ASPEN - The mountain resort real estate markets in Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge bounced back in 2010 after bottoming out in 2009, but they aren't close yet to returning to their glory years.
The dollar volume of sales is up by double digits through October this year compared to last year in Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties, according to reports prepared by Land Title Guarantee Co., which has offices in each of the markets.
Eagle County, which includes Vail and Beaver Creek, is leading the way in the resurgence. The dollar volume of sales soared 75 percent through October, the Land Title's report showed. Sales totaled $1.27 billion at the end of October, already eclipsing total sales of $898.44 million last year.
Pitkin County sales, dominated by Aspen and Snowmass Village, are up 12 percent this year compared to the same point last year. Sales were at $1.02 billion at the end of October. Sales reached $1.07 billion for all of last year, the report showed.
While the Eagle County market posted a higher percentage increase this year over last year, the Pitkin County market didn't fall as hard in 2009 as a result of the recession, the reports show. Pitkin County never dipped below $1 billion in sales.
Summit County, which includes Breckenridge and Copper Mountain, lags well behind Eagle and Pitkin counties in dollar volume of sales. Summit County was at $567.51 million at the end of October. That was a gain of 10 percent over the same point last year.
Total sales fell to $683 million in Summit County in 2009, the title company's reports showed.
Statistics were available only through October for some of the markets.
Markets peaked in 2006-07
To put the sales for this year in perspective, the mountain resort markets will barely reach above 50 percent of the dollar volume racked up in the wild years for the industry in the middle of this decade. Real estate activity was slow in 2002, picked up steam in 2003 and reached a frenzy by the middle of the decade.
Pitkin County's market exploded to a record in 2006 and followed it up with an equally big year in 2007. The total of all sales in the county in 2006 were $2.64 billion, followed by $2.52 billion the following year.
Sales dollar volume plummeted 46 percent in 2008 as the recession started taking hold, then slid another 21 percent last year.
Eagle County's real estate market nearly cracked the $3 billion level in sales in 2007. It peaked at $2.96 billion. The Vail-area market didn't fall as quickly as the Aspen market, but it fell harder. Sales were off 25 percent to $2.23 billion in 2008. The big plunge came last year, when dollar volume fell 60 percent to $898.44 million.
Summit County's real estate market peaked at nearly identical levels in 2006 and 2007, with about $1.63 billion in sales. That market saw sales dive 35 percent in 2008, then another 36 percent in 2009.
Garfield County, which is less of a resort market, saw a more dramatic collapse of the real estate market than its neighbors. The market, which includes diverse components ranging from Glenwood Springs and Carbondale to Rifle and Parachute, peaked in sales volume at $1.22 billion in 2007.
Sales dropped 41 percent in 2008, then another 67 percent last year.
In 2010 through October, sales are up 2 percent in Garfield County through October, the report by Land Title said, but the total was only $191.97 million - a fraction of the peak from four years prior.
Realtors see turnaround
In year-end summaries released this week, two real estate agents in Aspen-Snowmass wrote they believe the market is recovering.
"The market appears to have bottomed in 2009, falling 57 percent from its 2006 high," wrote Tim Estin, a broker associate with Mason Morse Real Estate and author of the Estin Report, an analysis on the Aspen-Snowmass Village market.
In addition to the dollar volume increasing from 2009, the unit sales of all property types is up 18 percent, Estin said, and the inventory of listed property has declined by 13 percent.
"I believe, finally, it can be substantiated that there's light at the end of a long, painful most recent two years," he wrote.
That said, the Aspen-area remains a buyer's market, according to Estin. Sellers are receiving on average 73 percent of what they are asking, and 65 percent of their original list price from one or two years ago.
Monthly dollar volume in Pitkin County has been a mixed bag in 2010. The amount of sales has been higher than in 2009 in six of the 10 months through October, and sometimes substantially higher.
In Eagle County, every month was better in sales dollar volume than the same month last year through October.
An end-of-year summary by Andrew Ernemann and Tara Turner of B.J. Adams and Co. Real Estate said they are bombarded with questions about when the local real estate market will recover. Their answer: the recovery is underway. They see "some very solid signs of market stabilization in Aspen, a few hints of the same in Snowmass Village, and that the midvalley still has a way to go."
Many buyers and sellers are holding out for various reasons, their report said. Sellers are looking for buyers who will pay the most, and they are dreaming of finding a buyer who will pay a premium. On the flip side, some buyers are uneasy about entering the market "too soon," Ernemann and Turner wrote.
The ongoing recovery is essentially hitting a reset button on the sales dollar volume, transactions and prices. Comparisons to the old days might not be relevant for some time.
"Instead of waiting for the market to 'recover' it would likely serve buyers and sellers well to recognize that this is the new real estate reality in the Roaring Fork Valley and proceed accordingly," Ernemann and Turner concluded in their analysis.