FIRST-TIME HOME BUYERS FIND HAVEN IN NEW SUBDIVISION
Litonya Wyse was convinced she couldn’t afford to buy her own place.
For the last four years, she and her two teenage children have squeezed themselves into a 700-square-foot rental from her brother in Mesa, leaving her to make the 45-minute commute to and from her job at Pearle Vision at Mesa Mall.
When Wyse and her mother recently stumbled upon a new subdivision, she immediately blew it off. But then she learned it was priced below most houses on the market. A mortgage company approved her for a loan.
Before long, Wyse was regularly visiting the hole in the ground that will soon be her home, picking out interior colors and deciding on which side of the house her driveway will be built.
“I was just ecstatic,” she said. “I never thought I’d be able to buy.”
A sea of $200,000 and $300,000 homes has flooded the Grand Valley housing market in recent years, leaving many single people, young families and others wanting to make the jump from renter to homeowner on the outside pressing their nose against the windowpane. But some of those prospective first-time home buyers may now be able to stick their foot in the door, thanks to a project taking shape in Pear Park.
It’s happening only because several players in the housing industry are banding together and sacrificing some of their profits.
Once it’s built out, Pear Park Place will contain 21 starter homes priced between $157,900 and $169,900 — a bargain in a region where the average home price hovers around $225,000. A recent search of the Grand
Junction Multiple Listing Service found only 56 of the more than 1,500 single-family homes for sale in Mesa County were priced lower than Pear Park Place. None was new.
Those involved in the six-acre development near 30 3/4 and D 1/2 roads say it is the first for-sale, affordable-housing project in the Grand Valley driven solely by the private sector.
“We’ve opened the door to people who can’t afford a house,” said builder Ron Ashley, who wanted to do a lower-cost project for years but said he was stymied by others’ lack of interest and soaring land costs.
Those investing time and money in Pear Park Place say somewhere in the vaulted ceilings, marble finishes, jetted tubs and three-car garages, a simple concept has been lost: creating homes the average person can afford.
“We’ve gotten away from the upgrades, the granite countertops, all the fancy stuff, and we’re getting back to basics,” developer Cliff Anson said. “In order to do that, everyone has to give a little.”
The developer sold the lots to a builder for tens of thousands of dollars below market rate. The builder is passing on those savings to buyers by picking up closing costs. Subcontractors knocked a bit off their prices.
A real-estate company is marketing the subdivision, knowing its commissions will take a hit.
Stakeholders also are taking advantage of a market that is beginning to soften. New home construction is slowing down. For-sale signs are sticking in front yards longer than they did just a year or two ago.
Ashley, a licensed contractor for 17 years, and his wife, Angie, started small in their push to build housing for lower- and middle-income buyers. They bought an acre on Orchard Mesa in the mid-1990s and put in three homes. But a decade ago, Grand Junction was largely a retirement community, there was no energy boom, and homes could be had for $125,000. Few, if any, builders showed an interest in affordable housing.
“Nobody gave a hoot about it, to be honest,” Ron Ashley said. “It takes something like this to wake people up, I guess.”
“This,” according to Ashley, is what he calls the “49er Gold Rush,” the population surge that hit Mesa County this decade and drove property and home prices to record heights.
“We just never were able to find the land,” he said.
That is, until Ashley approached Anson a few months ago and pitched his project. Anson, who has owned the land for four years, sold the 21 lots to him for between $54,000 and $58,000 each. Most lots in the valley are
selling for between $80,000 and $100,000.
“I’d rather see people do well,” Anson said. “There’s nothing wrong with helping people.”
Several subcontractors lowered their prices for framing, plumbing, siding, concrete, insulation and electrical work.
Ashley said he will pay up to $5,000 in closing costs on each house. So far, he has paid $8,500 on the two houses that have sold.
Carol Gerber, a broker with Bray Real Estate, has known the Ashleys for years and has acted as an agent for them on other developments. As a 30-year resident with six children and 12 grandchildren, she feels strongly about affordable housing.
“My kids are at an age that I know how hard it is for them to find something they can get into,” Gerber said. “I see people being priced out of the market, and so they don’t stick around or they have to rent.”
Karen Harkin, director of home finance for the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, said it’s rare for a developer to tackle a starter-home project.
“It is unusual to build only workforce housing as a private developer,” she said. “Especially with all the private resources he’s bringing to the table. That’s very exciting. I commend him.”
Anson’s “back to basics” description is apt because the homes lack the frills of most new construction. That keeps the purchase price down while giving buyers the option to add amenities as they save money.
The homes don’t include a garage, though there is room to build one or install a carport. All contain fences on the back lot lines, and the owners are expected to add fencing on the sides within a year of purchase.
The homes are Energy Star-rated for energy-efficient windows, blown-in cellulose insulation that is less penetrable than fiberglass, roof sheeting that reflects radiant heat and a two-inch-thick layer of insulation added to the foundation, where 25 percent of a home’s heat is lost, Ashley said.
Two of the homes will be finished this month. The subdivision could be built out by the end of the year. And Anson and Ashley say they have a few more projects brewing on the drawing board.
One possibility is to expand Pear Park Place. There is room to add another 19 homes.
“We’re serious about this,” Ashley said. “It’s not all about money. Life is about a lot more than money.”
Wyse is thankful for that. She moved most of her and her kids’ belongings into storage earlier this month and moved in with her mother to save money that will go toward her mortgage. She will close on her home at the end of October.
“It is really exciting,” she said. “I never imagined it would happen.”