Second homes boom nationwide

WASHINGTON D.C. – Are you under the impression that only ski towns and resort valleys have second homeowners? Think again.

The National Association of Realtors reports that vacation properties accounted for 12 percent of all homes sold last year, and 28 percent of homes were bought for investment purposes.

Typical vacation buyers last year were 52 years old, earned $82,800 and purchased a property that was a median of 197 miles from their primary homes. This profile differed little from that of investment homebuyers, except that investment homes were likely to be close to the original home.

USA Today explains that this rally in vacation and investment homes began in 1997, when congress changed the tax code, allowing most homeowners to duck capital gains taxes when selling their homes.

But there’s something else going on, too. Baby boomers are entering their peak earning years. The most active buyers of vacation and investment homes are people in their 50s. Currently, there are 36 million people in that age bracket. However, with 45 million people in their 40s, the market is expected to remain strong for a long time, says David Lereah, the chief economist for the Association of Realtors.

However, Lereah believes the vacation- and investment-home buying binge will drop to 30 percent of all home sales, maybe less. He cites higher interest rates, higher lending standards and slower price appreciation.


Green building arrives in Utah

There, a 12,000-square-foot office building has been constructed that uses a variety of techniques to reduce the heating and lighting bill – and, as such, cause less air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, explains thePark Record, a ground-source heat pump system was installed at an extra cost of $45,000 to $50,000; it draws on the earth’s temperature of 56 degrees to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer. The principle is much the same as that of a refrigerator. The building’s planners expect to recoup the up-front costs within five years as a result of lower utility bills.

Passive solar is also in place. Windows will allow maximum solar in winter and minimal solar in summer. Interior lighting is sunlight-sensitive, so that the lights will dim and brighten as needed.

A green building council is being planned to provide public education on green building. The Park City Home Builders Association is deeply involved in this, as are several governments.


New big box sports a sod roof

AVON –Two big boxes, Home Depot and Wal-Mart Supercenter, are found along I-70 in Avon. Both are gussied up but remain big boxes typical of suburbia.

But next door a new building called Traer Creek Plaza will soon go on line that is very different indeed. For starters, it is not a box, but semi-circular.

It will also have a sod roof. The sod roof will be planted with 17 species of sedum sod, plants that are more like a bean sprout than grass. Colors will change from rust brown to yellow, orange and green before returning to brown in fall. A drip irrigation system is to be installed.

Why sod? In addition to the changing colors, says Erik Peterson, a vice president for construction at Traer Creek, the sod roof prevents storm water from being polluted as it drains, decreases air conditioning costs, has a longer life than a conventional roof, creates habitat for insects and increases oxygen.

Even more unusual, the building uses no building columns, but will have what theVail Daily likens to archers’ bows, creating a curved roof that is flexible, capable of moving in any direction.

Peterson said the building is among the most unusual structures in the West. “I fully expect it to win awards.”

The developer is planning to seek certification under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.


Aspen Nanohomes on the rise

ASPEN – Aspen is like all other ski towns in the West, except exaggerated. There, the locals talk not only of McMansions, but of Garage Mahals.

But the flip side is what might be called the Nanohomes – at least compared with the big homes.Aspen Times reporter Jeanne McGovern explored that

aspect of Aspen, noting that some 4,500 of the town’s residents – almost half – live in homes that are smaller than the national average.

For the record, that national average has been expanding: from 1,600 square feet in 1973 to about 2,400 square feet as of 2004. But Aspen is not a city suburb, but a place of superlatives in almost every way. Because they want to have their children in the good local schools and to avoid the commute, many of the locals are willing to make this trade-off of smaller homes.

“We understand the suburban dream, but we don’t need it,” says McGovern who, with her husband, is rearing children in a three-bedroom condominium – with no particular aspirations to ever find a house.

It is a lifestyle choice, says a young single professional, Erik Skaravan. “Living small allows you to live big in Aspen,” he says.


Wasatch skier days jump hugely

PARK CITY, Utah – Who says the ski industry is flat? That’s certainly not the case in Utah. Skier days there have increased 29 percent during the last three years and this year broke the 4-million barrier. While some of the gains could have been explained in previous years by droughts elsewhere in the West, that’s not the case this year. Nearly all area of the West had good snow. Some of Utah’s success is attributed to the greater realization by the nation’s skiers how close the airport at Salt Lake City is to the ski slopes, no more than 45 minutes in most cases.

Whistler to export its bike park

WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler has one of the most acclaimed mountain bike parks on the continent. Now, Intrawest is offering to share the expertise of the staff that built and operates it. “Park riding is on the verge of exploding,” said Rob McKimming, the vice president of business development for Whistler-Blackcomb, which is owned by Intrawest.

“However, there are not enough new and improved riding experiences in enough locations to meet the demand.”

– compiled by Allen Best