June 2014

Surreal estate

By David Feela

You’ve seen those extravagant mountain homes – spotted from the highway while driving past, maybe a little too fast, keeping your eyes on the scenery but not being able to help glancing up where it perches like a hippopotamus on a diving board.

In all likelihood, if you’ve traveled through our most remarkable and marketable Rocky Mountains, you have noticed more than one such place, up there where the people who don’t live here live. If you haven’t, the good news is you may find one of these resorts – and hopefully only one – on the block where you live.

Call them your wispy neighbors, for lack of a more solid word. That is not to say they don’t occasionally visit the place. They do, or their caretakers do, or their relatives who use the spot for a vacation do, or their contractual rental occupants do. Even their pedigreed pets do – do.

But the house is not to be confused with a home. It’s an investment, a brick-and-mortar vault to tuck one’s capital into, and ostensibly to offer an additional property-tax contribution to the local economy.

The upper end of this real-estate market is near the ski slopes. You’ll find a big gas-insert fireplace set into a quarried stone wall where with the click of a remote control the flames leap to life. Skis will be lined up against another wall in an underground garage, a chilled bottle of Chardonnay on the marble counter, and the grill will be heating up to a proper cooking temperature on the freshly shoveled deck.

At the lower end of the market, the houses qualify as rustic, domestic, blending into the neighborhood. They may even comprise the neighborhood, containing people once thought to be neighbors using a separate entrance near the back, spawning an ever changing parade of vehicles in the driveway.

It’s not a family home – it’s a condo, or a vacation rental, or a spare bedroom or two, where one can stay for a week with a half dozen friends because each anted up portion of the cost. If residents had to pay to live year-round in such a place, they couldn’t afford the rent.

This is real estate where people live like they normally wouldn’t, because what happens before the renters arrive or after they are gone is moot, which is not to say that it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter to the owners.

According to a study released by the National Association of Realtors, “second and vacation homes in Colorado and around the nation accounted for more than a third of residential real-estate transactions in past years.” That’s a staggering statistic, considering all the press ink devoted to our devastating housing crisis.

Second-home investment specialists want potential buyers to relax, to be lured, to be lulled into a scenic dreamscape with ads that read like this:

Should you choose to live in a secluded portion of the mountain where your neighbors are several acres away, you will have tranquility. Within minutes of Rocky Mountain Second Homes is the vast outdoors – a serene environment, and a multitude of wildlife. This is one of the places where you can truly be one with nature.

If I became a vacation-rental real-estate specialist, I’d write copy that reads like this:

Vacation rental, within the city limits of a scenic Western town. One bedroom, one bath, sleeps 10. Neighbors leave early most mornings, creating a serene environment for recovering from hangovers.

Internet companies like Airbnb, Flipkey, Homeaway, and VRBO are the big players in this market, but they exist because individual and second-home owners provide the properties they list. For less than the price of a upscale hotel room per night (minimum rental three nights) strangers can stay nearish to a vacation hot spot, complete with makeshift kitchens, bed linens and towels, a few cheap wine glasses, plastic furniture, and sometimes even their own off-street parking.

When the family next door doesn’t wave or welcome the new tenants as they pull in and unpack their bags, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the hometown is objecting to the philosophy behind vacation-rental real estate, which may not be the case. The neighborhood may have to get up and go to work in the morning.

David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist and author, writes from Montezuma County, Colo. See more of his works at http://feelasophy.weebly.com/.