09.24.19

To buy a house in Boulder: Bring money, creativity, tolerance for city regulations

HollyAnne Giffin’s dream was always to build her own house. But when Giffin, a transplant from the Deep South, ended up in Boulder County, reality hit her hard.

Boulder is the sixth most expensive metro for home prices in the United States, according to the National Association of Realtors. Building here would take deeper pockets than Giffin’s career in social work provided.

So she set her sights a little lower: buying a house. But even that was out of her reach in Boulder, where the average home price has more than doubled during the past 15 years, settling just south of $1 million.

Enter Fiona Pigott, with a tech job and healthy salary. She and Giffin met on Craigslist and became roommates. After living together for two years, they’ve decided to buy a house together.

“Owning a house is a lot of work; work that I have no desire to take on on my own,” Pigott said. “Having two people to share (the upkeep) and the expense” just made sense.

She and Giffin plan to split the home’s equity in proportion to what each is able to contribute. Even with two people buying, the plan is difficult since small homes are in short supply in Boulder.

They debated bringing in another friend to purchase something slightly bigger. But that idea ran up against another Boulder obstacle: the city’s occupancy rules, which prevent more than three or four unrelated persons living together. If, in the future, one of the three owners wants a romantic partner to move in, the two would have to marry to make occupancy legal.

Giffin and Piggot intend to rent out one of the extra rooms to help with costs, and keep things flexible for the future.

The friends also hope to use their home for social good. The extra room could provide cheap, safe housing for an undocumented immigrant or low-income resident. Giffin has always wanted to be a foster parent; the house could help that dream come true, too.

Both acknowledge their arrangement won’t work for every pair of platonic would-be-homeowners. “It really only still feels possible because I work for Twitter, because my parents paid my college tuition,” Pigott said. “That’s what makes it possible. It’s not like we scraped together.”

“If it were me and a co-worker, then we wouldn’t be able to do it,” added Giffin.

In Boulder, said Pigott, the reality is “you need two incomes and you need at least one that’s higher than average.”

by Shay Castle