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Aspen’s worker housing market hums along despite recession

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Prices are up, transactions are up and total sales for the year have already surpassed 2008’s totals.While the slumping real estate market in Aspen and Pitkin County makes headlines with each month’s declines, one sector of the local market is clipping along at its usual, steady pace – worker housing.With a few exceptions, the worker units – restricted to buyers who qualify as full-time local employees – turn over each time they come up for sale. Appreciation is capped – typically at 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less – but the units continue to fetch a higher price each time they change hands.And interest in worker housing appears to be holding steady, as well, judging from the number of applicants who submit a “bid” on any particular unit. Lotteries are held to select a buyer from the pool of bidders each time a unit comes up for sale.The number of sales through Aug. 3 stood at 62, for a total dollar volume of $13.7 million, according to the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority. Both numbers are up from 2008’s totals – 43 sales worth a total of $9.3 million.Sales in 2009 include 9 units worth $1.69 million at the Pacific Avenue Condominiums at the Airport Business Center, but this year’s totals won’t surpass 2007’s numbers. Sales for that year hit 121 transactions worth $25.4 million – a tiny piece of a then-booming Pitkin County real estate market that produced $2.52 billion in sales before slipping to $1.37 billion in 2008.In the worker housing market, the year’s fortunes are solely dependent on what happens to come available for sale, and 2007 saw the initial sale of 69 new townhome units at the city of Aspen’s Burlingame Ranch project. Those sales alone totaled $16.7 million.Sales in 2006 were nearly as robust – 107 transactions worth $21.6 million – the result of 20 lots and townhomes at Burlingame coming on the market, plus the initial sales of 14 new units at the Little Ajax project.For close to two decades, virtually every deed-restricted employee unit to come up for resale has been sold for the full amount allowed under its appreciation caps, according to Cindy Christensen, housing operations manager.”It’s really kind of a guaranteed product,” she said. “It’s a good deal to lend in our market.”Still, what used to be an eight-week process to turn over a unit has stretched to about 10 weeks – lenders are taking more time qualifying applicants for loans, just as they are in the private sector, she said.On the other hand, more lenders are showing interest in the local worker housing market. FHA loans, insured by the Federal Housing Administration, have recently become available for buyers of deed-restricted housing, she said.For buyers, interest doesn’t appear to be slacking off, despite the recession. Nor are the number of bidders for units skyrocketing.A Hunter Creek two-bedroom, one-bath unit priced at $171,391 attracted 11 applicants this year, while a similar unit priced at $177,413 attracted the same number of bids in 2008.A one-bedroom, one-bath condo at Seventh & Main, priced at $165,900, attracted 48 applicants this year, while another like unit, priced at $100,615, garnered 34 bids. No Seventh & Main condos came up for sale in 2008, but a one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit priced at $99,301 attracted 53 bids in 2007.A two-bedroom, two-bath Bavarian condo, priced at $189,314, had 21 interested buyers this year, while a like unit priced at $177,290 attracted 28 bids in 2007.A Benedict Commons studio priced at $138,234 garnered 46 bids this year – nearly as many as the 52 bids a $109,090 Benedict Commons studio garnered in 2008.A Centennial studio priced at $86,888 lured 41 applicants in 2007; in 2008, a studio there priced at $85,451 also had 41 applicants. In 2009, a pricier, $101,103 Centennial studio had 34 interested takers.Whether or not a complex allows pets and how close it is to town remain key considerations for many buyers, according to Christensen. So do bathrooms. The two-bedroom, two-bath units at Centennial tend to attract more interest than the two-bedroom, one-bath condos at nearby Hunter Creek, she noted.The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority manages about 2,600 residences set aside for the local workforce, including both sale and rental units.janet@aspentimes.com


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