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November 11, 2012
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Is real estate rebounding in the valley?

EAGLE COUNTY - This doesn't compare to the flood of political campaign signs this fall, but there are plenty of indications the county's real estate market is recovering from a years-long slump.

One of those signs is the number of tax liens sold at auction this year. Those liens are a way for the county to recover unpaid real estate bills and are popular because of the high interest rates paid - as well as the supermodel-slim chance that an investor may be able to pick up a piece of property for the price of a few unpaid tax bills.

Scott Prince has gone to the tax lien sale for the past five years. He said this year was the smallest sale he's seen, both in liens available and the number of people who attended. In fact, this year's tax lien sale had the fewest liens available - 169 - since 2006, when just 71 tax liens were sold. Both numbers are far, far from the 710 tax liens sold in 2008.

Mari Renzelman, of the Eagle County Treasurer's Office, which runs the tax sales, said it was unusual to sell even 100 tax liens in the middle of the last decade. Still, the steady decline since 2009 could be a good sign for the local real estate market.

Another good sign is a decline in the number of foreclosure filings in the county.

Anissa Berge, of the Eagle County Public Trustee's Office, said this year's total so far - 412 - is down from the same period of 2011, when there were 513 foreclosures filed in the county.

Prince, who's in the local real estate business - but can't speak as a representative for the company he works for - said he believes there's a simple answer for the relative dearth of available liens: More people are paying their property taxes.

"There was a lot more economic uncertainty in 2009," Prince said. "Plus, property taxes have come down. Perhaps there's a little more confidence out there."

That confidence is also being reflected with the number of real estate sales so far this year. According to the latest report from Land Title Guarantee Co., this year's sales through Sept. 30 - 1,146 - are running 18 percent ahead of the sales recorded for the same period last year. This year's dollar volume is also running ahead of last year's pace.

Bank sales still account for a significant portion of real estate sales in the county, making up 21 percent of all sales this year through Sept. 30. Those sales, whether they're for foreclosed property or "short" sales - sales negotiated for less than the seller owes on a property - have helped drive down prices in much of the county.

Still, prices today are luring buyers.

Sarah Jardis, president of Central Rockies Mortgage in Avon, said her company's business has "increased dramatically" from last year. Much of that business is owners refinancing their homes at historically low interest rates. But, Jardis said, the number of buyers has been growing.

Jardis said refinancing accounted for most of her company's business two years ago. This year, she said, there's just about an even split between refinancing and purchases.

Jardis said buyers today include just about the full range of buyers - first-timers, second-home buyers and those looking for investment property.

"For investment buyers, prices now mean units will cash flow," Jardis said. "The same rationale is there for entry buyers, too - you can own a home for less than you're paying in rent."

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Nov 12, 2012 04:51PM Published Nov 11, 2012 10:45PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.