Resort sales on a record pace
Colo. real estate deals may surpass $5.7 billion high in 2000

Publication: The Denver Post; Date: 07/04/2004

By Jason Blevins

Real estate sales in Colorado resort communities this year are on pace to hit records, experts say.

Brokers in Grand, Summit, Eagle, Routt, Pitkin and San Miguel counties say 2004 is on track to meet or beat the buying-and-selling frenzy they enjoyed in 2000, when $5.7 billion worth of resort real estate traded hands.

Helping to spur the activity are the strengthening stock market, baby boomers boasting more discretionary income, lower interest rates luring locals out of the rental pool and climbing prices.

Through mid-June, brokers in the above counties have moved $2.3 billion worth of real estate in almost 4,000 transactions.

"And the best half of the year is still ahead of us," said Chuck Leathers, a Realtor in Summit County, where the first half of the year ranks second best in number of transactions.

High-end buyers are driving the surge, especially in Aspen and Pitkin County.

Since 2000, total sales volume and the number of annual sales in Pitkin County have dropped every year, from an all-time high of $1.2 billion in sales in 2000 to $776.2 million in 2003.

This year promises to end that decline.

Through mid-June, the county's brokers have sold $652.1 million in real estate, which compares with $620 million through mid-June in the record year of 2000.

"The market is not only stronger than it has ever been, but we've never seen such a huge portion of our potential buyers bled off into time shares," said Aspen Realtor Bob Ritchie. He noted that an estimated $400 million in time shares sold in Aspen and Snowmass so far this year. Time shares are not included in the monthly sales data in the county.

"Despite that, we are up," Ritchie said. "Not just up but at an all-time record. It even seems to be accelerating."

Eagle County has seen similar activity at the high end. And, as with their colleagues in Pitkin, Eagle brokers have moved more real estate in 2004 than they did in the same months of 2000. A total of $711.8 million in sales occurred between January 2000 and May 2000. From January through May of this year, Eagle has seen $737.2 million in sales.

"The high-end buyer is definitely back," said Joni White-Taylor, president of Sonnenalp Real Estate, which is selling Eagle County homes ranging in price from $2 million to $19 million. "I think a combination of low interest rates, stock market values and the rebound of the economy have brought many buyers to all resort areas in the past nine months."

As the resort communities of Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Snowmass and Telluride mature, they become more like islands. New homes become more rare. New land becomes unavailable. Space gets tighter, and values soar.

"The closer we get to 2010, the less and less product we will have available. That drives prices up," said Doug Labor, owner and broker at Buyers Resource Real Estate of Steamboat. "I think with the war and the stock market suffering, people lost confidence in making discretionary purchases. They're coming back now, and people who lost money in the market in 2000 have seen their money come back, and they are looking to diversify out of stocks and such."

Like Pitkin and Eagle, real estate sales in Routt County - home to Steamboat Springs - are ahead of sales in the same months of 2000, when a record $372 million worth of real estate sold.

It's the same story in Telluride and Mountain Village in southwest Colorado's San Miguel County. Sales in 2000 reached an all-time high of $546.2 million and have not come close since. Sales through mid-June this year in San Miguel have reached $309.2 million, a 13 percent increase over the same months in 2000.

"I think it's pretty simple: There was a surge in the stock market last fall, and now people are taking advantage of that surge," said Telluride broker Mike Salamon. "We are definitely on pace to meet or exceed 2000."

In Grand County, home to Winter Park, 2003 was the record year. And through mid-June this year, sales in Grand County have surpassed sales in the same months of last year. Fueling the Grand County interest is investment by deep-pocketed developers such as Intrawest, The Cordillera Group and Denver's Koelbel family.

"We are seeing a lot of people familiar with Intrawest's momentum," said local broker Jack Gerstein, noting the British Columbia resort developer's plans for the Winter Park ski area it operates. "Winter Park is much more affordable than any other resort areas, and before some of these developers pull the trigger, it will remain affordable. People are realizing that and they are buying now."

Staff writer Jason Blevins can be reached at 303-820-1374 or jblevins@denverpost.com.

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