EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - The Vail Valley real estate market may never again see the go-go days of 2007. But the market is also a long way from the depths it hit in 2009.The Vail Board of Realtors, along with Land Title Guarantee Co. and Slifer Smith & Frampton, have all recently released year-end reports for 2012 about the state of the local real estate market. The news is almost uniformly good.According to the board of Realtors report, the number of new listings has declined, while the number of sales has increased. In fact, the Land Title report shows the total sales volume for 2012 surpassed $1.5 billion, the highest number since 2008, which saw more than $2.2 billion in sales.While dollar volume is climbing, the average price per sale is still lower than in the boom days of the last decade. In 2008, there were 1,606 sales, compared to 1,726 in 2012.Still, the market is better, for a number of reasons.Lower inventory The news about new listings - there are fewer of them - is a key contributor to what brokers say is a shortage of inventory across the market. That shortage is particularly pronounced on the lower-priced end of the market, typically defined as units selling for less than $500,000.Chris Neuswanger, a mortgage broker with Avon-based Macro Financial Group, said he's seen bidding wars for property at the lower end of the market. One unit in Sunridge in Avon brought 18 offers before it was sold, he said.Neuswanger said the financing end of the real estate market has been busy. Mortgage interest rates have started to tick up, he said, but the best-qualified borrowers can still get a fixed-rate mortgage for less than 4 percent.But approval for mortgage financing - the key to a purchase for almost all buyers - is still a challenge for some. During the boom years, mortgages were seemingly being handed out like prizes in cereal boxes. Once the crash hit, lending standards reversed, and hard.Neuswanger said those tougher standards haven't really eased. But, he said, the standards are clear now. Mortgage approval still requires a trip through a bramble patch, but there's at least a well-defined path now, he said.With mortgage rules better defined, people are buying. Market fundamentalsMichael Slevin, the owner/broker of Prudential Colorado Properties, said that while prices and products are different from Eagle-Vail to Gypsum, the market fundamentals are similar up and down the valley floor."The valley floor lacks inventory," Slevin said. That, in turn, is driving at least a bit of an uptick in property values. Still, the number of "short" sales - homes that lenders agree to sell for less than the sellers owe on their current mortgages - and sales of bank-owned homes continue to keep prices down.Sales of bank-owned property accounted for 18 percent of all sales according to the Land Title report. Gypsum had the most bank sales with 86. Still, sales of all types increased in 2012. The Slifer Smith & Frampton report states that Eagle Ranch in 2012 had 125 sales, compared to 79 in 2011 and just 44 in 2009.Slevin said the resort areas - Vail and Beaver Creek, mostly - are in a slightly different situation. There still isn't much inventory. But homes are moving, and at good prices. The largest single sale in 2012 was a Vail Village unit that sold for $14.1 million.Ron Byrne, whose Vail Village-based company deals primarily in resort-area property, said there are homes being sold that never make it into the Vail Board of Realtors' Multiple Listing Service. That means they don't end up in that group's sale data.Byrne said he's seeing some homes move at between 5 and 10 percent off their asking prices. Still, Slevin said, some sellers of expensive real estate are holding out for a price they want. Many of those people are able to hold property until they're satisfied, he said.But, Byrne said, property that's priced in synch with the market, and that's properly marketed, will sell in a reasonably short amount of time.The Vail Valley is usually somewhat out of synch with state and national market trends - the boom lasted longer here, and bust seems to be lingering - the valley is starting to reflect some broader trends.A recent report from the Colorado Association of Realtors shows an increase in completed sales and a decrease in the number of new listings.The difference is in average prices. While median home prices statewide rose by an average of 12 percent, the median price in the Vail Valley fell in 2012, likely the result of continued sales of bank-owned property."But this (market) feels a lot better than it did two or three years ago," Slevin said. "And, prices are great for people who want to get into this market."Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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