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Four Types of Programs Locals Can Use to Buy a Home in Ski Country

Given how much wealth is flowing through ski towns these days — through purchases of vacation homes, trophy ranches, investment properties, etc. — it's little wonder that a lot of places in ski country struggle to provide housing for the average Joes and Janes who work in hospitality, construction, schools or other sectors vital to a community. Comparing list prices with wages can put a real damper on dreams of making it long-term in a ski town, but there still are ways for the locals to plot a course toward owning a place of their own. Along with some work and a little ingenuity, locals can take advantage of these programs to make homeownership in a ski town a reality.

1. Rural development programs: A fair number of ski towns, if not most, qualify as rural for the purposes of the United States Department of Agriculture. That means homes in those areas are eligible for really great loan deals. Depending on their income, buyers might qualify for a direct loan program or a guaranteed loan program. The latter, with its less stringent income requirements, caters to the larger amount of people and guarantees up to 90 percent of a loan's value, allowing you to potentially buy a home with (cue the used car commercial echo) no money down. Not only can you finance 100 percent of the purchase, closing costs and some fees can be rolled into the loan, as well.

2. Cash assistance: These programs typically come in the form of either down payment or closing cost assistance. Unlike the rural development loans, which function the same pretty much no matter where you are, finding these programs will take researching what local, regional or state organizations offer and what you might be eligible for. If you're in Steamboat Springs, you might look at the Yampa Valley Housing Authority or the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. In Jackson, you would go straight to the Wyoming Community Development Authority. Finding the right organization and program is the hard part. After that, there should be someone to explain the process, and there might be a required course to provide more homebuyer information.

3. Restricted housing: Ski towns often had their first run-ins with housing affordability crises decades ago, and as such, some have made concerted efforts to set aside affordable housing stock through community investment. That typically means deed restrictions. Those restrictions often include residency requirements (how long have you lived there), employment (you need a job) and income requirements (calculated on how your income stacks up against the median for the area). These can be high reward situations, with buyers getting paying far below market rates, but they also can come with drawbacks. The most obvious being how to sell the home if you ever decide to move. Deed restricted homes can only be sold to another buyer who fulfills the restrictions, and appreciation is typically capped to ensure the property stays affordable. So the pool of buyers is limited, and there's no cash windfall after a sale.

4. Specialty programs: Are you a veteran? Are you eyeing a home that needs renovations? Do you have a critical public safety job? There are all the types of questions that might lead to the perfect program but are hard to know to ask. Hopefully, either a local mortgage broker or housing authority official is around to offer guidance about what's out there. It's likely buying a home in a ski town will take combining multiple programs, and leaving niche programs on the table won't make things easier.

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