If the housing market in Truckee/North Tahoe is standing room only — filled with generous cash offers from those in upper tax brackets of lands beyond — so too are the stories. You hear of teachers living in cars, nurses whose houses are sold out from under them, and entire staffs who reside out of the area.
Not so often posted about on the Truckee Tahoe People Facebook page, however, are the happily-ever-after tales of people who’ve found ways to stay in the area, even as the regional median home price is $1.11 million. These would-be former Tahoe-ites find respite at the hands of individuals who make conscious decisions to bypass the wealth-generating options of selling at or above market value or short-term renting, in order to commit to community.
“We know we are missing out on revenue,” said Truckee Mayor Anna Klovstad, who long-term rents a detached unit on her property across from Donner Lake. “We probably could earn twice as much as we currently do, [but] it’s worth it to us.”
Greg Cater, a homeowner in Prosser Lakeview who’s long-term rented the unit below his garage for about seven years now, pointed to the big picture benefits of keeping things local: “There is a sense that when you’re renting to a local you’ve got somebody that’s also invested in your street, your community.”
There are others, too. Those who’ve chosen to sell their homes to decades-long friends or couples looking to eventually raise families. They’ll be the first to admit it’s not a completely altruistic decision, that there are still financial benefits they reap. But as Kings Beach resident Mike Tebbutt put it, “It’s really important and it’s imperative that we figure out how to keep longtime locals here.” So they do it in their own small ways.
They’re the few, the proud, the locals who rent or sell to other locals.
A conscious decision
The way Greg Cater sees it, if he wanted to own a hotel, he’d go and buy one. That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t choose to short-term rent the additional dwelling unit below his garage.
“We’re not in the business to change sheets and fresh towels and do those kinds of things several times a month, even for more money,” he told Moonshine Ink.
It’s nothing to do with a hatred for STRs; he’s a big believer in individual property rights, as long as you’re abiding by community ordinances. Rather, Cater says choosing to rent to a local “just seems to be the right thing to do.”
The fully compliant ADU beneath his garage has housed three individuals since Cater purchased the home. The first tenant stayed five years, the second stayed a year, and the current one has lived there for about eight months.
“We like the community here and being a part of it makes you feel good,” Cater said. “… [But] it’s not a selfless act on our part. We do it to generate some extra revenue.” Cater’s current rate for the unit is $1,340 a month.
Anna Klovstad, too, relies on renting out the ADU on their property for supplemental revenue. It’s the reason she and her family bought the house in the first place in January 2013.
“It’s a pretty unique unit,” she said. “It’s right across the street from Donner Lake. It’s actually got a garage, it’s a single bedroom, got a nice little patio area. It’s a pretty coveted little unit, as we have discovered.”
But the coveting only goes so far, as the Klovstads stick to housing long-term renters; specifically, to locals.
“We made the decision early on we did not want to short-term rent,” Klovstad said. “We have always rented to long-term, local workforce people. And we’ve always had that criteria that we wanted a long-term lease. We don’t use it for our personal space or family visiting or anything like that. We want a long-term lease; we want to support someone that’s working locally. We want them to have a safe and secure place in town.”
The situation is a choice, Klovstad continued. The Donner Lake home would’ve been out of their purchasing league had it not been previously foreclosed. Planning to rent the ADU out was also incorporated into the financial decision.
“We calculated it based on long-term rental income pricing; we didn’t calculate it based on short-term rental pricing,” she said. “Some people are making that choice. They are buying out of their league, like we did, but to the point of making that calculation assuming short-term rental and that higher income. And that’s their choice.”
While the income might not be as high if the Klovstads chose to short-term rent like some of their neighbors do, the benefits extend beyond financial: There’s less wear and tear on the unit; strangers don’t come and go, sometimes in the middle of the night; and their children haven’t been exposed to frequent parties. To live in the unit, renters have to meet the full Klovstad family, their car has to fit in the garage, and pets must get along. Klovstad said she’s had former tenants help their family in a pinch by grabbing takeout food in town or letting their dog out.
“There’s just so many untold stories of those types of benefits that can outweigh that little bit of extra money and I want people to really be thinking about that,” she said. “Think that decision through and make sure you’re really weighing the pros and the cons. It’s not just about money.”
Sweetheart locals deal
Mike Tebbutt and his wife, Liz, have known Sara Smith for a long time, upwards of 20 years. So when Smith, a Kings Beach resident of 21 years, was in search of a living situation for herself and her son, the Tebbutts’ former home ended up being the perfect solution.
Smith, who has lived in Tahoe/Truckee for 25 years and owned two homes during that time, had been crashing at her art studio for a year at that point, after personal circumstances pushed her into the rental market. The Tebbutts, meanwhile, had moved a few blocks north, still part of the Kings Beach community and looking to rent out their former home. Smith approached the Tebbutts and ended up renting the house from them for three years.
But renting was catching up with Smith. “As much as I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to have a stable rental for a reasonable price,” she said, “having owned homes for so long I was also very, very aware of the fact that … I was 50 and I didn’t have a retirement account anymore, I no longer owned a home, and that I really needed to be building something for my son and I, so I don’t end up on public assistance when I get older.”
Around the fall of 2019, Smith discussed with the Tebbutts the possibility of selling the house to her.
“We talked to Sara a little about it … and we put that on the backburner,” Mike Tebbutt told the Ink. “We weren’t sure what we were going to do.”
For Smith, that meant she needed to face the reality of possibly leaving the area. She couldn’t afford to buy a house because at that point the market was already escalating.
