We asked relatively new homeowners who are also newcomers to Santa Fe why they chose this city and this time to move there.
The right time to put down roots
Brian Burrell and Kaitlyn Kimzey
Kaitlyn Kimzey and Brian Burrell say it was the right time in their relationship and the right time financially to embark on home ownership. “It’s our way of committing to Santa Fe,” says Kimzey, who met Burrell at their workplace a month after arriving in Santa Fe from Colorado four years ago.
After becoming a couple, they casually stared at homes for about two years. With interest rates low at the start and during the pandemic, and everyone working from home, Burrell and Kimzey decided that if they ever had to make the jump from casual to serious, now was the time.
“We both work in finance,” says Kimzey, “and we thought rates were going to go up.” So in October 2021, they bought a house near an arroyo path that leads to Atalaya Peak and the hiking trails near St. John’s College. The outdoorsy pair had found their niche, and their two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Gigi and Paisley, are glad they did. Burrell sees the location of their new home as “a good middle ground between being close to town and a bit more remote and quiet.”
Initially, the couple wanted a house that was ready to move into, but soon realized that buying a house that needed work would not only save them money, but also make it their own. the House. “We started looking for something more malleable,” says Kimzey, “and something we could grow into.” She adds: “I think we are going to be here for many years. It suits us.
What appealed to Burrell were the property’s many distinct outdoor spaces. There is a circular area at the entrance to the house, which they plan to turn into a social space with a fire pit, and a rustic wooden gate next to the kitchen for outdoor dining. Backyard features include a stocked swimming pool that is now a garden and a cabana that the couple plans to turn into a storage room.
Burrell, who has a green thumb, turned struggling trees and shrubs into thriving ones by installing an irrigation system. “I give it some love and I plant other things. It’s great to see things spring up and grow,” he says. Kimzey quips, “We’re rooting, literally and figuratively,” and Burrell laughs in agreement.
The couple plans to complete major renovations by Thanksgiving. Among them are raising the ceilings and adding skylights, reconfiguring the space from four bedrooms to three, and repositioning the kitchen, bathrooms, and closets. In the meantime, they will continue to rent in the Railyard District, an area that has served their young professional lifestyle well.
Culture, color and community
When Gianna Hernandez moved to Santa Fe from the Midwest to teach biology at Santa Fe Community College (SFCC), she found the decision to buy her first home easy. After exploring the rental market, she determined that buying was the best long-term option. Even amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, she felt moving and buying a home was right for her.
A native of Puerto Rico, Hernandez finds solace in the similarity between the Spanish Colonial architecture of Old San Juan and that of Santa Fe. The use of adobe and stucco here gave him a sense of place from the start. Santa Fe’s natural landscape makes home ownership here all the more meaningful for Hernandez, a lifelong learner devoted to the study of living things, but it’s the basics that make everyday life a joy for her.
Conveniently located, Hernandez’s new home is a five-minute walk from local hangouts like Backroad Pizza and the New Mexico Hard Cider Taproom. Ten minutes by car and she is in her lab coat at the head of the class, teaching, building and deepening the knowledge of her students.
Over homemade hummus and in the company of his four cats, Hernandez showed me around his new digs, starting with the cozy, fenced-in yard already full of thriving tomatoes and herbs. “Love the place. It’s beautiful, it’s clean. I can make changes, I can make it my own. And the money I spend and the work I put into it will continue to be mine.”
Despite pandemic shutdowns and learning to live in a new place, Hernandez has found ways to connect with the community. “I like being able to go out for a walk, being very close to the city center and, again, because I’m close to the city center, I have access to a lot of the culture of the city.”
Whether she’s wandering her neighborhood, heading downtown in search of delicious food, or enjoying a hike on the trails just outside of town, Hernandez delights in every direction. The color, culture and community of Santa Fe confirms his belief that he made an excellent choice.
By Wendy Ilene Friedman
Peyton Zeller-Av and Sydney Benda
After nearly two-and-a-half years traveling the country in a refurbished 40-square-foot van with their five-year-old shepherd mix, Luli, newlyweds Peyton Zeller-Av and Sydney Benda knew they wanted to put down roots. “This chapter of our lives [traveling] was done,” Benda says.
When COVID started, the formerly Minneapolis-based couple temporarily moved to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and stayed with relatives during the lockdown and the disruption of daily life. Zeller-Av admits that given the small size of the town, it wasn’t long before they started getting cabin fever. During this time, he and his then-fiancée, now wife Sydney, decided that Santa Fe was the right place for them.
Zeller-Av and Benda knew they were done with big cities and that a small town was, well, too small. The City Different was a happy medium. They made several visits to the area to investigate and explore. Avid skiers and outdoor enthusiasts, the couple also knew northern New Mexico suited their lifestyle.
“The van gave us trial periods in different places, and we paid attention to people’s energy,” says Benda, who thought Santa Fe had a good vibe. They also loved the 380-acre Frank S. Ortiz Dog Park. But it was their first sunset in New Mexico that really drew them in.
Luckily, after more than two years of rent-free living and working remotely — Zeller-Av is a software developer and Benda is a textile designer — the couple had the down payment and finances ready to make a permanent move. “It’s a really great privilege,” Zeller-Av says of being able to work from home and enjoy financial stability. The couple could live and work anywhere.
With the help of a local real estate agent, they began looking for a home in Santa Fe remotely, via video tours. “She drove us to different neighborhoods even before we got our finances together,” says Benda. “Then when she showed us houses, she pointed out all the flaws and the good things about them. [Our Santa Fe house] was our first home purchase, and the real estate agent helped us understand every step of the process.”
The result was a location they describe as “west of Zia Road, near Ragle Park”. Says Zeller-Av, “We don’t really know what it’s called. Some people called [it] the Candlelight district. Others have called it “southwestern town”.
Regardless of the name, the neighborhood and the house ticked all the boxes for the couple: three bedrooms, a studio space, a guest room, an office space for each, a large kitchen and a yard for the dog. “We wanted a quiet, calm and safe place,” says Benda.
And the dog is happy too. “If she could talk, she’d say she likes it here,” Benda says. “We all relaxed when we moved here.”