When second homes come first | SkyHiNews.com

When second homes come first

Tonya Bina
Grand County, Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

Despite a difficult economy, Kandice Gunn has started a thriving business ” carving out a niche for herself as someone who caters exclusively to second-home owners.

The Granby resident’s concierge and home service business gives second-home owners “peace of mind” by accomplishing tasks for them while they are away, such as waiting at the home for furniture to be delivered or for the cable installer to arrive, or cleaning the house after guests have stayed there.

And while part-time homeowners are in town, she serves at their beck and call.

“What really makes me happiest is when I’m able to take care of people and make sure they have everything they need to make their vacation happy,” said the former administrative assistant.

In just the two months she’s been in business, Gunn has enlisted 10 clients and has compiled a list of others who have shown interest.

“It’s so nice that this community has been so welcoming to a service like that. I think it definitely shows that there is the need,” she said.

Job creation

Grand County is populated by 64 percent second homes. With those numbers, Gunn has tapped into a fertile market.

Studies agree, second homes generate jobs. Before the recession, about 60 percent of jobs in mountain communities were created through second-home ownership, estimated Colorado’s Senior Demographer Jim Westkott.

Since many of the jobs are construction-related, that number has decreased during the recession, he said.

Beyond the construction workforce, housekeepers, snow removal workers, childcare workers, restaurant employees, retailers, to name a few, make their living with the help of the second-home dollar.

‘A perfect time to re-evaluate’

“As the number of second homes increases, the demand for workers to support the second-home industry increases as well,” states a 2005 paper “The Economic and Social Impacts of Second Homes in Four Mountain Resort Counties of Colorado,” prepared by University of Colorado professors. The report analyzes the findings of the 2004 Second Home Study of four mountain counties including Grand County.

More jobs necessitate more places for workers to live as housing inventory gets displaced by properties appealing to the second-home market.

Grand County contains an aging rental-unit inventory and, before the recession, faced a shortage of 300 affordable housing units to fulfill the need of its workforce, according to the 2007 Grand County Housing Needs Assessment. That same study predicted Grand County would need 1,000 more affordable units by 2012.

The workforce relocates to more affordable locations such as Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling, creating higher demand for a regional transportation system.

Counties like Grand, “can only grow to a point to where it has the capacity to handle that growth,” Westkott said. “Beyond that, growth is not a positive thing. The expenses can be much greater than the advantages.”

Unlike a business that grows, a county cannot go out and buy another county, he said. Citizens and policy-makers need to be “smart” about growth and be aware of growth’s secondary effects on local economies.

With the easing of the second-home market, now may be the perfect time to re-evaluate, Westkott continued.

The present state of the economy “offers opportunities for communities to try and find ways to focus on problems more than before.”

Baby boomer buy-in

The ownership of more than one home became an American-dream passageway after the end of the Cold War and with aging baby boomers.

Large increases in wealth started dominating real-estate markets in resort areas all over the state.

Grand County started seeing its share in the late ’90s to early 2000s. By 2006, Grand County had amassed a 64 percent second-home population with closer to 80 percent in the Winter Park and Grand Lake areas.

Growth is on course to continue. Colorado’s population of people older than 65 is destined to triple by 2030, experts say, promising an influx of retirees to mountain communities. In 2011, the first wave of baby boomers will reach age 65.

Second-home owners spend an average 64 days each year at their Grand County vacation properties, according to a 2007 study produced by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

In Grand County’s last growth spurt, the average monthly household income increased 35 percent with the influx of a wealthier breed of home buyer. Construction jobs accounted for about 25 percent of the county’s work industry.

Calling it ‘home’

As mountain populations shifted toward second-home owners, county and town governments faced new challenges their predecessors never experienced

Case in point, Grand Lake: Population 469 in winter, but in summer, the town swells to at least 5,000 residents.

In an unprecedented scenario last April, the Town of Grand Lake suspected some voters cast ballots in the town’s 2008 municipal election even though Grand Lake may not have been their primary residence.

The issue of “residency” spread like wildfire throughout the town and fueled controversy. Some full-time residents complained that some second-home owners flip residency status like flapjacks, looking to save a buck on use taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Part-time homeowners shot back, saying wherever they call their primary “home” is their prerogative. The duration of their stay is not in itself the true indicator of residency ” like military personnel who spend most time overseas, or college students who are on campus most of the year ” they have a constitutional right to return “home” and cast a ballot.

Tax base

In making Grand County their home, second-home owners, their friends and families provide a source of tourism and retail spending, which boost sales tax revenues to towns and county.

