Local women persevere in search for homes of their own | SteamboatToday.com

Local women persevere in search for homes of their own

— Michelle House and Rene Mattone have taken divergent paths during the past 13 months to realize their dreams of affordable housing in Steamboat Springs.

Today, they live in beautiful new condominiums within 600 yards of each other. And although both professional women were prepared a year ago to buy deed-restricted condos that would limit appreciation in their new homes, it hasn’t worked out that way.

House moved into her new home in First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows this month under very different terms than she originally agreed to. Mattone went shopping for market-rate housing as she despaired of ever moving into her “affordable” condo. She was surprised at what she found on Aspen Leaf Way.

“I’m thrilled to death,” Mattone said this week about her brand-new condo at the Aspens at Walton Creek. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe my good fortune!'”

House is just as enthusiastic about her new home.

“I was able to get one of the best two-bedroom units at First Tracks,” House said. “My deck looks out at the south valley, and the bedrooms have views of the ski area. I’m looking at living there for a number of years. I’m hoping it will be lucrative for me when I go to sell it. I know it’s going to work out.”

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She is one of three local buyers who closed on First Tracks this month. The others are Michael Bobela and Christopher Lee Gibbens.

Mattone and House were among a dozen original buyers who signed on the dotted line in August 2008 to buy deed-restricted condominiums in Phase I First Tracks at Wildhorse Meadows.

The affordable condos were required of developer Resort Ventures West under the city of Steamboat Springs’ former inclusionary zoning ordinance.

House manages both Steamboat locations of Vectra Bank Colorado, and Mattone is a collections investigator for the Colorado courts system. Both were committed to making deed-restricted housing work 13 months ago.

“I went into it headfirst and said, ‘This is what I’m going to do,'” Mattone said.

Both women qualified to fit within the maximum income guidelines for the size of their households. Other qualified buyers at the time include a chef, a manager for a larger resort property management company, a radio personality and two employees of national outdoor clothing brand SmartWool.

“Owning my own home is important to me, being a prior homeowner,” Mattone said at the time. “Renting on a continuous basis is not OK for me.”

After watching the rapid escalation of housing prices here from her perspective as a bank manager, House was reconciled to accepting the limits that would be imposed on the equity she built up in her new home.

In order to close the sale of $900,000-plus luxury condominiums across the parking lot at Trailhead Lodge, RVW had to obtain a certificate of occupancy for First Tracks.

Despite a determined effort, RVW’s affordable buyers could not get the financing they needed to close on their units.

The real barrier to obtaining financing for First Tracks buyers, City Housing Coordinator Nancy Engelken said, was one that nobody could have expected.

Lending standards changed, and banks suddenly began requiring that 70 percent of the units in a condo project be sold before they would underwrite a mortgage. Higher priced units at First Tracks were not being put under contract, and the affordable project was never going to reach the 70 percent threshold.

At the same time, the gap between the price of market-rate housing and deed-restricted housing in Steamboat Springs was shrinking in a recessionary real estate market; the incentive for buyers to accept deed restrictions was evaporating.

Like Mattone, House began looking around, but most of the condos in her price range were 30 years old and needed kitchen remodels.

“I’m not a fixer-upper,” she said.

She looked at attractively priced units in SunRay Meadows but shied away from the uncertainty of the many short sales on the market there.

Easing down payments

Instead, House was drawn to the offer of a down payment loan of as much as 20 percent under the city’s revised program at First Tracks.

Engelken explained that the Steamboat Springs City Council directed city staff to come up with the program with the intent that it would help modest income households bridge the gap to a market-rate 30-year mortgage.

The city finally engaged a specialized bank in Fort Collins, Funding Partners, which had a track record of providing down payment assistance through the Mountain Housing Coalition. Best of all, its program was preapproved by mortgage backer Fannie Mae.

The city added its own requirements to the down payment assistance program. It is available to people who make at least 80 percent of their income in Routt County, plan to use their purchase as their primary residence and don’t already own a home in Routt County.

The loan must be repaid within 15 years. Buyers who repay their down payment loan within the first two years pay no interest. Those who take longer repay the full amount and rebate 75 percent of the appreciation to the city.

The condos may be sold at market rate. However, the city retains a right of first refusal with the thought that it might be workable to reinvest the city’s share of appreciation into the unit and someday offer the unit as affordable housing, Engelken said.

Two forks in the road

While she waited in vain for financing, Mattone had begun working with a Realtor. On her way to catch a movie one night, she stumbled onto a completed two-bedroom condominium at the Aspens (one of only a handful in an overall townhome project). It was under contract, but the buyer’s financing had evaporated. She jumped on it and bought a unit with hardwood flooring, a gas fireplace with stone facing and granite countertops for $310,000. Mattone also is psyched to have a garage of her own.

House’s new home, for which she paid $298,200, does not offer the level of trim and finishes that Mattone’s does. But it’s brand new with new appliances and is bright and sunny with mountain views. She doesn’t have a garage, but she has the use of a locked, indoor storage unit.

An avid skier, House said she thinks the location and amenities offered by First Tracks, including quick access to the ski area via a new gondola, will help her new home increase in value. The ability to quickly walk, ride a bicycle or jump on free transit to get to dining, shopping and entertainment is a strength of her condo, she said.

– To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com