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Half a house for sale on Main St. in Aspen

Paul Conrad Aspen Times Weekly
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ASPEN ” A Victorian home listed for sale on Main Street offers more than a history of Aspen’s old days ” a two-year legal battle and a longtime family dispute among its owners have made it difficult to attract a suitable buyer.

When the property’s half-owners, Jack and Eloise Ilgen, put 518 W. Main St. up for sale last spring, the home’s other 50 percent owner, Eileen Ilgen ” Jack’s sister-in-law ” put up her own sign saying her interest isn’t for sale.

Jack and Eloise lived in the house with Eileen from the mid-1980s until 1992. In 1986, Eileen conveyed a one-half interest to Jack and Eloise in return for their promise to share the costs of maintenance and expenses, as well as their commitment in assisting with Eileen’s daily life.

Eileen, now 87, sued her relatives in Pitkin County District Court in 2005, alleging Jack and Eloise stopped performing their contractual obligations after they moved out in 1992.

Eileen asked the court to grant her 100 percent ownership of the property, which was denied by Judge James Boyd in the fall of 2006.

That’s when Jack and Eloise decided to sell their 50 percent interest. They enlisted local real estate broker Bill Stirling to put their portion of the property up for sale.

Eileen and her representatives, adopted son Dan Soderberg and attorney Ray Graham, appealed Judge Boyd’s decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which in November upheld the lower court’s decision. The ruling effectively guarantees 50 percent ownership for Jack and Eloise.

But Eileen still holds a 100 percent right to occupy the property, although the home is uninhabitable because of a fire that occurred three years ago. Eileen, now wheelchair-bound, has been living with Soderberg in his Woody Creek home ever since.

And even though the legal dispute appears to be over for now, Eileen and Soderberg’s battle with the insurance company to adequately reimburse them for the fire damage rages on, leaving the historic home empty, and in need of repair and restoration.

“The poor old lady just wants to live and die in her house,” Soderberg said, alleging that Jack and Eloise have taken advantage of their aging relative by reneging on their promise to care for her, as well as pay taxes, insurance and maintenance on the property. “Talk about a nightmare family feud. They always say you hurt the ones you love.”

But that’s not how Jack and Eloise see it, and neither do the courts.

The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that Eileen should have known at least by 1992 that Jack and Eloise weren’t going to perform their obligations under what she claimed was the agreement. Yet, she didn’t decide to sue until 2005, which was 13 years after the fact and far in excess of the three-year statute of limitations, according to court documents.

“According to the complaint, defendants induced plaintiff to sign a letter in August 1992, acknowledging that the property conveyance was a gift and omitting any reference to the obligations that plaintiff claimed they had undertaken under the original agreement,” according to a Nov. 1, 2007 court of appeals opinion.

The appeals court also pointed out that Eileen’s attorney had prepared the 1992 letter, which was further evidence that Eileen acknowledged there was no monetary obligation expected from Jack and Eloise.

“Like the trial court, we perceive no basis for treating plaintiff’s breach of contract claim as one for a money obligation payable in installments,” according to court documents. “We also note that, even if the claim could be viewed as such, there was no evidence presented in the trial court of specific failures to perform by defendants after 1999, when according to Eloise Ilgen’s testimony at trial, all contact among the parties ceased.”

The appeals court also upheld the trial court’s decision that Jack and Eloise did in fact contribute to property taxes on the home and had paid half of the insurance even after they moved out.

Soderberg claims that’s untrue and said Eileen is a sweet lady whose mind still is sharp as a tack and that she remembers the events clearly.

“They are taking advantage of her,” Soderberg said. “I know people who have treated their dogs better than her.

“I’m appalled,” he added. “I can’t believe what they are doing.”

Stirling said the two sisters-in-law have a signed, recorded and notarized use agreement, which requires each 50 percent undivided owner to pay 50 percent of taxes, insurance, major maintenance costs and major improvements.

Complicating matters is that Jack and Eloise took out a $70,000 loan against the house, according to court documents and Soderberg, who said Eileen has since willed the property to him.

Soderberg said he had the option of buying Jack and Eloise out for $400,000 but he refused. And as long as Eileen is alive, she isn’t interested in selling the home she grew up in.

“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t give them a dime,” Soderberg said. “She is not selling for even $200 million.

“There’s a lot of sentimental value.”

Jack and Eloise declined to comment and their attorney, Lucas Peck, was unavailable for comment.

Stirling, representing the Ilgens as their real estate agent, said the situation is unfortunate.

“Many families have disagreements and misunderstandings over property and money,” he said. “I am amazed how common it is. So this familial antipathy is not unusual.”

But what is unusual is trying to sell a property when one of the owners doesn’t want it to be sold. And because Eileen has a 100 percent right to occupy the home, Stirling can’t step foot on the property.

“It’s the first time I have ever had a situation where I can’t take someone on the property,” Stirling said. “It’s been somewhat challenging to sell it.”

Stirling relies on the home’s floor plans, as well as a market analysis and a pro forma he created for the property.

He said he’s had a few offers from prospective buyers who would become a 50 percent owner in the property. There has been two formal proposals made in the last eight months and a signed agreement recently fell through because of the prospective buyer’s concern of the political climate of anti-development, Stirling said.

The home is listed for $1.6 million, which is far less than what similar properties are selling for. Stirling estimates that without the baggage, the property would be worth about $3.5 million.

“Because of the lawsuit and Eileen’s right to occupy, the property value goes down,” Stirling said.

The property comprises 2 1/2 city lots, which equates to 7,500 square feet of land.

The house is deemed historic by the city of Aspen and therefore protected from being torn down. The land is zoned mixed-use, however, so it can be redeveloped into a multiuse property that could include office, commercial and residential, as well as affordable housing.

“It’s just ripe for an appropriate development,” Stirling said. “It could just be a fabulous site.”

He added that Eileen could return to the Victorian house once the interior is restored.

“A potential buyer could arrange to create an apartment in the Victorian for Eileen, as part of the development, so she could watch the world go by, essentially from her house, and be allowed to have life estate on the property, even after she would sell her half or be joint venture partner with someone taking [Jack and] Eloise out of [their] interest,” Stirling said.

Although the Victorian house must be preserved, a basement could be built underneath it. The total leasable and sellable square footage above and below ground is just more than 9,000 square feet.

An owner also could apply for an historical lot split, creating two separate parcels. The west parcel where the Victorian sits could be developed up to 3,750 square feet, plus a basement of about 1,800 square feet.

The east parcel would be vacant and could handle up to 3,748 square feet of development. Two structures could be built on the lot.

“This is a property that is just aching for restoration,” Stirling said. “But what a buyer has to do is be patient.”

csack@aspentimes.com


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