Giving up on dreams of that high-country hideaway? Don’t bail yet—these ninja tips will help you snag your home in one of the craziest real estate markets in the country. From psychics to realtors, here’s advice on how to build, find, snag and rent your own mountain getaway.

Colorado Compromise

Mountain towns for a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget.

Telluride → Grand Lake

If you love Telluride’s Old West charm, historic buildings, magnificent mountain backdrop and away-from-it-all feel, try Grand Lake. Instead of Telluride’s white-washed cottages, you’ll find cozy log cabins surrounding the town and dotting the shore of the town’s namesake lake. The two share the same tight-knit community and way-out-there feel, with Grand Lake surrounded by Rocky Mountain National Park land and watched over by the snow-capped Never Summer range. The historic boardwalk bustles with galleries and artisan shops and the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater is top notch, bringing musical hits from Broadway, as well as cabarets and kids theater. Recently certified as a creative district, Grand Lake plans are afoot to provide housing and workspace for artists and creatives as part of the Space to Create Colorado initiative.

What You’ll Love Even More

Grand Lake claims the highest-altitude yacht club in the world and The Grand Lake Regatta and Lipton Cup Races set sail in the summer.  

What You’ll Live With

If you’re looking for fancy, this isn’t it—the most beloved restaurant in town encourages you to eat buckets of peanuts and toss the shells on the floor. Town streets are unplowed in winter to welcome snowmobile traffic, and you won’t be rubbing elbows with celebrities like Oprah, Tom Cruise and Ralph Lauren any time soon. 

Price Check

Telluride’s median home value: $906,900

Grand Lake’s median home value: $429,200

Steamboat Springs → Pagosa Springs

If you love Steamboat Springs’ river recreation, hot springs, mountain backdrops and big powder, try Pagosa Springs. It sits at the foot of the Continental Divide and is surrounded by three million acres of San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche Wilderness. The San Juan River runs through town and the adjacent paved trail meanders past the shopping district and hot springs. With Wolf Creek Ski Area minutes away, you’ll be glad that it’s one of the sunnier spots in Colorado for those bluebird powder days. Pagosa Springs has art allure too, with an active arts council, an established center for the arts, oodles of programs and plenty of galleries. 

What You’ll Love Even More

The Mother Spring aquifer, the world’s deepest geothermal hot springs, offers relaxation and healing galore. Pagosa Springs also has great internet access for telecommuters.

What You’ll Live With

You’ll trip over all the tourists also taking to the waters. 

Price Check

Steamboat Springs median home value: $593,600

Pagosa Springs median home value: $374,60

Crested Butte → Durango

If you love Crested Butte’s four-season recreation, cozy community, cultural charms and remote feel, try Durango. The Animas River, perfect for paddlers, winds through the heart of this southwestern Colorado city with ample Old West ambience. A thousand miles of trails in these parts makes for ace hiking and biking, including excursions up slot canyons. If you crave culture, the public art program is matched by its arts organizations and venues, which include the Durango Arts Center and the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. You can day trip to Four Corner’s national parks and monuments, including Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, the Hovenweep National Monument or the Chimney Rock National Monument. 

What You’ll Love Even More

The historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad traverses jaw-dropping scenery between Durango and Silverton, but make the downtown Railroad Museum your first stop. 

What You’ll Live With

You might miss Crested Butte’s famous wildflowers and hippy influence. 

Price Check

Crested Butte median home value: $715,800

Durango median home value: $443,900

Vail → Frisco

If you love Vail’s world-class skiing, family-friendly fun and fantastic food, try Frisco. Your family will have plenty to do with the Frisco Adventure Park, which includes mega tubing runs, as well as a bike and skate park for summer tricks and spins. The surrounding open space offers room to roam—you can even bike to other ski towns. Lake Dillon and the Frisco Bay Marina makes for plenty of water fun. You’ll find a great assortment of restaurants with top-shelf chefs; you’ll want to check out the annual Colorado BBQ Challenge, which runs six blocks on Main Street and attracts tens of thousands to sample the sauces. 

What You’ll Love Even More

Frisco is a half-hour drive from six ski resorts, including Breckenridge, or hop the free shuttle to closest neighbor Copper Mountain. 

What You’ll Live With

The town has lots of locals, so prepare to chat during your morning coffee run. 

