Pitkin County real estate sales up 22 percent through June | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County real estate sales up 22 percent through June

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Rustin Gudim/The Aspen TimesThough real estate sales showed signs of improvement through the first half of 2010, realtors remained cautiously optimistic about what the future holds.

ASPEN – Real estate sales in Pitkin County surged ahead of last year’s pace over the first half of 2010 but many realtors remain cautious about claiming recovery.”I would say it’s a little soon to say we’ve had a recovery completely,” said Ed Zasacky, a real estate agent with Morris & Fyrwald.There’s reason for both optimism and caution. On the positive side, the dollar volume of sales from January through June was $573.82 million compared to $471.48 million for the same period in 2009, according to a report released Friday by Land Title Guarantee Co. and research by The Aspen Times. That is an increase of $102.34 million, or 22 percent.The sale last month of a ranch outside of Aspen for $24.5 million shows wealthy buyers are looking – and acting – when they find the right property at the right price, Zasacky said.”There are closings every day. There is activity,” he said.Bob Starodoj, owner and CEO of Mason Morse Real Estate, said he considers the Aspen market in “recovery mode.” The property owners who were forced into distress sales because of the Bernie Madoff scam and other economic woes have completed their transactions. Now there is slow, steady improvement in the upper valley market, he said.”Historically what happens is rich people come back into the market first,” Starodoj said. Wealthy buyers are feeling better about their financial situations, so they are shopping for real estate in desirable markets like Aspen, he said.The greatest amount of activity has been in the $4 million to $8 million range, according to Starodoj. The inventory remains particularly high for properties priced at more than $10 million.

On the other hand, beating 2009’s numbers isn’t necessarily something to boast about. Last year was a poor one for the local real estate industry, compared to the past, so 2010 should compare favorably, said Wendy Lucas of the real estate firm Wendy Lucas Aspen. Sales barely topped $1 billion last year, falling back to the 2003 level.In addition, the first half of 2010 was buoyed by some big sales, which don’t necessarily mean a trend of overall improvement.”It was a slow market, no doubt about it,” Lucas said.Tim Estin, a broker associate with Mason Morse, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the upper valley real estate market as recently as six weeks ago. Now he labels himself “day-to-day hopeful.” His outlook has been tempered by the ongoing uncertainty over the national economy.Poor employment numbers in June led economists to declare the recovery has slowed. Estin said ongoing uncertainty over macroeconomics affects the psyche of buyers, even deep-pocketed ones shopping in Aspen.”A lot of buyers have feet of clay,” concurred B.J. Adams, owner of B.J. Adams and Co. “It’s just not entirely clear that the future’s all that bright,” she added, referring to the national economy.Lucas said she doesn’t anticipate sales activity picking up enough to spur buyer panic or start bidding wars among buyers any time soon. “It’s not like, ‘I’ve got to hurry up and buy,'” she said. Instead, buyers are taking their time and shopping diligently for the home of their dreams.She anticipates buyers will have good opportunities through this summer and into next year.

March, April and May were all significantly stronger this year than last year in dollar volume, according to a report released Friday by Land Title Guarantee Co.The trend continued in June, according to research of The Aspen Times of deeds filed with the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office. Sales in June soared from $63.78 million last year to $115.39 million this year, an increase of 81 percent.Through May, the median price of homes sold in Pitkin County was $4.1 million, an increase of 30 percent from the median price for all of 2009, according to Land Title Guarantee Co.Estin’s research showed there were 16 sales of homes over $6 million in the first half of 2010 compared to 10 in the same price range last year.Adams said real estate agents sense improvement and are looking forward to the next few months.”It’s definitely much busier,” she said. “The buzz around town is we’re going to have an active, busy summer.”But like her competitors, she tempered expectations. “It’s not going to be like the old days,” Adams said. “I don’t know that I would declare the [the slump] is over.”Dollar volume in the Pitkin County real estate market peaked in 2006 at $2.64 billion and were close behind in 2007 at $2.52 billion. The recession started infecting the market in October 2007. Sales sagged to $1.37 billion in 2008 and $1.07 billion last year.

Aspen’s real estate industry is entering its annual prime time, giving brokers hope that the solid numbers posted over the first half of the year will turn into great increases over 2009.Historically, between 60 and 70 percent of annual sales occur between the Fourth of July and the end of September, Zasacky said. Unless conditions tank, the Pitkin County market is on pace to easily top $1 billion mark in sales, he said.Charley Podolak of Chaffin Light Real Estate said many savvy buyers are scouting properties who realize there are some good deals out there. Many sellers remain motivated, he said, and selling prices are often below asking prices.He is confident the number of property showings will be high in July and August. Less certain is how many lookers will become buyers.Adams said the amount of inventory for homes, condos and vacant land is about 30 percent higher in the upper valley than it was in 2008. It will take time to work through that inventory.Starodoj said he believes Aspen would benefit most from slow, steady growth in sales prices rather than the drastic appreciation it experienced in the mid-2000s.”I am of the opinion we’re never going to see 2007, at least not in my lifetime,” he said. Starodoj sees prices more in line with 2004 to 2006.scondon@aspentimes.com