We asked some relatively new homeowners who are also Santa Fe newcomers why they chose this city and this time to set up house and home here.
The right time for establishing roots
Brian Burrell and Kaitlyn Kimzey
Kaitlyn Kimzey and Brian Burrell say this was the right time in their relationship and the right time financially to take the plunge into home ownership. “It’s our way of making a commitment to Santa Fe,” says Kimzey, who met Burrell at their workplace a month after she arrived in Santa Fe from Colorado four years ago.
After they became a couple, they casually looked at homes for around two years. With interest rates low at the onset and during the pandemic, and each working from home, Burrell and Kimzey decided that if they were ever going to go from casual to serious the time was right.
“We both work in finance,” says Kimzey, “and felt rates were going to go up.” So, in October 2021, they purchased a home near an arroyo path that leads to Atalaya Peak and the hiking trails near St. John’s College. The outdoorsy pair had found their place, and their two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Gigi and Paisley, are glad they did. Burrell views the location of their new home as “a nice compromise between being close to town and a little bit more remote and quiet.”
Initially, the couple wanted a move-in ready home but soon realized that buying a house that needed work would not only save them money, but would let them make the house their own. “We started to look for something more malleable,” says Kimzey, “and something we could grow into.” She adds, “I think we’re going to be here for many years. It suits us.”
What appealed to Burrell were the property’s many distinct outdoor areas. There is a circular area at the home’s entrance, which they plan to make into a social area with a firepit, and a rustic, wood portal off the kitchen for outdoor dining. Backyard features include a filled-in-pool that’s now a garden, and a cabana the couple plans to make into storage room.
Burrell, who has a green thumb, has transformed struggling trees and shrubs into thriving ones by installing an irrigation system. “I’m giving it a little love and planting some more things. It’s great to see things pop up and grow,” he says. Kimzey quips, “We’re putting down roots, literally and figuratively,” and Burrell laughs in agreement.
The couple plans to complete some major renovations by Thanksgiving. Among them are raising the ceilings and adding sky lights, reconfiguring the space from four bedrooms to three, and re-positioning the kitchen, baths and closets. In the interim, 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 the Santa Fe Community College (SFCC), she found the decision to purchase her first home was an easy one. After exploring the rental market, she determined buying was the best long-term option. Even amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, she felt her move and home purchase were right for her.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Hernandez finds comfort 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 her a sense of home from the start. Santa Fe’s natural landscape makes homeownership here even more meaningful to Hernandez, a lifelong learner devoted to the study of living things, but it’s the basics that make day-to-day living a joy to her.
Centrally located, Hernandez’s new home is a five-minute walk from local haunts like Backroad Pizza and the New Mexico Hard Cider Taproom. Ten minutes by car and she’s in her lab coat at the head of the class, teaching, building and expanding her students’ knowledge.
Over homemade hummus, and in the company of her four cats, Hernandez gave me a tour of her new digs, starting with the cozy, fenced-in backyard, already alive with burgeoning tomatoes and herbs. “I just love the place. It’s nice, it’s clean. I can make modifications, I can make it my own. And the money I spend and the work that I put into it will continue to be my own.”
Despite pandemic lockdowns and learning to live in a new place, Hernandez found ways to connect with community. “I like that I can go out for walks, that I am very close to downtown, and that, again, because I’m close to downtown, I have access to a lot of the city’s culture.”
Whether strolling her neighborhood, heading downtown in search of delicious food or enjoying a trail hike right outside the city, Hernandez finds wonder in every direction. Santa Fe’s color, culture and community confirm her conviction that she has made a great choice.
By Wendy Ilene Friedman
Peyton Zeller-Av and Sydney Benda
After nearly two and a half years traveling the country in a revamped 40-square-foot van with their five-year-old shepherd-mix, Luli, recent newlyweds Peyton Zeller-Av and Sydney Benda knew they wanted to put down roots. “That chapter of our lives [traveling] was done,” says Benda.
When COVID started, the formerly Minneapolis-based couple temporarily settled in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and stayed with relatives during the lock-down and disruption to everyday life. Zeller-Av admits that given the town’s small size, it wasn’t long before they began to get cabin fever. During that time, he decided with his then-fiancée, now-wife Sydney, 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 that Northern New Mexico was a fit 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 New Mexico sunset that really drew them in.
Fortunately, after two-plus years of rent-free living and remote work — Zeller-Av is a software developer and Benda is textile designer — the couple had the down payment and finances ready to make a permanent move. “It’s a very big privilege,” Zeller-Av says about the ability to work from home and enjoy financial stability. The couple could live and work anywhere.
With the help of a local realtor, they started to look for a home in Santa Fe remotely, via video tours. “She took us on driving tours through different neighborhoods before we even got our finances together,” says Benda. “Then, when she showed us homes, she’d point out all the flaws and the good things about them. [Our Santa Fe house] was our first home purchase, and the realtor 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 have called [it] the Candlelight neighborhood. Others have called it ‘southwest city.’”
Regardless of the name, the neighborhood and the home checked all the boxes for the couple: three bedrooms, studio space, a guest bedroom, office space for each, a large kitchen and a yard for the dog. “We wanted a place that felt quiet, calm and safe,” says Benda.
And the dog is happy too. “If she could talk, she’d say she loves it here,” says Benda. “We all chilled out when we settled here.”