In honor of our six month anniversary of buying our vacation home at Solitude Cabins in Estes Park, Colorado, I’m sharing six things we learned during the process of buying and selling real estate in our favorite mountain town.
Location, Location, Location
I’ve been hesitant to talk about our decision to buy a vacation home because I was afraid our family and friends would assume that we had been watching too many episodes of HGTV House Hunters or that we secretly won the lottery and forgot to mention it.
I’m getting better at sharing our dream even when it seems a little crazy. We were drawn to the city of Estes Park because we love hiking. We aren’t skiers, so we don’t mind that Estes Park doesn’t have slopes and this fact seems to make it a more affordable option compared to other destination towns in Colorado. For an investment, we like that Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park which draws nearly 4.5 million visitors annually according to National Park Service statistics. Estes Park is only an hour and a half away from the booming Denver, CO market.
Once we decided on Estes Park, we did a lot of research on the local housing market on websites like Zillow and signed up for local realtor e-newsletters. You can get a lot of information on the listings but we learned the most from walking through properties. One tip is to check your phone while you are touring to make sure you have reliable cell/data reception especially if you need to keep up with work. Reception in town is generally pretty strong, but more remote locations can get spotty.
The condo we owned for a couple of years and the cabin we now own are both classified as condotels which means they can be rented out like hotel rooms with on-site management. We live out-of-state so having on-site management is a good fit for us. Condotels typically do not qualify for traditional home loans so we worked with a local lender who is familiar with the properties. When you are selling, this is something to make sure the potential buyers are aware of before accepting their offer.
Rental Permits and Zoning
Understanding zoning in Estes Park can be a challenge. Our first condo was zoned so that we could rent out the unit for short-term or long-term rentals. An owner could also live there full-time. Our new cabin can only be rented out for short-term rentals. Even as owners we can’t stay at the property for more than 30 days at a time. The town of Estes Park has also put a cap on the number of homes which are located in a residential zone that can be rented out on a short-term basis. This does not affect our property, but it was helpful to understand during our home search.
Ongoing Additional Costs
Home Owners Association (HOA) fees and how they are legally managed is a detail that can be easily overlooked when you are staring out the window at your dream mountain view. The good thing about HOA’s is they often pull together money from all the residence to pay for common amenities and services such as trash, internet, maintenance projects and community swimming pools. Depending on how the HOA is structured, owners might be responsible for the expenses related to exterior items like roof damage or deck maintenance. Interior updates are typically handled by owners individually as well.
Another cost to consider is insurance. If you are renting out your property, you will need liability insurance. Property and income taxes as well as qualifying deductions are things we discussed in detail with our accountant. Some HOA’s have restrictions that do not allow short-term rentals which is important to know if you are hoping to offset costs with rental income.
Furnished vs Unfurnished
Our first condo came unfurnished. I remember sleeping on a blowup mattress the first night before heading to American Furniture Warehouse the next morning in search of the most petite pull-out coach we could find. Our big splurge was on our outdoor furniture. We wanted something comfortable and durable to enjoy the breathtaking views. When we sold our condo we sold it furnished which is an option that buyers appreciate in this market.
Our new cabin was furnished. We had to purchase a new queen-sized couch to qualify the cabin for the rental program, but we didn’t need much else. This time we splurged on local art (found on clearance!) and a nice outdoor grill.
Delivery and shipping items to your new home might be slower and more complicated in Estes Park compared to larger more accessible cities. For example, if you pick out a couch and want to get it delivered, don’t expect next day delivery. The furniture company might have a regular delivery day scheduled 1-2 times per week. We have the same expectations for FedEx or Amazon shipments.
Noise and Amenities
One of the biggest reasons for our switch to Solitude Cabins was the desire for more peace and quiet. We love that the cabins are all free-standing with no shared walls. The previous condo we owned was located in a historic lodge that books many weddings and special events. The bookings are great if you are looking for rental income, but it wasn’t the best fit for our young family. We sometimes miss the amenities the lodge offered including an on-site restaurant and pool. However, we are excited about the proximity we now have to Lake Estes, the Estes Valley Community Center, the community bike trail and Stanley Park. My girls are in heaven!
If you aren’t sold on buying your own vacation home in Estes Park, we hope you consider staying at Solitude Cabins. It’s truly our dream and we are excited to share it with other people who love Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park as much as we do.
*Disclosure – I’m not a realtor or real estate professional. This post is only based on our personal experience and shouldn’t be taken as real estate, financial investment or legal advice. Think of it as a friend giving you the scoop. Thanks 🙂