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Aspenites finding a way to get by

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Living in a high-priced community like Aspen requires making sacrifices, and as the fragile economy continues to challenge residents, some have been forced to work even harder to make ends meet.The toll has been felt in the local real estate industry, and even the most established brokers have seen their incomes plummet in the past two years.That’s why Aspen residents Edmund Aguilera and Chris Giuffrida, both brokers for Chaffin and Light Real Estate, have taken on second jobs at the Aspen Club & Spa to pay the bills.”I’m doing what I have to do to get by and weather the storm,” said Giuffrida, who now works 40 hours a week at the health club and another 20 to 30 hours at Chaffin and Light.Giuffrida, 41, took on the second gig a little over a year ago after his real estate income fell about 50 percent. “I’m trying to hang on,” he said. “Real estate is my primary focus, but I needed a job to preserve that.” Giuffrida said he has prospective buyers in the pipeline but they don’t pay the bills.”I don’t look at it like there’s not enough business,” he said, adding he had only two closings last year. “[The Aspen Club] holds me over.”Aguilera, 35, is a broker’s associate and handles luxury rentals for Chaffin and Light. He took a part-time position at the Aspen Club at the end of 2008 when he also saw his earnings drop by 50 percent.”Definitely in ’08 you started seeing the difference, but last year was worse,” he said. “As things got worse, I started working more.”Aguilera, who had been a member of the health club, said before he took on the second job, he and his wife started analyzing their budget and deciding where to cut back.One of the lifestyle amenities that was to go was Aguilera’s gym membership. Then a job came open at the front desk, and club owner Michael Fox gave Aguilera the chance to supplement his income while still maintaining his gym membership.Aguilera, who has two daughters ages 4 and 6, works nights and weekends at the club, and another 40 to 50 hours at Chaffin and Light. He said he has to work twice as hard in the real estate field to chase leads and lock in buyers and renters.”It’s tough,” Aguilera said, adding the pay at the club is dramatically lower compared to real estate commissions, but he has to do whatever he can to provide for his family. “I’m not afraid to swallow my pride.”Giuffrida, who also was a member of the club before he became an employee, said the second full-time job comes with health benefits, which was key since his had increased significantly.”I’m saving $500 a quarter on health care,” he said. Giuffrida added that before he took the job at the club, his credit card debt was mounting, and expenses related to undeveloped land he owns in Old Snowmass was eating up his savings.To compound the situation, property taxes on that land have increased more than 100 percent since 2006.Giuffrida sold his townhouse in Basalt and has been renting a place in Aspen for nearly two years. He said he’s contemplated moving back to Philadelphia but wants to stay in Aspen, where he moved nine years ago.”If I can’t make more income, I can’t hang on here,” he said. “I’m trying to do what it takes, but I wonder whether it’s worth it.”Aguilera’s wife, Henriette Burger, also works at the club in the kid’s gym. Her full-time job is co-director of the Early Learning Center.Aguilera and his wife’s income from the Aspen Club allows them to pay expenses related to his family’s development property in Mexico near Baja. The extra income also is set aside for savings and family fun.”It has given us some flexibility to do some of the things we want,” he said, adding he constantly evaluates his family’s disposable income. “We definitely have learned how to shop smarter and eat smarter.”Both men said they are grateful to have jobs at Chaffin and Light, as well as at the club. “I do feel lucky and fortunate,” Giuffrida said.They added both are solid places to work and their bosses are supportive and understanding.”At Chaffin and Light, they treat their employees like family, and Michael [Fox] is awesome,” Aguilera said. “That means a lot to work for someone like that.”But even so, Aguilera said he is pursuing a career change in an effort to get more out of life. He is studying to get his personal training license, and plans to start a sports-specific training camp for kids and young adults. It would be similar to what he did with his cousin in Southern California, from where he moved nine years ago.”I just want to do something that makes me happy and is meaningful,” Aguilera said. “I love sports and kids, and even though it’s an iffy time right now, it’s something meaningful to me.”csack@aspentimes.com


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