I have rehabilitated, renovated, staged, deep cleaned, and landscaped dozens of homes over the course of my career and have developed a keen eye for how to know when a house is worth saving and when to just tear it down. This is also an important distinction when buying the property in the first place.
The first and most important rule is location, location, location. Buy good real estate, and then fix the house. This is especially true in Aspen where every house, whether it’s a doublewide trailer or a 10,000-square-foot home, is sitting on pay dirt because of the desirability of the location. If the location is what you want, you can always fix the house.
You always want to find one redeeming quality to any property you buy — high ceilings, good layout, indoor-outdoor fluency or easy access, for examples. Look at the floor plan: Does it flow? Does it have ensuite bathrooms? If you can’t find a single redeeming quality to the house, then you may want to raze it and start over.
Sometimes, all you need is one good room — such as a great room with a kitchen and family room combined — as an anchor for a good renovation. Chances are you can fix or reconfigure the smaller rooms around it.
I always look for good flow in a house, especially from outdoors to indoors, an important consideration for Colorado living. Sometimes it’s not just the house itself, but the way it is situated and what kind of outdoor living space there is access to. Large decks and finished patios are a huge plus. The house can always be updated.
In terms of value and longevity, a main floor primary suite is always a plus. Also, check out the room proportions. Be sure there is no room too small to be able to sit down and read a book alone. You want to be able to use every room in your home and feel comfortable.
Ceiling height is something people don’t often consider. Are there high ceilings? If it is a two-story property and has low ceilings, that’s not an easy fix — and you might want to move on.
Another important thing to consider is if a house can be updated cosmetically without having to modify the structure, which will require building permits and all kinds of unforeseen expenses. If you can work within the current footprint and simply update with more modern finishes, it may be a contender.
Before you consider a teardown, buyers beware: Aspen City Council is currently considering severely limiting the number of demolition permits in a given year, so make sure you understand permitting constraints before purchasing a teardown. Also, keep in mind that building a new home is a long and expensive process. When do you want to be in the property? What is your timeline? To do a total remodel is very expensive and ridiculously time-consuming. Moving walls entirely requires going through the planning-and-zoning application process, and it can take years. If you want to build, consider buying land down valley, in Eagle or Garfield counties. The process is more user-friendly.
Major expenses to include in an upgrade in addition to cosmetics include but are not limited to: roof, driveway, landscaping and hardscape, air conditioning, radiant heating, exterior siding, stone, tile replacement, kitchen appliances, radon mitigation systems, outdoor kitchen, hot tubs and pool. It’s a lot to consider, but with a level head and a keen eye, the possibilities are endless. If you have a long-term time horizon, turning a house into a home delivers returns far beyond your financial investment. It is where your life happens and where memories are made.
Ann Abernethy is a broker associate with Slifer Smith & Frampton. Join Ann at InsideAspen.com for a look at her podcast: “Beyond BadAss: How fierce women get it done!”