Burlingame delays raise buyers’ ire
December 24, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN – Repeated delays for Burlingame lottery winners to close on their new homes might prompt Aspen officials to rethink the dates of future lotteries at the affordable housing development.Thirty-one units went up for bid in September, and new buyers expected to close and move in as early as November.For some, that’s exactly how it went.But according to Assistant City Manager Bentley Henderson, problems with sprinkler systems, water meters and missing support structures has delayed others. Roughly a dozen buyers have experienced some sort of delay, and about half of those still don’t know when they’re set to close.”I think the biggest thing is that maybe they did the lottery too soon,” said Sabrina Kertz, whose closing date has been delayed several times.Other lottery winners agree, and housing officials are adamant that the city wait until homes are complete before staging the next lottery, although they say it’s not entirely up to them. The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Office is a separate entity from the city, whose asset management department is overseeing the Burlingame development.”To some degree, we’re a party to the delays in that we got a little overzealous in trying to get people into those units,” said Henderson, who heads the asset management department. “What we need to recognize is that the lottery doesn’t necessarily mandate the imminent scheduling of closing dates. That’s where I think there’s some blame that can be laid with us.”The delays have caused headaches for both buyers and housing officials, who bear the brunt of complaints from the owners.Housing Director Tom McCabe said his office has had trouble getting reliable dates from the city. And every time there’s another delay, housing office sales associate Pam Gabel has had to call the affected buyers to give them the bad news. That has made her unpopular with some buyers, although McCabe and Henderson say there’s nothing more she can do.
“I feel my staff is really getting hammered on,” McCabe said. “We’re trying our best to be responsible, but the information we’re getting, either we don’t get it when we ask for it, or it’s not accurate.”Cold comfortMcCabe and Henderson said their offices are doing what they can to help buyers who made plans based on closing dates that changed.Last week, two buyers had packed all their belongings and left their old homes but weren’t able to move in at Burlingame because their units didn’t have certificates of occupancy. While McCabe wasn’t able to push up their move-in dates, he did persuade the city to allow the buyers to move in their belongings and lock up.”It would be kind of a double whammy during the holidays to get all your stuff ripped off,” he said.In another case, officials extended the lease for a lottery winner who lives at the city’s Truscott development.But for some, there’s a financial hardship in having to wait.Kim and Pete Estock live with their toddler son in a Category 4 condo at Hunter Creek. They’re moving to a somewhat smaller, but less expensive, Category 3 unit at Burlingame to save money.”We hope we’re going to be OK with the smaller space, but having children is expensive. We found that out,” Kim said.Having to pay the higher mortgage for several more months has been a challenge for the couple, and Kim also worries that interest rates will rise while they’re waiting to close. But mostly, it’s hard not being able to plan for the future.
“It’s just frustrating,” she said. “We have things packed in a room thinking we were going to move in early December or even November. … I don’t know what else [the city] could do, but I don’t really feel like there’s communication.”Sabrina and Nick Kertz were set to close on their new home Dec. 18, but they, too, have been caught in the delay.The Kertzes currently own a deed-restricted unit at Aspen Highlands, and Sabrina said that if they’d known they couldn’t close on their Burlingame home until next year, they would have waited to sell their Highlands home. The appreciation could have amounted to $1,000, which “is a lot of money” for the couple, with a toddler son. Kertz said she’s also concerned about the ripple effects.”We know the people who want to move in here are very excited as well,” she said.But overall, Kertz said the delay has amounted to little more than the usual moving frustrations. She’s moved a lot, and she wasn’t looking forward to packing up her family just before the holidays, so the delay until after Christmas was “a blessing.””This time, I think it’s smoother,” she said. “It’s actually provided me time to organize things.”Plus, the interest rate for their Burlingame home has actually dropped in the interim, so that has worked in their favor as well.Kertz tried to put the frustrations in perspective, focusing on the benefits Burlingame will offer once it’s complete. She cited the family-friendly atmosphere, the open space for kids to play, and the environmental design as some of the many pluses at the new development. “We’re just trying to look at it in a positive way,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do. It’s moving.”Despite her frustrations and sympathy for the other families that have experienced delays, Kertz said it’s all par for the course in building a new home.”I think it’s a perfectly normal thing that’s happening,” she said. “Most people are not used to building homes, not used to dealing with building.”
Missing beamsAlthough some delays have been resolved, closing dates for buyers in one building have been put off indefinitely.Contractors recently discovered a structural flaw in that building, and city officials don’t want to give a new date until they’re sure they won’t have to move it back again.”They felt it was necessary for structural integrity to put in a few more bearing points,” said Steve Bossart, project manager for Burlingame. “They’re looking at a couple of solutions, and I’m pretty comfortable with the direction they’re taking.”Bossart said mechanical and electrical equipment has already been installed in the buildings, which is slowing down the addition of the beams.Although Henderson and Bossart say this sort of problem is normal, some buyers are frustrated by the lack of communication, which has fanned rumors of serious structural problems in the building.Henderson insists that it’s a matter of perception, however. These sorts of problems are normal when developers build spec homes before they have buyers, and contractors simply fix them and move on.”They’re good solid buildings. There’s no question about that,” he said. “My feeling is if this was a building owners hadn’t been assigned to, it wouldn’t be an issue. It happens all the time.”In the end, everyone seems to agree the city would be wise not to hold the next lottery – or at least not to set the closing dates – until the homes are habitable.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org