Every summer I have the exquisite fortune to pack my bags, stick my tongue out at my hectic California life, and head north to the perfect mountain location. Named one of the "Best Places to Live 2006" in the February issue of The Progressive Farmer magazine, Blaine County (which incorporates the Sun Valley area), offers “a jumble of culture . . . wealth meets wilderness, resort living meets ranching, French restaurants meet feed stores.” This clash of cultures provides an extraordinary environment in which to envision your mountain dream home: Do you see yourself hosting a dinner a deux on the balcony of your ravishing penthouse? Or, swigging an ice cold beer on your ranch at twilight?
While you romanticize about your mountain dream home, you should ask yourself some practical questions before taking the real estate plunge: What kind of residence fits my lifestyle? How much time will I be spending in Sun Valley? Do I want to maintain a second home year-round? How much do I want to spend? And, if I ever decide to sell, will I get a good return on my investment? Local real estate agent, Sharon Dohse, states a definite “yes” to the last.
“The area has a lot to offer in terms of amenities, recreation and culture,” she says. “Plus, it’s a buyers’ market right now—you’re front in line at the buffet,” she laughs. “Also, we have limited development because we live in a valley.”
The Valley offers a wide array of real estate possibilities depending on your budget and what you imagine your mountain paradise to be.
What, then, is your idea of a mountain dream home? Perhaps, it is one of the following:
What do you want in your backyard?
The Wood River Valley is a tantalizing location for those who are simply not happy unless there is a pony outside the bedroom window.
“It’s ideal because it is extremely accessible for a mountain location,” says California-based horse trainer Kate Weber, who is looking for a summer property in the Valley. “However,” she adds “if you are looking to buy vacant land on which to build, and keep livestock, it’s crucial to know if the land has water rights or its own water source.”
Prospective ranchers might check out acreage in what locals call “the Bellevue Triangle,” south of Bellevue or shoot for the spectacular mountain views and riverfront properties a few miles north of Ketchum.
If living on the golf course is your ideal, Sun Valley offers five fabulous courses. The most recent addition here is the Tom Fazio course at the Valley Club, which undulates around homes of natural stones and timber, sculpted waterfalls and dazzling white sand traps.
When looking for homes on the golf course, you should inquire whether entitlement to play there is included in the purchase.
Does the idea of mountain living leave you wondering whether you will ever be able to wear your Manolo Blahniks again? Do you go into withdrawal if you don’t have access to fine dining, theatre or the symphony? Fear not. “This is a sophisticated mountain community” says Pam Colesworthy of High Country Resort Properties, “it incorporates a level of intelligentsia, an educated, involved community that appreciates its culture.”
Consequently, a penthouse in downtown Ketchum might just be the answer for those who prefer to avoid the more rugged aspects of mountain living. There are several impressive developments in town including Copper Ridge, Chilali Lodge and Leadville Terrace.
Ketchum and Sun Valley offer a myriad of options if you decide to go the condo route from ski-in/ski- out apartments at the base of Bald Mountain, to a private residence at Thunder Springs (which includes all the amenities of a five-star hotel). Condos and penthouses are generally a hassle-free option; the association will most likely handle the mowing of community lawns or painting of chipped windowsills.
Alternative ways to own . . .
If Sun Valley is not your year-round locale and the complexity of owning a second home outright leaves you with a headache, you might consider fractional ownership. “Fractional ownership,” says Pete Whitehead of Destination Quarters “is the fastest growing segment in the resort real estate industry.” Fractional ownership means you own deeded real estate for a few weeks of the year. Consequently you pay only a portion of the annual operating costs. In Ketchum, you can purchase a fraction of a stunning apartment or town home at one of the residential resorts, complete with valet, chauffeur, and even staff who, before your arrival, will remove your belongings from your personal locker and put them exactly where you left them on your last visit.
If a few weeks per year in Sun Valley are not enough, you might consider buying into a “quarter share.” As the term implies, quarterly ownership splits the cost of a luxury, fully-furnished home, and all its operating expenses, four ways only.
Private Residence Clubs
For ultimate flexibility, you might consider joining a private residence club. Gay Riley of the Tanner & Haley Destination Clubs explains: “A private residence club owns or manages residences in desirable locations. Your membership allows you to travel to these locations all over the world.”
Residences in Sun Valley, however, attract many repeat patrons. “Our members want residences where they can bring the grandkids and cook in their own kitchen, they don’t want a hotel,” Riley says. “They want the option of coming back to the same place if they chose to visit Sun Valley again.”
The difference between residence club homes and rentals however, are the service extras. “It’s a huge draw,” she continues. “I make all the arrangements for my members from hiring private chefs to ordering their lift tickets. I am available 24 hours a day.”
“Whether you are in Aspen, Jackson, or Sun Valley,” says High Country’s Colesworthy, “the price of real estate is so expensive, long term rental might be an option.” For instance, High Country Resort Properties rents a Lane Ranch home valued at $1.8 million, she says, “a family can stay for three weeks in December, three weeks in August and a week in February for 2 percent of the home’s value.” In addition, they offer management and cleaning services to support each rental.
There are “hidden gems” for rent downtown, too, Colesworthy says, and if you are looking to rent, she suggests working with an agency which will know where to find those gems.