Summer Sunday: Buying A House in Telluride — An Alternative History

Summer Sunday: Buying A House in Telluride — An Alternative History

It’s easy to fall in love with Telluride, but what’s not so easy is figuring out how to make it all work over the long term –how to negotiate the responsible stuff like finding stable employment, earning a livable income and finally buying a home. The last item on this list has proven the most challenging for the Telluride local.

It wasn’t always like this in Telluride though. Funky mining shacks and overgrown empty lots sat where many of the larger, contemporary, very expensive homes reside today. In fact, when I moved here in seventh grade in the mid-80’s, much of Main Street’s south side was vacant land. And the way to acquire a small piece of Telluride was not always straightforward. A little creativity and risk with a whole lot of luck often were more important than a good realtor and fair price.


Take my mother for example. She landed in Telluride during this time, divorced, with three kids. She rented different houses then finally a land deal came her way. For 25K she could go in with two other partners and buy two lots by the cemetery, which they would then turn into four. But there was a catch. She had to have cash and come up with it fast.

To this day, she doesn’t know exactly why it had to be cash but likes to think the people who owned the land were in some sort of drug deal gone wrong and needed to split town fast. The story fits with her image of the maverick wild west and Telluride ‘80s culture. Her ex-husband had  just bought her out her of a property so she had the money.

For years, I imagined her carrying a suitcase full of money to the empty lots, dropping it on the ground then taking ten steps back like some outlaw exchange staged in the movies. But, upon questioning, she admits that the payment was a cashier’s check and the deal happened in a real estate office. It was the realtor’s first deal. After acquiring the land, she made herself a GC, dated a civil engineer and built a house. It was one of the only houses built in Telluride that summer.

My father-in-law, Mike McTigue’s, Telluride real estate story is just as colorful. He likes to say he bought his first house in Telluride at the New Sheridan Bar. The year was 1988 and he was in Telluride on a ski vacation. He met some “pals”, as he likes to call them, at the Sheridan. A true Irishman, Mike has the gift of the gab, so it was natural for him to talk to the distressed woman on the bar stool next to him. She was going through a break up and needed to sell the house she owned with her ex-boyfriend. It was on North Davis Street. Mike met her there the next day, bought it for 165k less commission, then gave 1K to a realtor as a referral fee – one of Telluride’s most prominent realtors today.


To anyone looking to buy a house in Telluride in 2015, these stories and prices seem implausible and impossible and they may just be. However, people who end up staying—who end up figuring it out—rely on many of the same factors as those who bought in the early days — creativity, risk and luck.

My husband and I were fortunate enough to recently buy a house in the deed-restricted neighborhood in Aldasaro. The previous owners built and designed the house themselves and raised their two kids in it. We learned about the house at a Christmas party and negotiated with them at their dining room table under the beams they built, between the walls they erected and on the concrete floor they laid. The house was never on the market.

In our second meeting, the owner sat across from us again, at his kitchen table, and told us that he would feel good selling his house to us, imagining our two girls growing up in it.  We negotiated for a few months, struggling to find comps. In the end the question we had to answer was not what was the house worth compared to others, but what was its value to us. I thought about this as we walked his property and I noticed the hand prints of his two children imprinted in the concrete of the patio in front of the house.

Now in our new house, sitting at our camp table amongst the half-painted walls and ladders, I know the non-conformist spirit of those early days can still exist. I think of my friends who lived in a one bedroom schoolhouse for years before converting it into a three-bedroom home recycling doors, vanities and windows from job sites. Others worked tirelessly to understand, enter and buy a house through the Gold Run lottery, and another fired his laborers three quarters of the way through a remodel at Lawson to make the budget, painting and putting up trim after his own work day late into the night.


Glimmers of that maverick spirit still exist in Telluride today, even in real estate. But then again, to most of us, a home in Telluride isn’t merely real estate.



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