Price Check 

Vail’s median home value: $965,400 (median listings at press time were $2,149,000)

Frisco’s median home value: $543,300

Salida → Buena Vista

If you love Salida’s walkability, creative district, indie shops and river access, try nearby Buena Vista. This paddler’s paradise on the Arkansas River features the longest manmade whitewater park in the country, a world-renown whitewater stretch and the notorious Numbers Rapids. For relaxed paddling, check out nearby Twin Lakes. Buena Vista’s also known as a top trout-fishing destination. If you prefer cultural thrills, you’ll love the live music, art galleries and the Chaffee Arts organization, which puts on many artist events. The Seven Peaks music festival is back for its second year. The fam will enjoy the two boulder parks for climbing, a pump track for dirt bikes and the skate park. There are more than ten fourteeners west of Buena Vista with ample trailhead access, and the newly designated scenic byway runs through town. 

What You’ll Love Even More

South Main, a brand-new extension of Main Street with old-fashioned charm that features cobblestone streets, old-timey shops, a luxury hotel, homes with front-porch culture and a fabulous riverfront park that hosts paddlers, picnickers, concerts and farmers markets.

What You’ll Live With

The town isn’t as progressive or fancy as Salida, and you’re an hour’s drive from Monarch Mountain’s ski slopes. And though it’s an important major employer in the area, Buena Vista Correctional Complex sits on the outskirts of town.

Price Check

Salida’s median home value: $415,900

Buena Vista’s median home value: $366,900

Deluxe Desires

There’s wiggle room in the luxury home market- if you’re willing to think out of the box.

So, you want to buy a house in Summit? With low inventory (down 10 percent from last year while price-per-square-foot is up 8.5 percent), this is definitely not an easy market to get into. “We call it an anticipatory market,” says Carolyn Shutler, director of sales and broker development for Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate in Frisco. “Meaning that there’s low inventory in pretty much all areas but no shortage of buyer demand.” At the time of this writing, there were just three three-bedroom properties in all of Summit listed at or below $700,000.

Of course there are quarter shares, a concept that bloomed 15 or so years ago, that allows buyers to purchase one-fourth of a property. “When prices go up, we see people look at quarter shares,” says Ryan Sondrop of NeXstep Real Estate Group in Dillon. “Thirteen weeks a year is still a lot of time to use and for $350,000 you can get into a million-dollar property.” This is terrific if you’ve got a flexible schedule and are on the hunt for a vacation home, but what if you’re looking for a full-time residence? 

Properties with accessory apartments like mother-in-law suites or lockoffs are desirable as they can help offset the cost of a home. “[Owners] can rent the space, even if it’s just a separate entrance to a lower level,” says architect Darci Hughes, of Riverbend Architecture & Planning in Breckenridge. While none of these solutions are exactly earthshattering, Summit Sky Ranch, a new development in north Silverthorne, is taking a different tack. 

Along with three-acre lots that ring in at $1.6 to $1.8 million, the 416-acre development offers cabin tracks, which are single-family homes with square footage ranging from 2,000 to 2,800 and “twin cabins” (2,300 to 2,500-square-foot duplexes). “[Buyers] own the footprint, but no land around it,” explains Matt Mueller, director of development at Summit Sky. “The HOA maintains the land around these and shovels the driveways and sidewalks. This allows us to control the prices a little bit more.” The price tag for such homes starts in the high $900,000s.

Still pricey, but here’s where you win: Summit Sky offers serious amenities. The HOA runs a short-term rental program for owners so there are no management company fees, and the development is building a private lake with a beach, fire pit, paddleboards, and an 18-foot Duffy electric boat. There’s also a state-of-the-art 8,000-foot clubhouse with fitness center and yoga classes (so, cancel those gym memberships), a year-round pool and hot tubs, a kids’ rec room, and open wine and beer taps. That’s in addition to miles of private trails connecting to the Gore Range and an exclusive seven-acre stretch along the Blue River for homeowners to fish. “You’re buying the community and the full experience,” says Mueller. And it’s yours no matter if you spend $900,000 or $2 million. Currently, half of Summit Sky’s 240 properties are sold.

Returning to the market as a whole: “Up here people buy for the lifestyle,” Shutler says. And with no indication of a slowdown, getting creative is going to pay off in the long run.

