Who's laughing now?

'Monopoly houses' struggled in '80s; homes crest $400,000 in 2006

More than 20 years have passed since a Grand Junction savings and loan pulled the tidy Steamboat Point neighborhood out of the weeds -- literally.

And during those two decades, the project has demonstrated the growth potential for entry-level housing in the Steamboat market.

In 1985, anyone could have purchased a 1,344-square-foot, three-bedroom Steamboat Point home for $79,900. The homes included two bathrooms and a single-car garage. The subdivision overlooks Spring Creek from Fish Creek Falls Road.

Today, the homes are re-establishing their price point at close to $420,000. That's growth of 520 percent for anyone who has held onto a Steamboat Point home since the mid-1980s.

"It proves the wisdom that if you have a good lot, and you put money into your home, it's all coming back to you," Realtor Bob Bomeisl of RE/Max Steamboat said. "For a long time, prices really didn't go up as much there. But there's really nothing in Old Town for $400,000. And in a strong market, the bottom always percolates up. At one time, Steamboat Point was the bottom."

Steamboat Point's upside wasn't always so apparent. The project won city approval in 1982, and ground was broken by Aspen Developer Steamboat Point Ltd. It was an innovative project that won approval for free-standing homes with zero lot lines. That means they are technically townhomes.

Double-digit interest rates and rising construction costs caught up with the original developer (in late 1981, some interest rates were as high as 21 percent). Construction was suspended.

The homes, originally disparaged by many Steamboat residents with the label "Monopoly houses" for their similarity in appearance to the small plastic homes in the popular board game, stood dormant for two years in the early '80s while savings and loans in Grand Junction, Kentucky and Oregon sorted through liens against the project. A legal battle ensued.

Ultimately, Valley Federal Savings and Loan of Grand Junction struck a deal with the original developers and created Southridge Construction Corp. to finish the project. The first order of business was fixing broken windows and painting the buildings. And clearing the weeds from the lots.

Bomeisl has special expertise in Steamboat Point -- he purchased a house there for $210,000 in 1997 and has called it home since.

Bomeisl's home isn't a standard Steamboat Point house. The previous owners, John and Rosemary Pearson, added a bright, 560-square-foot living room with wood floors on the west end of the house.

Bomeisl recalls that at the time, Steamboat Point homes with standard floor plans were selling for $160,000. Looking at his purchase as an investment, he reasoned that the extra square footage and the appeal of the room would yield a return.

Other homeowners have expanded their Steamboat Point homes with dormer windows in the second story and wrap-around additions with hip roofs. Others have taken advantage of outdoor living space with deck additions.

Steamboat Point was built with alternative energy in mind. The homes were equipped with an active/passive solar heating system that relied on familiar solar panels on the steeply pitched roofs. The solar energy was transferred to heat in the form of water stored in black barrels. The water was to be circulated through the homes.

That system never was very efficient, Bomeisl said. Today, most homeowners have replaced the wood-burning stoves that came with the homes with natural gas appliances. Bomeisl said he can heat his home in winter by allowing heat from the fireplace to rise to the two second-story bedrooms (the master bedroom is on the first level).

Realtor Coleman Cook has represented several transactions in Steamboat Point in the past couple of years. He said one of the nicest homes in the neighborhood sold for $325,00 in 2004. Recently, he put a remodeled Steamboat Point home under contract for $419,000. The same home had sold for $365,000 in 2005, a gain of about 14 percent in less than 12 months.

Cook said that rate of growth in value is no longer surprising in some segments of the Steamboat housing market.

"Especially in the lower end," he said. "It's a tough situation for buyers out there. There isn't much inventory, and it's so competitive. If you see (a home) and think you might want it, you can't delay. I might say, 'Let's make an offer and not seek a discount from the asking price.'"

The pressure on entry-level housing in Steamboat has resulted in some offers above asking price as people try to "win the race," he added.

Bomeisl said one of the most astute things the original developers did was plant dense landscaping around the project. The mature trees that screen views of the homes give it an advantage when people are shopping comparably priced housing. Recent sales show a mix of young couples starting families and empty nesters looking for a modestly priced getaway home in Steamboat. Unlike five years ago, when there were more rental tenants, virtually all of the homes are owner occupied, Bomeisl said. It makes for a more cohesive neighborhood.

Call the homes at Steamboat Point "Monopoly houses" if you wish, but so far, everyone who has played the game has profited.

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