Scott N. Miller

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July 21, 2014
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Mountain county home sales showing strength

EAGLE COUNTY — Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. Looking at real estate sales in the mountain region, Eagle County is doing pretty well. But others areas are doing better in some elements of the business.

According to the Land Title Guarantee Co. report about first-quarter real estate sales in the mountain region — Eagle, Summit, Grand, Routt, Pitkin, Garfield and San Miguel (Telluride) counties — the market is improving, but it’s still well short of the peak revenue years between 2005 and 2007. How short? In the peak years, the real estate market in Eagle County approached $3 billion. The market peaked at just less than $2.5 billion in Pitkin County.

Eagle County’s market has hit $1.5 billion twice since the national economic slump, and Pitkin County sales have come close to $1.5 billion.


The slow climb back to big sale numbers has seen plenty of up-and-down rises and dips, but no giant swings. That means progress is often measured quarter to quarter. Sometimes it’s measured sale to sale.

That’s true even in areas that don’t have the kind of high-priced real estate seen in Aspen or Vail.

For instance, Grand County, home to Winter Park, saw a 32.7 percent jump in average home prices in the first quarter of this year. Routt County, home to Steamboat Springs, saw a 25 percent decline in average home price for the same period.

The reason, in many cases, is the fact that a relative handful of high-dollar sales can skew those averages. In Eagle County, sales of $5 million or more accounted for just 2 percent of all transactions, but accounted for 16 percent of the county’s sales volume that month.

While the drop in foreclosure or similar sales is a steady trend that speaks for itself, other fluctuations make it hard to get a firm grasp on trends just by sales over a quarter or two.


Longtime Vail Realtor Ron Byrne, owner of a brokerage that bears his name, said that even sales numbers don’t tell a market’s full story.

Byrne likened the real estate market to a rock thrown into a pond. The sales at the center of the market are the most stable, and make the strongest waves, which weaken as they spread out from the center.

“That ripple effect is the real story,” Byrne said. The strength remains at the core — in this case, Vail and Beaver Creek. But the markets farther away from that center remain somewhat uncertain, especially regarding expensive real estate farther away from ski slopes.

Craig Denton, another veteran Vail broker, now with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Vail Valley Properties, agreed that the center of the market is strong, but it has limits.

Denton said buyers in the high-end market favor either new or freshly remodeled property. That leaves a lot of older homes with plenty of lookers, but no buyers, especially if the older homes are priced competitively with the newer inventory.

The desire for something new isn’t limited to high-end property, either. Wendy Lucas, a veteran broker in Pitkin and Garfield counties, said people tend to want new units across the price spectrum. On the other hand, she said, new homes tend to cost more, which turns off some buyers. Once those units sell, though, it helps prices for older property.

Lucas said the markets downstream from Aspen are showing strength thanks to a more vibrant local and national economy.

“People are getting happy again,” Lucas said.

But again, there’s the ripple effect. Closer to Aspen (and Vail, and Telluride, and ...), a strong stock market will do a lot to help maintain the real estate market’s comeback. As those markets thrive and put more people to work in the construction business, the markets farther away from the resorts will begin to pick up, too.

If and when that happens, we may see construction crews working in numbers we haven’t seen in several years.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, or @scottnmiller.

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The VailDaily Updated Jul 21, 2014 09:01PM Published Jul 21, 2014 06:03PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.