The first time
Locals reflect on one of life's biggest leaps

A ‘for sale’ sign is posted in the yard of a downtown Durango home recently. With the median price of a Durango home at $422,000, the prospect of owning for many first time home buyer is dire, but not impossible. Although in-town mortgages may be tough to swallow, there are options such as buying in an outlying area or downsizing that can make owning that first home a reality./Photo by Jared Boyd

by Renee Johns

There are myriad rights of passage as one travels through life: opening your first bank account, obtaining a driver’s license, getting your grandmother’s Swedish meatballs just right and – gulp – buying your first home.

As big of a leap as it may seem, it does come with certain perks, such as freedom from living under a landlord’s tyrannical rule or having to ask permission to paint the living room chartreuse. Gone are the days of arguing over whether or not that hole in the wall was there before moving in or determining if, after six months, the carpet is really ready for a deep clean. In a way, home ownership can be the ultimate freedom.

However, in Durango – one of the more desirable locations to live, work and play in Colorado – the road to homeownership can be a lengthy, expensive and exhausting one for someone not in “the know.” The mountains of paperwork, negotiating and waiting all can add up to a pipedream for the optimistic but seem downright impossible for the pessimist. But before completely throwing in the towel and resigning to a future of renting or, heaven forbid, moving, there are some important factors to keep in mind. It is indeed possible for mere mortals to purchase housing in Durango, complete with indoor plumbing and insulation without having to be either a trust fund baby or owning the patent on new computer software.

Tina Miely is a broker’s associate for Coldwell Banker Heritage House and works with many first time home buyers. “The biggest difference between first time home buyers and those who have purchased property before, is that first time home buyers often don’t know all of the options available to them far as loans are concerned,” says Miely.

Walking into a situation like this one blind is one of the biggest mistakes a person can make when shopping for a home and a mortgage. Therefore, Miely says she tries to work closely with mortgage to help them get the ball rolling. “Sometimes a buyer is qualified to buy right away and didn’t even know it, while other times I have to work with them for quite a long time to repair credit and get their finances in order and perhaps even determine whether or not they should continue renting for a year or so until they are really ready.”

It is refreshing to know that some Realtors do keep their clients’ long-term financial interests in mind when leading buyers through the maze of purchasing. posts that in the first quarter of 2006, Colorado had the second highest foreclosure rate in the nation. The numbers indicated that one out of every 138 homes purchased ended up in some level of foreclosure last year – certainly not where a first time home buyer, or any property owner, wants to end up.

Daniel Chowen is also an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Heritage House and has been in the “real estate game” for six years.

A Durango native, Chowen notes that Durango is a popular place to live and the prices of homes will continue to increase due to this desirability. At the same time, however, this does not make it impossible for a determined individual to find something within their price range. “If you are a first time home buyer, and you wish to stay in Durango, do not wait any longer than you have to” says Chowen. “The amount of money spent on home loans pales in comparison to the amount of money lost on rent.”

Chowen emphasizes that for a person’s first time out of the gate, it is important to keep expectations realistic and visualize the potential a home can have. Miely and Chowen both agree that by investing in the future with a home, any home, it’s hard to go wrong. “My best advice,” says Miely “is to not be so intimidated. With interest rates as low as they are, it is a great time for buyers because the market is not so cutthroat right now…you have more houses to look at and time to really think about your decision. It is never a mistake to invest in your own principal residence and pay into your own pocket.”

Cyrilla Kelby is one such individual who decided to “stop paying into the pocket” of someone else. She encountered a few bumps in the road but the end result of owning her own home was well worth the effort, she said.

“I guess that the most difficult thing outside of the obvious money commitment, was not really knowing what to expect with the whole process” says Kelby. “There were a lot of steps that I wasn’t familiar with and a lot of terminology that I didn’t know, which made it difficult at times to know exactly what I was signing.”

Kelby first started thinking about purchasing her own home when she decided that the best way to invest her money was through real estate after she had graduated from college. She then set out and decided she was ready for the challenge of deciphering the foreign language that is mortgage paperwork. When asked if the pricing in Durango intimidated her, Kelby replies, “Hell Yes! So much so that there were some moments when I was seriously considering not buying here at all.”

Instead, Kelby made a compromise many local first time home buyers make, which was to settle on a home in an outlying area, where prices are lower. She ended up finding a home in the Forest Lakes area and so far, doesn’t regret her decision in the least. “An alternative for some in search of a more affordable property may be in the Bayfield or Mancos area.”

Kelby’s advice for first time home buyers echoes that of Miely and Chowen in that it is important to shop around and know what you’re getting into. “Do your research. Be very familiar with the market at the time you’re looking to buy. Make sure you know what kind of houses are in your price range and go look at as many of them as you can,” says Kelby. “I was amazed at how much the quality varied for houses in the same price range.”

Of course, as with any big monetary decision, some buyer’s remorse can be expected to rear its ugly head in tight financial times, and the case was no different for Kelby. “Sometimes, I think about how much money I could be spending on other things right now if I didn’t have a mortgage payment, but then I reconsider,” she says. “I guarantee the other stuff I would be spending the money on wouldn’t be doing me any favors or helping me with my future financial goals. I love my little house. It’s a start, and it’s perfect for now.”

Chowen notes this is why it is important for buyers to find someone qualified who can help keep them focused on the end result. “Ultimately you want to hire the person that offers the best service to you as a buyer. Having a qualified agent working for you will be your best asset in the competitive world of first time home buying” Chowen says.

And that is the end result that all interested parties hope to find together: a happy ending.

“I love to see people on the day of closing after the paperwork has settled,” says Miely. “Their eyes are starting to clear and the joy of their purchase is sinking in.”

Meanwhile, Kelby says the longer commute is a fair trade-off for being able to make her own decisions regarding the home she lives in. “I know that the house is mine, and that I can do whatever I want to do to it” Kelby says. “I can make it the way that I want it to be.”

There are limitations, however, set down by homeowner’s associations. For instance, a home owner will most likely run into problems if wanting to erect a 20-foot high statue of a leprechaun in the front yard. However, inside is a different story. Lime green walls, anyone? •

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