Business Monday: Property sales a windfall for Aspen housing program, Wheeler

Gallery caption: These graphs from the city’s Finance Department shows real estate transfer collections benefiting the housing program and the Wheeler Opera House.

Free-market and commercial property sales totaling $1.8 billion within Aspen city limits last year resulted in $17.6 million in real estate sales tax collections for the city’s housing program and another $9.5 million for its downtown performing-arts venue.

Those record-setting figures came from the city Finance Department’s latest monthly tax report, issued Friday, and represented a majority chunk of the more than $3 billion in total sales volume recorded in Pitkin County in 2020. Last year’s record-breaking dollar volume included all sales agriculture, commercial and residential, among other types of property transfers and transactions.

The city requires buyers of property within Aspen — which doesn’t include Castle Creek Road, McLain Flats, Old Snowmass, Red Mountain, Redstone, Starwood, Woody Creek, and other surrounding, unincorporated residential areas in Pitkin County — to pay the 1.5% voter-approved 1.5% real estate transfer tax upon closing.

Two-thirds of the tax benefits the city’s worker housing program; the remainder goes to the Wheeler Opera House account.

“Housing real estate transfer tax collections for December were up 155.6% and are 108.4% above collections from the prior year,” said the city’s report. “Wheeler real estate transfer tax collections for December were up 149.9% and are up in total compared to the prior year’s collections by 114.5%. Market activity continues to exceed expectations and has driven collections past double annual forecasts.”

RETT tax collections in 2020 amounted to a grand, unrounded total of $17,589,652 for the city’s housing program, which last year fetched $8.44 million in RETT proceeds.

The Wheeler Opera House also benefited to the tune of $9.48 million in 2020, more than double the amount of $4.42 million collected in 2019.

The overall total in RETT collections in 2020 was $27.1 million, according to the report. In 2019, Aspen’s RETT accounted for $12.9 million.

The RETT also was lucrative for Snowmass Village in 2020. From January through November 2020, Snowmass Village’s 1% real estate transfer tax created $5.34 million in revenue for the town. That figure reflects more than $530 million in property sales where the RETT was applied in Snowmass.

December transactions in Snowmass put its year-end sales totals over $600 million, bolstered by the $70 million change in ownership of the Westin, Snowmass Conference Center and Wildwood Lodge. As well, there were nearly $20 million in residential closings at Building 8 in Base Village, according to county property records.

Even from January through November 2020, Snowmass Village’s RETT collections surpassed the full calendar years 2015 through 2019. That included the most lucrative year in the bunch — 2018, which generated $4.02 million in RETT proceeds, according to town tax reports.

On RETT tax collections alone, Aspen and Snowmass Village combined for $2.4 billion in sales in 2020, but not all properties transfers are subject to the RETT.

Exemptions in Aspen, for instance, include when a property is transferred between trusts and beneficiaries for estate planning purposes, or when a government entity is the buyer or seller of the property.

The RETT also isn’t required when a charity or nonprofit buys real estate, or when a property is gifted to another party “where no consideration other than love and affection, charitable donation or nominal compensation is evidenced by the terms of the instrument of transfer,” according to city records. Other examples include property inheritance or when a property is transferred in the event of a corporate restructure among the ownership.

Land Title Guarantee, which releases monthly, county-by-county real estate reports throughout Colorado, reported total property sales in Pitkin County in 2019 at just over $1.8 billion.

The same company put total sales volume in Pitkin County at nearly $3.5 billion in 2020 — not including December.

Those totals — gleaned from January through November — include $21.5 million in deed-restriction transactions, which don’t trigger the RETT. As well, fractional sales amounted to $84.7 million through November.

Beyond Aspen and Snowmass Village, the Carbondale portion of Pitkin County generated $10.1 million in property sales last year; the Basalt part had more than $70.7 million in sales; Redstone recorded $28.9 million; and dollar volume totaled $104.9 million in Old Snowmass, according to Land Title Guarantee.


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