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Worker homes for $1 million?

Janet Urquhart
The North 40 subdivision offers a variety of homes built by local, working residents, including some $1 million residences. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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It’s one thing to have a $1 million home at North 40, an enclave of housing for local workers, but it’s apparently another to sell one.A couple of $1 million-plus sales have already been logged in the neighborhood, located next to the Airport Business Center, but the most recent listing to top that mark was on the market for more than a year before the price was dropped into the $900,000 range, according to North 40 resident Shellie Roy, a real estate broker with Frias Properties.It is reportedly now under contract.Nonetheless, 19 of the 71 single-family homes at North 40 are valued at more than $1 million, according to property assessments that were recently updated by the Pitkin County assessor’s office.”Are there 19? Good grief. I had no idea,” said North 40 resident Rich Seedorf, an architect who helped developer John McBride plan the subdivision, where qualified local workers purchased lots and built their own homes. The residences are assigned the RO, or resident occupied, category under the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority guidelines. There were no limits on what lot buyers could spend building their homes at North 40. The cost of the lot and the construction formed the basis for a house’s value; it then appreciates at 4 percent annually and, if a home is sold, the buyer must qualify as a full-time worker in the county.

Neither McBride nor Seedorf expected the many large, pricey homes that sprang up at North 40, though other elements of the subdivision have fulfilled their overriding vision: a tight-knit neighborhood of local residents who had a chance to design and build their own homes.”It has been a living laboratory for me, to see how the concepts played out,” Seedorf said.McBride said he expected buyers to build modest homes and then add on as their families grew. Instead, many residents built to the limit – 2,200 square feet of residential space, plus up to an 800-square-foot basement and 500-square-foot, separate garage.”That was going to be the maximum, we thought, but they all built to the maximum,” McBride said. “It is a little different than we expected.””I think most of us felt, while we were building the house, that it wouldn’t be cheaper to add on next year or the year after,” Seedorf said. “I think everyone felt it was a one-shot thing.”According to the assessor’s office, in addition to the 19 homes valued at more than $1 million, there are also nine assessed in the $900,000 range. On the low end, there are 18 homes valued in the $400,000 range and five in the $300,000s. The assessments include the lot prices, which ranged from $75,000 to $165,000, though one was apparently valued at $181,500.

The fact that a couple of $1 million homes have sold there speaks to the need for something in that price range in the deed-restricted market, in which housing is sold in various income/price categories and buyers must be full-time local employees, McBride reasoned.”I think there’s just a huge vacuum between the government housing program and the free market,” he said.Nonetheless, a $900,000 or $1 million home may be pushing it, said Roy, a former county commissioner. There’s “very little” demand for worker housing at those prices, she suspects.”I think it’s probably pushing the limit for the local pool of buyers,” agreed Seedorf, whose own North 40 home just went on the market. He said it has attracted a fair amount of interest in the early going. His house is assessed at about $720,000.But for $1 million, according to Roy, buyers can still find the occasional house in the free market in Aspen – a home that comes without the restrictions on appreciation and the need to find a qualified local worker to buy it when it goes back on the market.The priciest homes at North 40 may spend a long time on the market when an owner is ready to sell, she said.

The city plans to include some RO lots at its Burlingame Ranch worker housing development, allowing buyers to build their own homes, but the City Council has already put the clamps on the initial RO prices. Council members capped the initial value of the RO homes at $640,000 after watching what occurred at North 40, a privately developed project.County commissioners weren’t sure how North 40 would play out, but hoped the size limitations on the homes and the size of the lots would keep the house prices in check, according to Commissioner Mick Ireland.Ireland said he also pushed for the $75,000 lots to have some construction caps to ensure cheaper homes in the mix. “We were assured that the size limitations would control prices, we weren’t sure so we ran the experiment and learned,” he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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