Their property and sales taxes help schools, fire departments, hospitals, libraries, roads and water and sanitation infrastructures improve.

In example, property taxes account for 87 percent of East Grand School District’s main operating budget. Property taxes also support the district’s transportation fund and bonded debt.

With new second-home developments, something for the overall public is gained ” for example a new stoplight improving an intersection in Granby ” as planners and government boards require it.

Second-home owner contributions to charities and nonprofits keep local services afloat.

And second-home owners often provide a wealth of expertise in areas from public policy to nonprofit consulting otherwise rare to a rural setting.

Factor in the likelihood that a number of second-home owners may choose to retire here, as suggested in study surveys, communities are bound to grow with more fully invested citizens.

Taking out the trash

But having upward of 80 percent second homes, towns like Grand Lake and Winter Park face an interesting governmental dynamic.

Elected officials represent a majority of homeowners who cannot even vote for those officials, yet bear the brunt of many of their decisions.

The election controversy in 2008 wasn’t Grand Lake’s last instance of trying to balance the interests of a mixed population.

Most recently, the town opted to face the problem of trash.

Often, trash is tossed illegally in private Dumpsters. Inferring that many second-home owners forego trash service and find the most convenient place to dump instead, at the expense of others, the town passed a mandatory trash-service law in January.

The law brought a backlash from second-home owners.

They criticized the town for sneaking in an unnecessary mandate. Many said they pack out their garbage after visits, others said they could not afford a trash fee on top of rising Grand County property taxes.

Most said they’d be paying for a service they’d never use.

Yet a service that aims to resolve wildlife, illegal dumping and recycling trash issues must be available for whenever second-home owners are in town, the town said ” and that costs money. The towns of Fraser and Winter Park are exploring the same problem.

Call the police

According to Westkott, kinks from a sizable second-home market are found throughout public services and government.

Take this slice of law enforcement, for example.

County Sheriff Rod Johnson along with most sheriffs in the state are dealing with an expensive problem stemming from the “empty-home” syndrome that peppers Colorado’s countrysides.

In the last year alone, Grand County’s local law enforcement has attended about 1,000 calls associated with home alarms ” all of them false.

These alarm checks cost county taxpayers roughly $70,000 in gasoline and officer time in the past year alone, estimated Johnson.

Employed with the county sheriff’s office since 1984, Johnson remembers out of all the alarms visited in his career, only one turned out to be from an actual burglary.

“I cannot find a reason ” other than it makes a homeowner feel good ” why we’re even going to these alarms,” Johnson said. “Every year they drop lower on the priority list.”

Two months ago, a call led officers to a hot tub alarm.

“I couldn’t figure out why we would care that there’s something wrong with a guy’s hot tub,” Johnson said.

In a growing county, limited officer power is sorely needed for all other responsibilities, he said.

The issue is brought up every year at statewide officer conventions. There, alarm calls are considered a courtesy at best.

Law enforcement is trying to find a solution, one that will not set off the majority of taxpayers, but also serve to correct a poor use of taxpayer money. Counties that have tried charging homeowners for their false alarms found it was more expensive to administer than what it was worth. Johnson advocates alarm companies footing the bill for an officer to service alarm calls, but predicts alarm companies will resist. It would mean more expensive alarms to the consumer, he said.

Changing communities

With the shift in population, long-time citizens cite a shift in community dynamics and a struggle to fill volunteer and government board positions as the scales tip to second homes.

And while second-home properties support local schools, their displacement of working families can negatively affect them.

Tellingly, Grand Lake’s school nearly closed down last year due to its lack of students.

But for Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke, the benefits from second-home owners outweigh challenges.

Second-home properties keep the engine of a mountain economy running, she said.

“They certainly do have an economic value,” Burke said. “And it’s a nice thing to have people in town.”

Like full-time residents, most second-home owners feel a strong connection to the area.

Many vacationed here as children, had parents or grandparents who lived here, or fell in love with the region another way.

“Both groups indicate they visit or live in the region primarily because of qualities, not because of the potential economic gain of property ownership,” states “The Economic and Social Impacts of Second Homes” analysis.

“Thus both groups have good reason to protect the area’s resources and the highly rated quality of life the region provides. Both groups should be keenly interested in policies and actions that maintain the area’s economic and social well-being.”

In step are two master plans being updated: one in Fraser and one in Grand County.

“What should result from the process are plans and policies for the best, not the most, use of the area’s land and other resources,” Westkott said.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@skyhidailynews.com.

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