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Real estate back with vengeance

Aspen real estate sales topped $555.2 million in 2003, marking a noticeable turnaround in the industry and a record year for some brokers.Closings in the final months of last year put 2003 sales up $77.3 million over 2002s $477.9 million total, according to figures tallied by the Aspen Board of Realtors.In Snowmass Village, overall sales dropped slightly, from $182.8 million in 2002 to $182.4 million last year.For the Roaring Fork Valley, from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, real estate sales totaled $851.5 million in 2003, up from $767.7 million in 2002.Aspen sales activity was off to a slow start last year, but picked up considerably during the second half of 2003, various brokers reported.It was amazing, said Rich Wagar, whose firm had its second-best year ever. The first seven months, it looked like it was going to be the worst year. It looked bad. It looked dismal.From August on, it just came back with a vengeance.The market is as healthy as it was in 99-2000, agreed Bob Ritchie, a founding broker at Coates, Reid & Waldron. The last six months are as good as its ever been.For the first half of last year, sales from Aspen to Carbondale were lagging 30 percent behind 2002. By the end of 2003, sales were up 16 percent, according to Ritchie.The real strength of the market was Aspen, he said.Carol Dopkin Real Estate closed the books on a banner year.2000 was an incredible year for me, and this broke all records, Dopkin said.The war in Iraq, combined with a still-struggling national economy, appeared to give way to rebounding consumer confidence. In Aspen, buyers found room to negotiate and a downward adjustment in prices in response to the prior slump, according to Dopkin.Prices on the market corrected themselves, and I think it was very healthy for our real estate economy, she said. Seventy-seven single-family home sales in Aspen accounted for $303.9 million in 2003 transactions and 158 condo/townhome sales totaled another $137.6 million. That compares to 73 home sales worth $265.1 million and 105 condo sales for $123 million in 2002.The Aspen zone encompasses Starwood, the Castle and Maroon Creek valleys, and properties as far downvalley as Buttermilk and the Aspen Business Center.Duplex/half-duplex sales totaled $42.4 million and 24 single-family lot sales accounted for $49.4 million in transactions.Fractional sales totaled $4 million, but the category is likely to grow as a number of new Aspen timeshare and fractional-ownership properties come on line.The burgeoning fractional market will open the door to a new group of real estate buyers, but several brokers say they dont expect the trend to undermine the traditional real estate market. