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Buyer’s market in Garfield County?

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The times are changing for real estate in Garfield County. The boom times are over for sellers, and the county is once again becoming a buyer’s market more reminiscent of four or five years ago, according to John Wendt, managing broker for Mason Morse Real Estate in Glenwood Springs.

“It’s not a bad market, it’s just a different market,” Wendt said. “We’ve still got buyers who are buying and sellers who need to sell, and what’s happened is the percentages of sales have just gone down to a level they were a few years ago.”

Transaction numbers through August 2008 compared to the same period in 2007 support Wendt’s statement. According to Land Title Guarantee’s market analysis for Garfield County, year-to-date transactions through August are down 39 percent compared the first eight months of 2007. And, the monthly transaction totals for 2008 are comparable to 2003 and 2004, when the county saw about 1,189 transactions per year. That’s down from 2007’s record number of transactions ” 2,001.

The dropoff isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in Wendt’s opinion.

“We got spoiled and used to a more brisk and vast market,” Wendt said. “We’re now back to selling real estate on a day-to-day basis and going back to basics.”

Properties are also sitting on the market longer than they were just a year ago, when it was not unusual for a property to be snagged up in a day or two. Now, properties are sitting on the market for a month, two, or even longer in some cases, giving buyers more opportunity to shop around.

“Our clients and customers will have more time to go through the process, and I think because of that, our buyers are better informed and our sellers are more understanding of the process than before,” Wendt said. “Before, it happened so quick sometimes that people didn’t really understand what happened. It was, someone bought a house and someone sold a house, but they didn’t really have a good understanding of what the process was.”

The local market is still more resilient than much of the nation, which saw property values drop as much as 35 percent in some markets. But according to Wendt, local property values won’t drop that drastically, even though there have already been some price adjustments.

“We will see some price adjustments, because we have some builders that have more inventory than they want and they are making some concessions and price changes on those properties,” Wendt said. “Also, we’ve got some people that really need to sell and they are competing for fewer buyers than we had just a year ago.”

The biggest hurdle, Wendt said, is buyers qualifying for a loan under today’s stricter lending practices.

“The lending practices have changed so dramatically in this year, we’re starting to do more FHA loans in the valley, and we’re grateful that they’ve raised the limits on FHAs significantly beginning in 2009,” Wendt said. “That should help our market up to Basalt.”

But loans are still available with more documentation than was required with sub-prime and jumbo loans that qualified buyers with “stated income.” Those days are over, and the days of high credit scores are in full swing.

The Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County will probably weather the storm better than most of the nation. But even valley Realtors have felt the market crumble. Mason Morse has felt the pinch, closing down its Basalt office, as did Aspen Sotheby’s International Realty.

“It’s just a changing market,” Wendt said. “You have to look at what you are putting out for overhead and what you are bringing in for income. If the market changes significantly, you’ve got to look at where you are spending your money and make adjustments based on what makes the most sense for the company.”

jgardner@postindependent.com


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