residence ownership experience
If you are interested in purchasing property at an established resort such as Eagle Point, here is an overview which I hope you find helpful before you buy that cherished second home.
Condo vs. Detached Home
The first step is to understand what type of property would suit you best - primarily, a condominium/townhome or a house. A condo has the benefits of lower maintenance responsibility and more general affordability than a detached home. With condo ownership, it’s important to know and understand your neighbors, because you will operate and live together as an owners’ association. Before you buy, talk to the president of the association and as many other owners as possible about their experience. Find out what maintenance has been done recently, and what is planned in the future, because you may be responsible for future assessments for maintenance projects (e.g. painting, parking lot maintenance, roofs, etc.). An experienced realtor can provide you with the latest HOA documents which you should review carefully.
Virtually all HOAs have “HOA Fees” and a well-run association should have association dues appropriately assessed to cover ongoing maintenance requirements -- likely including snow removal. Low HOA dues may seem attractive until you find out that the association is under-reserved which can lead to costly and surprising assessments, or disrepair. Participating in a condo association also requires recognition of the group spirit of your neighbors and neighborhood. Does the condo association allow dogs? How many parking spots are available for each owner? Are you permitted to rent your condo to generate income? Associations have rules and regulations that you should know before you consider buying.
In contrast, owning a home has its own set of unique considerations. Do you buy or do you build from scratch? If you can find a great resale home, you could enjoy it immediately after the purchase. Sometimes, as is the current case at Eagle Point, the inventory of homes for sale is low so you may not be able to find one you like if any at all. An alternative is to buy a lot and build a home, or buy a custom built-to-order home from a developer or builder. Eagle Point will soon offer built-to-order homes in the Aspen Crest neighborhood with plenty of options for customization and personal touches.
A new home has the benefit of being just right for you based on your design specifications. While it can be a great experience for a family to build a home together, there is also a significant amount of time and effort involved in such a project. My wife and I built our principal residence together many years ago and I can say that there is truth to the adage: a marriage that survives building a new home can survive anything. It was a fun experience but required many compromises on the hundreds of decisions involved during the build.
Of course owning a home comes with the responsibility to care for and maintain it. If you live relatively nearby, then you can regularly visit and manage the property and also obtain some peace of mind through proximity. If you reside further away and don’t want the responsibility or worry, you can consider a property manager to check in and take care of the place. Water, sun, wind, snow and, yes, animals occur in extremes in the mountains. One of the funniest animal encounters I’ve had was the time an ermine (think cute, white weasel) nested in the subfloor of a condo and was entering it to find food. As my friend and I pulled up the plywood to find what was making the nest, we screamed like babies when the ermine jumped out at us from its nest and scurried away. You will want to check your home regularly or hire a property manager to do so.
How Much to Spend and Ongoing Costs?
The costs of owning a home vary greatly by location. Ski-in/ski-out lots in Park City can exceed $1,000,000 while the new lots at Aspen Crest at Eagle Point start at $100,000. New construction estimates can range from $160-$300+ per square foot of home you build. You can anticipate the following recurring expenses associated with owning a mountain property: association dues, municipal service fees, energy costs, maintenance and, of course, taxes which can vary greatly depending on where you purchase.
Association dues apply to condo ownership and often home ownership as well. The typical association dues for an existing condominium property at Eagle Point are $2,400 per year. The fees cover the ongoing maintenance for the building’s common areas like the exterior, roof, parking lots, snow removal and septic system. Homes in subdivisions also have homeowners’ associations with dues that cover private road and common area maintenance. The association dues for Aspen Crest are currently $1,000 per year.
Municipal service fees will also vary by location. At Eagle Point, the Elk Meadows Special Service District maintains the culinary water system and the public roads. The municipal fees for a condo at Eagle Point are $880 per year whereas lots in Aspen Crest are $540 per year. The reason the fees for Aspen Crest lots are lower than those for a condo is that the road through Aspen Crest, Summit Drive, is private and maintained by the association. Part of the Aspen Crest homeowners’ dues (of $1,000 per year) are allocated to road maintenance.
Warm memories in the mountains are often associated with warm fires in the fireplace. Heating your home or condo can be a significant cost during the winter months. Thankfully, there is no need for air conditioning at 10,000 feet so energy costs during the summer months are negligible. My condo in Fir Haven above the skiers’ tunnel has radiant heat which is a series of pipes in the floors with a heated liquid running through them. The system runs on propane and is a very cost-efficient. Many of you have stayed in the condos at Eagle Point and cranked up the baseboard heaters to stay warm. A typical power bill for the lodging condos at Eagle Point during the winter can be $250+ per month. Avoid baseboard heaters if you can or use the fireplace as often as possible to keep your costs down.
I can say that having a ski home in the mountains has certainly been a wonderful place to make special memories for my family and me. If you decide to start a search for your own ski property, here are my final pieces of advice. Visit and recreate with your friends and family in many different rentals in and around the ski area before you buy. Take note of what you like and don’t like about each place. Make sure you visit in winter and summer so you can see the terrain under different conditions. Sometimes the lot looks quite different when it's not covered by several feet of snow. Mountain recreation and property ownership are two of my favorite subjects. If you are thinking about making Eagle Point your second home and have any questions, feel free to reach out to me by email - firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help.