The Truth About Buying Colorado Mountain Land

Having a place of your own tucked into the Rocky Mountains is an extremely alluring prospect for those looking to settle down in the Centennial State. The opportunity to put down roots near world-class skiing, artsy historic mountain towns, and gorgeous national parks has made Colorado one of the most popular places to move to recently. Now, with interest rates at record lows, Colorado real estate is becoming a more and more attractive investment. If you’re considering buying up a plot of land at a somewhat higher elevation, there are several things you’re going to want to keep in mind. Read below for advice on how to buy mountain property in Colorado — because that dream ski-in/ski-out alpine chalet is going to need the absolute perfect backdrop.

Location, Location, Location

By far the most important thing to keep in mind when you begin looking for mountain land in Colorado is where exactly you’d like to buy. Obviously, properties in and around places like Aspen, Boulder, or Vail are going to be more expensive than land in smaller or less well-known communities. Less obvious are considerations like noise, light pollution, proximity to amenities, and some of the other location-based variables we’ll discuss later on — all of which affect the value of your land.

Most importantly, the location of your property is going to depend on your personal preferences. If you’re looking to stay closer to the bigger cities, a town like Telluride or Durango could be too remote. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something farther away from the action, you might want to avoid places like Breckenridge or Copper Mountain. Luckily, the variety of mountain land in Colorado makes it possible for you to find a spot that ticks all of your boxes.

Once you have an idea of the specific community you’re looking to live in, there are a variety of considerations to keep in mind when scouting locations. Is the property near a busy road or highway? Is it convenient to grocery stores, public transportation, gas stations, schools, public parks, and other useful amenities? Is a ski resort nearby? An airport? There is almost nothing that will determine the value of a property more than location — so choose wisely.

A Local Realtor Brings Local Knowledge

A real estate agent who is familiar with the community and the property market is going to make the search for land a lot simpler. A local realtor is going to provide a wealth of insider knowledge while also giving you access to listings you may not have known about previously. They can supplement your research by pointing out potential issues with a piece of land, or pros and cons of certain neighborhoods that you hadn’t considered. And they will make the actual transaction as smooth as possible, taking care of the bulk of the paperwork and preventing delays or mistakes. All that useful info makes the fee well worth it.  

Property Values Are High…

There’s no getting around the fact that there is only so much mountain land available in Colorado. This means that these properties are highly desirable, and explains the fact that average home and land values are some of the highest in the nation (Colorado has the 5th highest average home value in the US). And the premium you pay is only going to increase the closer you get to the major ski resorts that dot the mountains. As we discussed before, though, if you can find some property in a smaller or less-populated area, you can find a better deal. Plus, you might be able to get in on the next Aspen before everyone else finds out about it.

…But Property Taxes Are Low

Colorado has one of the lowest property tax rates in the country, with an effective rate of .56%. This is a huge plus, helping to blunt (if only a little) the impact of the high property values. Different counties assess taxes at different rates, though, so do some research into what the potential burden will be in your chosen community.

Understand Building Codes, Permits, and Zoning Laws

Before you buy a piece of land to build that ultramodern mega-mansion on, you’re going to want to take a look at any and all restrictions, laws, and permits that could limit your options. Depending on the city, HOA, or community, there will be various zoning laws that prevent certain types of construction. There will also be restrictions on things like how many stories a house can have, whether you can plant trees, or even how long the driveway can be — in addition to setbacks that designate how far from the property lines a house should be built.

As for permitting, while contractors, builders, and architects can obtain many of the necessary permits for you, it helps to have an idea of what you need and when. Also, look for any rights-of-way or easements that may exist on the property. These can restrict your usage of the lot, and possibly allow others to use the property for certain purposes. They will usually be listed on the deed.

You’ll want to do plenty of research when trying to get a grasp on all of these codes, permits, and zoning laws. Most of the information can be found online or by simply calling the planning and development department of your local municipality. You may discover issues you hadn’t considered (e.g., the land is within a historic area, a nearby river prevents certain types of construction, restrictions prevent you from operating a business on the property). Additionally, you can always utilize a real estate attorney who operates in the area and can help you better navigate the local laws.

Avoid Being Off-Grid (Unless That’s What You Want)

There are, of course, plenty of opportunities for you to purchase land where you can stay off the grid; but that lifestyle is not ideal for everyone. Most people buying property in Colorado want to ensure they have access to reliable power, sewer, water, gas, trash/recycling collection, and cable/internet services. It will help to get an idea of how much each service is going to cost and whether you’ll need help obtaining connections for specific amenities. Contact the local utility companies directly for this info.

Mind Your Surroundings…

Simply being on one side or the other of the same mountain can mean a differing amount of average rain/snowfall, a completely distinctive topography, and a myriad of other concerns that can change the value or desirability of property. Do some research into the topography of the area by using Google Earth or other surveying tools. Colorado mountain property can be extremely varied, so it helps to understand the elevation of the lot and to be apprised of any common features (hills, bluffs, etc.) that will affect your ability to build. You’ll usually need to have your soil tested before you can build, as well, which can help you understand how suitable the terrain is.

There are also going to be a number of environmental hazards you’ll want to take account of before inking that deal. First, check to see whether the lot is located in a flood zone by using this FEMA flood map. Also, Colorado is susceptible to a few somewhat common natural disasters, so you will need to be well aware of vulnerability to fires, avalanches, landslides, and other potential problems. These issues can affect the value of the property as well as the materials a home has to be built with.

…And Your Homeowners’ Association

One of the most important things to keep in mind is whether the property is part of an HOA, and what the fees are. HOA fees help pay for sanitation, beautification, and a host of other community benefits. Fees in Colorado are generally around $200 – $400, but can balloon to over $1k depending on the location. There can be a number of restrictive covenants accompanying membership in an HOA — whether you can have solar panels, the maximum height for fences, where you can park, or even acceptable home styles — so keep those in mind, and think twice before you buy property for that sprawling Mediterranean villa you were planning.   

Private Roads Are Common

Some neighborhoods are served by only private roads, meaning there is an individual owner, HOA, or other non-governmental entity responsible for maintaining it. This can be a good thing as long as the roadway is properly taken care of. Before buying, though, you’ll want to know whether your land connects to a smoothly paved drive or a neglected dirt road that’s going to require four-wheel drive and industrial-grade snow chains.

Conclusion

Owning a getaway in Colorado is a dream for many who want the luxury of having picturesque mountains, streams, and wildlife in their backyard. While buying property in the mountains may seem daunting, as long as you do plenty of research, have a plan, and know what you’re looking for, you’ll be on your way to finding an idyllic piece of the  Rockies that’s all your own.   

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