VAIL, Colorado - Vail luxury real estate sales that seemed nearly dormant after the Great Recession have picked up enough that local brokers feel an optimism and confidence they haven't felt in a while.
Vail's Billion Dollar Renewal - a renaissance of development that included new projects such as the Four Seasons, Solaris and the Ritz-Carlton Residences - ended just in time for the worst national recession since the Great Depression. Luxury projects opened at a time when buyers were scarce - it was a major shift from the Vail luxury real estate market of years past.
Fast forward to today, and agents are feeling optimistic because not only are there more interested buyers inquiring about high-dollar properties - $5 million and above - but those buyers are also more qualified and seem serious about investing in the Vail lifestyle, said Tye Stockton, of Ascent Sotheby's International Realty, which handles sales at the Ritz.
The Ritz has had 38 closings on its 71 whole-ownership units, with an average list price of $1,368 per square foot, Stockton said.
"Most of the buyers who have been waiting out there, they're seeing now a lot of great quality properties being scooped up - people are feeling that maybe they shouldn't wait any longer," Stockton said.
While Stockton said prices aren't necessarily creeping back up just yet, he said it is getting tougher to find a quality residence.
He also has noticed folks looking for value. At the Ritz, for example, there have been many residences sold on the north side of the building - the side without Vail Mountain views - because buyers feel they can find a better deal there.
At the Four Seasons, Dana Dennis Gumber, of Slifer Smith and Frampton Real Estate, said two of the 16 private residences have sold, one of which sold in February. About 25 percent of the Four Seasons' 228 fractional ownership interests have also sold. Prices at the Four Seasons dropped by more than 20 percent last year but are now holding steady.
"We've had a lot more traffic and more serious buyers," she said. "I definitely think it's picking up. I think we're coming out of our hole. Volume has picked up (around Vail), then the prices will come. It will take a while to get back to where we were in 2006-07 - it will be a slower path; it's not going to be the frenzy it was."
Gumber's views contradict those of Stockton, however, as she said there's not an urgency because buyers "think there's a lot of opportunity out there right now, so they're not in a big hurry."
"It used to be 'buy it now or it's going to go' - but that's not really happening in the $5 million-plus market," Gumber said.
There are fewer listings in that range, though, she said. The number of listings isn't as down as it is in the $1 million to $5 million range, but it is down.
"That's a big factor for us," she said, adding that fewer listings are just now starting to create that urgency for buyers that Stockton described.
Selling a lifestyle
Both agree that the investment-property buyer is scarce these days - buyers are looking for long-term investments, not a rent-it or flip-it opportunity, necessarily.
"That stabilizes our market," Gumber said.
There are more interested buyers that come here because they truly love Vail and the lifestyle here, Stockton said.
"That's a big shift," he said. "I think that's the best chance we have to return to normalcy - I think buyers now are healthier than before the market turned."
But what is normal for Vail?
"The five years before the market withdrew - that wasn't normal, either," Stockton said. "That curve of appreciation was ridiculous - almost parabolic, almost vertical - we view (the current situation) as a much healthier direction now."
The Ritz sales team is throwing in some incentives for buyers, including two lifetime ski passes valid for 60 years and 25 private ski lessons or 20 foursomes of golf at Red Sky Ranch. The incentives are meant to get serious conversations started about buying the whole Vail package, Stockton said, adding that some buyers don't want the incentives but rather want to negotiate the best deal.
"We're serious about selling the real estate, so we want to keep people more than excited about it," he said. "(The incentives) are something great to take with the deal. ... It reinforces that we're selling the whole lifestyle here."
At Solaris, there's still plenty of inventory left, too, including two penthouses for $15.5 million each and another for $19.2 million. Slightly less than half of Solaris' 79 residences have been sold.
Prices at all three of Vail's newest and large luxury properties are holding. The Ritz decreased prices in 2009 but hasn't decreased them since. All three properties have units beginning in the $2 million range, while the Ritz listings max out at about $9 million, Solaris maxes out at $19.2 million and the Four Seasons maxes out at $14.5 million.
In April, there were 11 transactions in Vail Village with an average price of $3,506,364 and four in Lionshead with an average price of $1,989,000, according to the latest Land Title Guarantee Co. market analysis. Year-to-date, Vail Village has had 33 total transactions at an average price of $2,776,588, while Lionshead has had 12 at an average price of $2,604,083.
There were four transactions in Eagle County in April that were more than $5 million, for a total of $29,550,000. Year-to-date, there have been 14 transactions of more than $5 million in Eagle County, totaling $115,022,500.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.