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Our lake house: The two-year journey to buying our lakefront cabin
How I became the first Asian homeowner in Grand Lake*
*Possibly fake news, but also possibly true
It all started the summer of COVID.
It was August 2020. We’d spent the last several months coworking from our little brick house in Denver, meeting each other for cocktails “at the bar” after work (also known as the kitchen bartop).
The year had been long. We hadn’t seen anyone or been on an airplane. Other than the odd camping trip, we were just… home.
We’d had flights to Greece booked, but travel was still an uncertainty, and so we begrudgingly canceled our island hopping summer plans.
The consolation prize: A getaway to Grand Lake, a quaint mountain town we’d vaguely heard good things about from one of my coworkers.
After a two-hour drive from Denver, we checked into our humorously small rooms at Grand Lake Lodge, and then headed out for exploration.
That afternoon, we rented a little pontoon, just the two of us, and spent the laziest of days out on the boat, the warm sun tickling the life back into us. We ate mediocre sandwiches from an unmemorable deli in town and washed them down with cheap rose out of disposable cups. We jammed out to the first “Boat tunes” playlist that came up on Spotify search while doing the friendly white neighbor wave to all the kids and dogs we motored by. It was a dream! Mike may have even caught a fish!
We took Monday off and spent the morning traipsing through grassy meadows in the neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park, not a soul in sight. It was one of those wonderfully restorative Colorado weekends that just fills your cup with nature and beauty and fresh air—a much-needed antidote to the pandemic groundhog day that was barefaced Zooming with my Romanian teammates at 6:30 a.m.
We were suspiciously enamored by this tiny town that no one ever talks about. I was like, “How do people know about LEADVILLE but not about GRAND LAKE?” (Sorry to people who like Leadville, but I’ve never been more underwhelmed.)
And that’s the weekend decided to buy a house there.
In today’s issue below, I’m sharing a little backstory on the lake house: our buying criteria, how we decided on the house we bought, and our plans for the future.
The Backstory: Buying a House in Grand Lake
Our lake house criteria
Talk to any realtor about buying a house, and they’ll ask you to figure out what your most important criteria are. Our non-negotiables were likely unconventional, but straightforward:
1) The house had to be on Grand Lake or Shadow Mountain Lake.
Beyond having a lovely water view, our investment thesis was that lakefront homes in Colorado would continue to appreciate over the next decade as long as the market was doing well, especially as midwestern lake lovers (Mike) and annoying coastalites (me) continue moving to Colorado in droves.
Because Grand Lake and the connecting Shadow Mountain Lake both border on protected national forest that can’t be built on, lakefront property in the area is in limited supply. When it comes to real estate, we’re big proponents of being small fish in a big pond for the best upside. We have always tried to buy the humble abode in the best location we can afford, as opposed to the spacious new build out in the boonies. (This has worked out well for us, but less so for our richer neighbors with bigger landscaping budgets.)
Buying on the lake meant we had to make some sacrifices in other areas. You typically don’t get as much privacy on the lake, since most lake homes are closer together. And because so few lakefront houses come on the market, they’re super competitive—we were prepared to pay a premium for the amount of square footage and the interior updating we’d be getting.
2) It had to have its own dock / boat slip.
We love being on the water, and we knew we’d get the most enjoyment out of a home in Grand Lake if we could leave a boat docked in the water all summer long.
If you’ve ever had to launch a boat, you know it’s a pretty big barrier to getting out on the water quickly—I mean, I’ve never personally done it, but I have heckled Mike and my in-laws from the passenger seat of our SUV as they hitched, towed, and launched—and then did the reverse on the way back in. Having our own dock meant we’d be able to grab some towels, pack a cooler, and get going in minutes.
Getting a new dock permitted is also an arduous process that involves dealing with DMV-esque bureaucracy multiplied by mountain townsman urgency, which is to say that there is none.
3) It could not be part of an HOA or ban short-term rentals.
]Though we intended to buy a home first and foremost for our own families to use, we wanted to be able to Airbnb our house if we wanted to.
Our life has never really gone according to plan, and we didn’t want to be limited by the whims of an HOA if we moved out of state, couldn’t use the home for a summer, or wanted to generate some income on certain weekends.
How we found—and picked! our house
We were on Zillow before we’d even left town—and even went to look at a few houses that same weekend. Between 2020 and 2022, we probably drove up to Grand Lake a dozen times and submitted offers on three other homes, only to be thwarted by multiple cash bidders, cold-footed sellers, and in one instance, the untimely death of an owner before our offer was considered.
In between, we also flirted with the idea of other mountain towns, in particular Breckenridge, which we’ve also loved for its reasonable proximity to Denver, its vibrant main street, and its four-season appeal. Eventually, though, we set our sights back on Grand Lake—a town that we can’t help but feel is on the cusp of bigger growth.
We actually had no intentions of looking at the property we ended up buying. We drove up to Grand Lake to take a peek at a motel / events center property that was for sale, and at the last minute contacted the seller’s agent for the house we ended up buying to see if we could pop in there, too.
Was it love at first sight? Haha, no. It was on the smaller side, and it hadn’t been updated in years. But the house checked our three most important boxes. The limited square footage and Jenni Kayne lake house “before” vibes got our wheels turning and gave me the confidence we could tackle a remodel. And, very importantly, the price was within range of what we could afford.
Our plans to remodel the lake house
It’s been a dream of ours to buy and renovate a mountain house for years—and we feel lucky to be in a position to do this at this phase in our lives.
For now, we’re taking things slowly, making smaller aesthetic updates, and spending some time living in it before we figure out exactly how and what we want to tackle (partly by choice, partly due to the pace at which everything moves up in the mountains).
This is the ninth “door,” or real estate unit, that Mike and I have remodeled in some way over the years, every one of which has been a tremendous learning experience and the root of many domestic disputes.
Even so, the lake house presents its own unique challenges, like: Why won’t any contractors call me back? What do you do when you’re outside of Home Depot’s and Lowes’ delivery area? We were supposed to shovel our roof?
Excited to share our journey—including the ups (we have a lake house!!!) and downs (but why is it leaking in two places?) with you.
🎶 An oldie but goodie: Tune in to the dreamiest Lane 8 sunrise set on Grand Lake. It’ll give you a glimpse of the beauty of this place we love.
🏠 A modern, layered lake house you can stay in: I’ve been pinning all the lake house inspo lately and love this airy, neutral-but-cozy Lake Ontario cabin designed by Tiffany Leigh.
🥣 Avgolemeno soup is exactly what I’m craving this time of year—warming but springy. Even better with chopped dill.
PS: We’re still working out what to call our house. The Lake House on Shadow Mountain? Pelican Cottage? The Moose Shack? Feel free to drop any name ideas and nosy questions in the comments.
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