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If You Build It, We Will Come

Sifting through Denver's condo construction woes.

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Before we bought our condo last year after an Prado Building. The tiered, hulking edifice looming over Speer Boulevard was one of the luxurious early residential options in the area—Carmelo Anthony once lived on the Prado’s top floor—and we enjoyed our quiet, 17th floor unit’s arresting views of downtown and its proximity to both our jobs.

When it came time to consider buying, we knew our apartment was available and affordable—and we quickly ruled it out. As much as we enjoyed some elements of it, during our lone year there multiple parts of the building were under construction literally 100 percent of the time. Much of it was repairs necessitated by that tiered structure, because when the builders built it they cut corners. Their shoddy work meant that over time, rainwater cascading down those tiers had seeped into improperly sealed surfaces around drains and pipes, which caused many of the building’s dozens of balconies and terraces to begin eroding.

Repairs for this got underway while we were there. The work was even more intrusive than you’d expect, because the Prado architects also designed their 18-story, 108-unit building without a freight elevator. This frequently left us with the option of waiting up to 10 minutes for one of the two main elevators, or walking up or down 17 flights of stairs.

I mention this because, as we all know, Denver is experiencing a historic housing shortage—and one of the main culprits is our lack of condominium construction. These developers, as a group, claim that Colorado’s current construction defects laws are driving up their insurance premiums enough to make building condos a losing proposition for them. (The Colorado Legislature debated a remedy this past session before Democrats blocked it from passing on the grounds that it didn’t go far enough to promote affordable housing, which Denver desperately needs.)

The only supporters of frivolous lawsuits are the filers of them and their attorneys. But anyone buying a home should feel reasonably secure that they’re getting the quality they paid for, and one thing that’s never been clear in the debate over the construction defects lawsuits is how crippling they really are to homebuilders. Plenty of people have strong opinions about this, but very few have presented many actual facts.

If you’ve ever hired someone to do something as simple as a painting job or as complicated as a full-on remodel, you know how difficult it can be to find a contractor to do that task reliably and efficiently. The last thing a condo buyer wants—or should have to worry about—is enduring the multi-year, multimillion-dollar nightmare the Prado residents and their HOA have experienced.

The Prado developer also built the Golden Triangle’s Beauvallon and Belvedere, and he’s since become the poster child for the sort of hit-and-run real estate weasel any homebuyer would be wise to avoid. But with Denver’s growth continuing to explode and our housing prices and rental vacancies approaching unsustainable levels, until this logjam gets sorted out, we’re leaving untold amounts of money on the table. We just need someone trustworthy to build a condo around it.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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