Be Short-Term Savvy

Visions of renters paying your mortgage? Here’s what you should know before buying a vacation rental.

Ten years ago, most people had never heard of VRBO—the website that allows homeowners to offer their property as short-term vacation rentals. Now, the popularity of sites like VRBO and Airbnb rival hotels and the lure of quick cash has prompted many property owners to turn their mountain properties into vacation rentals. 

According to Denver Business Journal, Airbnb hosts in Summit, Grand, Eagle and Routt counties combined received more than 400,000 guest arrivals and accounted for almost $100 million in supplemental host income last year. VRBO recently named Breckenridge its most popular ski destination for the 2018-19 season.

With numbers like that, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon. If you’re among the prospective buyers with an eye on short-terming your property, be sure to cover all bases. Many second homeowners choose to rent out their properties to defray costs, but if you’ll depend on rental income to make ends meet, you might reconsider.

“You need to be able do this without it being painful,” advises Paula Parker, associate broker with Remax Properties of the Summit. “The rental income should be gravy. It will help defray some costs, but you can’t count on it.”

Why not? First of all, it typically takes time to get enough reservations for a steady cash flow. Parker’s rental property at Copper Mountain, for example, was only 40 to 50 percent occupied its first year, even though properties at the base of a resort rent more consistently and at a higher rate than those in more remote areas. More important, though, can you afford a gap in rental should your building or HOA require an unexpected repair, if there’s an economic downturn or—perhaps worse yet—a bad snow year? “I always caution the buyer to be prepared for any one of those things,” she says.

There was a time when VRBO and Airbnb hosts could collect income on the sly, avoiding taxes. No more. Local governments have updated regulations to require host properties be permitted or licensed. Grand County, for example, uses software to search rental property listings to check whether a property is permitted and if what is advertised, such as the number of beds or parking spaces, matches with the permit application. Fines for noncompliant owners range from $500 to $1,000.

The volume of short-term rental properties has created noise, trash and parking issues within many residential areas. South Lake Tahoe, California, recently voted to ban all vacation home rentals within its residential areas to prevent such issues. To date, no Colorado town has followed suit, but some towns, such as Salida and Grand Lake, have enacted strict limits on short-term rentals within residential areas. Be sure you know the short-term rental regulations for your jurisdiction—and HOA—before you purchase.

Parker also advises: “If this is something you plan to do, plan to do it right. You are essentially creating a lodging business, even if it’s only one unit. Just like a big lodging business, you have to provide everything a guest wants, you have to follow the rules of the community and protect your investment. That’s a job—it’s not something you can really do in your free time.”

Be prepared to handle advertising, payments and bookings, and possibly hire a local host to function as a guest liaison, says Tanya Delahoz, owner of Dwell Summit. Boost your amenities, she adds. Good linens, upscale tech, trendy décor and gorgeous professional photography will help sell your space to the Instagram crowd.

Whether you decide to be the primary contact or hire someone to do it all, most jurisdictions require that you have a local property management company ready to respond, in person, to your guests’ needs or unexpected emergencies. If you’re not ready to DIY, your realtor is probably the best source of referrals for licensed and qualified on-the-ground help.


Price-per-square-foot is crazy high, builders are booked for years, and subcontractors are scarce. If you just can’t wait to build, here’s why prefab might be an option right now.

If the terms “prefabricated” or “modular home” brings to mind a double-wide, it’s time to wipe that image away. “We try to refer to it as system-built or off-site construction. Modular is a bad word,” says Jon Reid, co-owner of Castle-Rock based Liscott Custom Homes. Custom builders like Liscott have been redefining prefab for more than two decades and making it more efficient for mountain communities where the building window is extremely limited. Reid says the company, which is currently building multiple homes around Summit, regularly shaves six to 12 months off the traditional stick-built home. Consider it multitasking at its best: “While the house is being constructed off site we can do the site work, the excavation, the foundation, and have the utilities installed,” Reid says. (And all this at $105 to $200 per square foot, not including the price of the land.)

In addition to being completed quickly, these homes tend to be greener. “Of course we can make it as green as a homeowner wants,” says Reid. Dvele, a custom builder out of Loma Linda, California, has staked its claim on the smart home, running with a mission to create “the smartest, healthiest, most sustainable structures on the market.” The homes, which meet passive and LEED standards, include solar roofs, radiant heat and extreme insulation windows. Plus, the company pledges to plant 10,000 trees with every home it builds.

