How-to: A guide to buying and renting in Grand County
Editor’s note: This article is part of the final installment in Sky-Hi News’s three-part housing series that examines the affordable housing issue facing Grand County and its widespread effects.
It’s no secret that finding a place to live in Grand County is difficult. Housing is scarce and what is available can be expensive, leaving countless people struggling to fill their needs.
So how can it be done?
Local industry leaders provided practical advice for those looking to rent an apartment or buy their first home in Grand County. The first, and most emphasized tip was to thoroughly prepare both your financials and your expectations.
“The first thing I’m going to ask is have you talked with a lender yet?” said Robin Herbert, associate at RE/MAX Peak to Peak. “You also have to decide what you absolutely have to have in a home, because in a lower-priced market, there’s not that much.”
Because of the competitive nature of the market for both renting and buying, those looking for new housing have to move quickly and decisively to stand a chance. Most local industry insiders agreed that before starting the home buying process in earnest, the purchaser should consult a lender, get pre-approved for financing and know exactly what can be afforded.
“If something nice comes on the market that’s under $300,000 it goes very quickly,” said Herbert. “You can’t have a mindset of needing to think about it. You kind of have to have already thought of everything so you can move quickly.”
Herbert said it’s also necessary to define what you’re looking for in a home, and make decisions on wants versus needs based on availability. She suggested seeing everything in your price range, even if you’re not interested, so that when something more ideal comes on the market you will recognize it.
But it is also important to be flexible in deciding what you want.
“I think flexibility is probably more important than ever considering inventory is at a record low,” said Chad Griffith, co-owner and managing partner of Mountain Chalet Property Management, Mountain Chalet Properties and a licensed Realtor. “Despite the pressure with low inventory, they still have to be comfortable with any purchase they make.”
A competitive market means a seller’s market. With every rental or for-sale property getting between 12 and 15 offers, it is important for applicants to make themselves as attractive as possible to potential sellers or landlords.
This process includes improving credit scores, getting references, providing rental history and generally looking your best on paper.
“I liken it very much to searching for that first job out of college,” said Griffith. “You really have to build your case. Really selling yourself to potential landlords is imperative in this type of a market.”
When consulting a lender, you can get detailed advice about ways to increase your credit score. Paying off debt and avoiding major purchases on credit could lead to lower interest rates for buyers and a better résumé for renters.
Renters should provide anything that will paint them in a positive light, including references and rental history.
“Landlords are able to be more picky about who they have live in their units,” said Sheena Darland, housing coordinator at the Grand County Housing Authority. “So make sure you have references ready to be contacted, so they don’t have to wait on checking them. And it’s important to leave the unit with a good reference for the future.”
The Grand County Housing Authority offers a monthly home-buying class, targeted at first time home buyers, which helps to break down how to prepare for the process.
Before you can apply, you have to find a house or apartment you can afford, and there are several resources available to renters and buyers.
Buyers and renters should be diligent in checking online websites that list new properties. Applicants should also consider local real estate agents or property managers, which are updated daily with new properties.
A lack of formal resources can be frustrating for renters, who have to rely more on word-of-mouth to find housing. Griffith said renters need to expand their network, and include everyone possible in the search.
“Whether it’s friends, family or folks who work in the industry, it can’t hurt to extend your search to any and all people you know,” said Griffith. “Create relationships with people you aren’t familiar with, and the companies that manage rentals. In this type of a market I think it’s imperative for those looking to not only be relentless, but persistent.”
Those without local connections should inquire at local chambers of commerce for recommendations, and many properties are listed on classified pages such as Craigslist or the popular Grand County On Line Garage Sale Facebook page. Those looking should also check with their employer to see if they can assist.
There are also resources for those who are having trouble affording rentals.
The Grand County Housing Authority grants Section 8 housing vouchers, though the waiting list is currently closed. The Grand Foundation awards housing assistance, and just teamed up with Winter Park Resort and the Town of Winter Park to open a new donor advised Winter Park Housing Assistance Fund. The Grand Angels in Grand Lake and the Mountain Family Center also offer assistance.
“When grants and funds like that come about I think it’s a huge help to the people in this county,” said Darland. “Even if it’s just helping with the security deposit or first and last month’s rent, that’s a big burden on people.”
While there’s only so much one can do to combat the harsh housing conditions in the county, thoroughly preparing, knowing where to look and utilizing all of your resources could help make the difference.
“That’s really all it is, understanding where you need to be and how to get there,” said Herbert.
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