Unraveling the Right of First Refusal: An Outdated Process in Aspen Condo Purchase Process

Stephanie Kroll

The dream of owning a condo in Aspen can quickly turn into a nightmare for potential buyers due to an antiquated process known as the right of first refusal. Beyond the complexities mentioned earlier, this process allows condo homeowners to hire a realtor and list their property on the open market. Once an offer is accepted and signed by all parties, the details are sent to the title company, which then copies and distributes the offer to every other condo owner in the building. This triggers the right of first refusal period, during which existing owners have the option to purchase the condo out from underneath the initial buyer who already has a fully executed contract.

A Backwards and Time-Consuming Process

This convoluted system adds unnecessary layers to the home-buying process, wasting the time of potential buyers and creating a cumbersome experience. The existing owners essentially get second or even first dibs on a unit, creating delays and uncertainties that can lead to frustration for all parties involved.

The Dark Legacy of Right of First Refusal

Originating in the 1960s and 1970s, the right of first refusal policy has deep roots in a bygone era marked by prevalent racism, a time when such practices were not regulated by real estate commissions. While times have changed, the echoes of this discriminatory past linger in the form of a policy that opens the door for potential manipulation and racism among current homeowners.

Legal Liability and Manipulation

The right of first refusal process opens the door to legal liability and manipulation, as condo owners during the right of first refusal period may reject an offer for arbitrary reasons. This introduces a risk of discrimination based on the buyer's contract terms or even their name, creating a potential avenue for lawsuits and tarnishing the reputation of the community.

Billionaire Blocks and Lengthy Lawsuits

In the past, billionaires have exploited the right of first refusal to block potential buyers from acquiring condo units. These drawn-out legal battles serve as a stark reminder of the power imbalances inherent in the process, allowing those with significant resources to wield undue influence and hinder the aspirations of others.

As mentioned in the Aspen Daily News, one condo homeowner said: "The quirks of buying a condo: The writer forgot to mention the quirkiest thing about buying a condo in Aspen: The right of first refusal. You finally find the unit you love. You write a sales contract the seller signs. The listing agent then gives the executed contract to the title company, who overnights your contract to every other owner in the complex.

The owners have a set time limit — I think it’s two weeks — to match the offer exactly. If they do, then you get your earnest money back, the Realtor gets paid but they get the condo and you are back to square one. When I bought mine ages ago, someone actually matched my offer. At the last minute they decided to buy another unit in the complex instead.

Stressful! At the annual HOA meetings, I bring up getting rid of the right of first refusal. I get voted down every time. Why is this a good idea? Beth Ellyn Rosenthal - Aspen"

The Call for Change

To dismantle this antiquated system, a collective effort is required. Every HOA board must convene to revise and amend their bylaws, eliminating the right of first refusal. However, the challenge lies in the fact that many homeowners, especially those who live out of state and use their condos as rentals, often don't attend HOA meetings. This lack of engagement perpetuates a system that no longer serves the best interests of the community.

The right of first refusal, rooted in a discriminatory past and riddled with complexities, has outlived its usefulness in the contemporary real estate landscape. Its abolition is not just a matter of streamlining the home-buying process; it is a step towards fostering transparency, equality, and a more welcoming community for all. It's time for every HOA board to recognize the flaws in this outdated system and take decisive action to create a more efficient and equitable environment for condo buyers in Aspen.


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