Real-world efficiencies also come from an inherently less wasteful building process. “For us, the ultimate sustainable element is the size where footprints are efficient and responsive so there’s no wasted space,” says Betsy Gabler, business development director for Alchemy Architects, a custom builder based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. “The greenest square foot is the one you don’t build.”

There are, of course, transportation costs to factor in as well. Liscott homes, for example, are delivered 90 percent complete and, depending on the size of the structure, arrive on two to four trucks, rather than an average of 40 truckloads for a traditionally constructed home. “There’s no where near as much transportation so there are fewer pollutants going into the air and less fuel is being used,” says Reid.

The trickiest part of the home-building process might be finding the perfect plot of land, says Ryan Sondrup, owner and president of NeXstep Real Estate Group in Dillon. “[A client and I] spent almost a year and a half finding land,” he says. But assuming you do, here are a few models to consider.

A (Sixth) Sense of Place

How setting intentions and trusting your intuition can give your next real estate transaction a boost.

Buying a home is often the biggest purchase we make in our lifetime. Selling a home is often fraught with caffeinated decluttering as you frantically summon the vibe that no one lives in the home you’re still occupying. While there are countless financial, real estate and organizing experts you can consult for tips, a psychic might not spring to mind. Enter Melissa Mattern, who’s helped clients clear their mental decks and hone their intuition to close real estate deals.

Tune in to your internal frequency

“It’s all about listening,” says Mattern, who currently runs Meditation for Regular People in Portland, Oregon. She suggests jotting down your “intuitive hits,” like when you sense someone is about to ring the doorbell. “We’re all born intuitive,” says Mattern. “But most people walk right by their intuitive hits.” 

Part of tuning in to your intuition involves taking a childlike view of the world to shed preconceived notions about our everyday reality. “Let the child in you lead,” says Mattern. “Kids don’t have that barrier that we do as adults, where we’re afraid of looking stupid.” Meditation also helps us connect to our internal radar; sitting quietly and breathing for a few minutes each day helps us feel more connected to our true thoughts and opinions. 

Buyers: Make a list but be flexible

Go ahead and draft the deal-breakers and the must-haves, but be open to adjusting. “When you walk into a house and it breaks every rule, but you say, ‘Wow, this is nothing that was on our list, but I feel like I’m at home here,’ that’s the time to start listening to your intuition,” says Mattern.

Mattern has lived this experience herself more than once, and she credits her intuition for her home-buying successes. “Our house is more than 100 years old, and it’s bright purple,” she says. “When we first rolled up, I said, ‘You’re kidding me. I mean, I know it’s Portland, but . . .’” The inside was equally quirky; every room was painted a different color. “It looked like someone took acid and grabbed an Easter basket and started painting,” she says. But when Mattern slowed down and looked beyond the color scheme, she got a strong feeling about the house. “I knew there was just something about this house… and here we are.”

The reverse is true about some houses—they seem great in photos but when you walk in there’s a strong sense of “nope.” “It’s about listening to yourself; not the real estate agent or anyone around you saying that you’re crazy,” says Mattern.

Sellers: Crowd out worries by setting clear intentions

Selling a home has its own issues, from reluctance to part with a beloved space to worry over deals going sideways. The saying “Where attention goes, energy flows,” is a big part of intuition, says Mattern. “If your attention is on what-ifs or not wanting people to notice this or that, then you’ll have that energy when potential buyers come in.” Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, reframe to think about the perfect person seeking your home right now. “Your mantra has to become, ‘Everyone wants this deal to happen,’” says Mattern.

Attitude is everything

We all have that single friend who laments the lack of “good” men or women out there. “But you only need one, so get out there and say there’s one person out there that’s waiting for me and I’m going to meet them tonight,” says Mattern, who applies this same attitude toward finding the perfect house or home buyer.

Instead of seeking the perfect house or buyer, seek out the best house or deal for you, says Mattern. “Approach your sell or buy with that same attitude of not ‘I hope, I’m trying, maybe, maybe, maybe,’ and instead say, ‘We’re all over this, we’re going to find a house that’s great for us.’” 

By Lori DeBoer, Amanda Faison, Toni McClellan & Lu Snyder
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