The OG House Hackers

    The OG House Hackers

    Aug 08, 2020

    Both sets of my grandparents were OG house hackers. The Brossart grandparents, former North Dakota and Wisconsin farm kids, sold their asphalt company in the Green Bay area in 1979 and headed west. We had already been living on the Front Range for about a year. How awesome was it that they followed!

    I wish I could ask the details of how the deal came about. There was no internet, of course. They found Western Hills in Grand Lake, Colorado, just a few miles outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, with the Colorado River running behind the main house and half of the cabins. It had seen better days. Each cabin was missing full bedding, or a complete set of dishware, or both. Grandma went to work restocking, hitting up rummage sales. She soon learned to NOT stock each cabin with matching sets as they would disappear. It didn’t take long for them to have their first “No Vacancy" night, and they would remain booked up to a year in advance.

    They ran the necessary plumbing to make the cabins usable year-round, catering to snowmobiling and ice fishing. The best times were had snowmobiling around the property, delivering firewood to guests, then ripping down frozen Shadow Mountain lake.

    The laundry room (little cabin at the bottom of the driveway) was also cool to me. They had industrial washers and dryers.

    When you visited, part of your stay usually included helping to clean cabins. I did not enjoy or respect the job back then. Riding in the golf cart between cabins was a highlight, though. Now, I would thoroughly appreciate and enjoy being responsible for multiple cottages! No televisions, just quiet mountain vibes. 

    The property expanded about 10 acres and included a main house. At the east end were 13 mobile homes in row, tucked among the trees, with part-timers or retirees residing. At one point a couple of years in, the residents approached my grandparents and asked if they could buy them out and become their own association. They agreed, had the land re-platted, and used that money to pay off their mortgage. House hacking! Using the short-term rentals (a few were even long-term. Frenchie, a real retired French chef, comes to mind) to pay their loan, and now this topped it off. I believe their original mortgage was in the 150K range. I remember asking, at age five. 


    They ran Western Hills from 1979 to around 1993 — my whole childhood —with a takeback occurring at least once in an owner carry setup they had arranged. Now, the property is owned by out-of-state investors and is known as Colorado Cabin Adventures - “rustic chic” cottages. Current value of at least 2M. Why did I not buy them out?! I could not think big enough straight out of high school. Their real estate investment choice afforded them a retirement full of traveling the country in their 5th wheel, eventually settling in Arizona for a life of sunshine and fishing. Grandma still called it "making a reservation" when we would plan a visit.

    They did not come from wealth -- quite the opposite in fact -- and were such an amazing example of hard work and timing and simplifying to meet a fantastic end goal.

    Grandma will have been gone six years next week. Grandpa is in a VA home recovering from broken hip surgery and “non-symptomatic Covid-19”, confused and being spoken to via a window and a baby monitor. How I wish I could ask them more questions, hear more stories, take in their wisdom. I’ve probably romanticized those days a little, but I still miss what I miss.