“It was breaking my heart because I’ve spent … close to half of my life here and this is my home,” she recalled. “I stayed here very purposefully and intentionally because it felt like home to me when I first landed here, and has only become more so over the years.”
As luck would have it, the pandemic sped up a decision that worked to Smith’s benefit. The vending business Tebbutt owned with his brother took a hit amid Covid-19 and he resorted to a full-time landscaping job to make ends meet. Mike and Liz decided to sell to Smith as part of bulking up their financial resources. They were also facing a significant capital gains tax.
“The capital gains rule is that [a house/apartment/etc.] needs to be your primary residence for two of the previous five years in order to avoid capital gains,” Mike explained. “So that’s what we were up against. Of those previous five years, we had lived there two years. Come Oct. 1, , that would’ve totally changed … [and] the house has appreciated so much from 1998 that the capital gains was going to be very significant.”
The Tebbutts’ and Smith opted for owner-selling and -financing so the couple could collect interest long term and not have to pay realtor fees. The sale could move forward, but it had to happen quickly as there was only a month before the capital gains tax would set in.
“It was a beautiful thing because it seemed that as soon as we shared the story that okay, these are locals selling to a local, everybody [appraisers, insurance brokers, etc.] was like, oh hell yes, I’ll be there tomorrow,” Smith said. “‘Oh, of course, yeah, I’ll be right there. I’m going to bump you to the front of the line. Thank you very much.’ Even though people were crazy busy, as we all are in the summer, people were really rallying and stepping forward. We got this thing closed in three weeks. Three weeks. It was incredible.”
Smith purchased the house for a below-market price, something Mike said he and his wife did because they had avoided the capital gains tax and realtor fees, and because they already owned another home.
“We feel very fortunate and blessed to be in a position where we’re able to do that,” he added. “I completely understand not everybody is in a position to be able to do that … They need to do [what’s best] for themselves and what’s best for themselves in their life and their financial security … But we, being in the position that we were in, we were able to keep a local here in town.”
A complete community
Steve Teshara, who moved to the area in 1973, is another one who purposely chose to sell his home to someone already in the area, and he would do it again and again.
After one week of listing his house on the market, Teshara had four offers on his Zephyr Cove home, including two current Tahoe families and two out-of-towners; the highest bid came from a Bay Area family. But he bypassed them for a local couple looking to purchase their first single-family home and getting married this fall.
“I don’t want to give away any numbers or anything,” said Teshara, who’s still living in the area, “but it was a decision that cost me considerable money. Yet I knew it was the right thing and I would do it 10 times over because I’ve seen what’s happened to people.”
The housing market, he continued, shouldn’t be allowed to dictate what a community looks like; it doesn’t create the necessary cohesion.
“Are we going to have a community here where people live here and work here and raise their families here and that kind of thing?” he asked. “They volunteer in the community, they’re part of the community fabric. Or are we going to be an area where people live outside and come to work here.
“I think it’s a really serious issue and for my part and for those who have the ability to make the kind of decision that I did, it feels like the right thing to do to support community.”
A Truckee resident, who asked to remain anonymous, echoed Teshara’s community sentiments. This property owner rents out a house to four individuals and a condo to one, and all five work in Truckee or Tahoe City. She said that though selling the house and condo right now is tempting financially, it’d mean putting members of the local workforce out of a house — “not something we need to do right now,” she said.
“I’ve always felt that if you work for a certain city you should live in that city or town … The hardest part is the teachers and nurses and PUD employees and town employees that can’t afford to live here … [These are] the people we really need to be part of our community.”
Mike Tebbutt dubs this concept a complete community, to have workforce housing so that businesses can have employees. A complete community also means those with the ability to provide long-term options for others do so.
“There’s all kinds of different ways to contribute,” he said. “Building an additional dwelling unit on your house and renting it out at an affordable price instead of Airbnb-ing it. I think we all understand the draw of money and how alluring it is to get the most value you can out of something. But at a certain point you need to consider not trying to make the biggest buck; you need to consider what’s the right thing to do and what makes the most sense for everybody.”
Truckee/North Tahoe Long-Term Housing Programs & Resources
While this news story focuses on personal stories amid Tahoe’s housing crisis, agencies and organizations power on. Here’s a brief recap of work being done.
• Truckee Tahoe Workforce Housing Agency: A joint powers authority dedicated to supporting the development of workforce housing for the partners involved: Truckee Tahoe Airport, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, Tahoe Forest Health System, Truckee Donner Public Utility District, and its newest members, Placer and Nevada counties, and the Town of Truckee.
• Town of Truckee Workforce Rental Grant Program (partnership with Landing Locals)*: With the aim of unlocking existing housing stock for local workers, this program encourages homeowners to long-term rent units to members of the Truckee community. Grants exist for willing parties from $1,000 to $10,000, as well as free tenant-matching services.
• Placer County’s Workforce Housing Preservation Program*: Also with a focus on existing housing units, this homebuyer assistance program seeks to secure housing for local workers. Homebuyers can be paid up to 15% of a down payment should they deed restrict their homes so only local workforce members can occupy them.
• Mountain Housing Council: Born out of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, the MHC was created to accelerate achievable housing solutions. MHC is prepping to hold its second of two virtual community meetings on Sept. 13, where staff will present the Regional Housing Implementation Plan and hear feedback from the community.
• Washoe Tahoe Housing Partnership: The newly formed partnership looks to the Tahoe Prosperity Center as its convener and will coordinate a needs assessment and strategic plan for the Nevada parts of Tahoe’s North Shore.
* Financial incentive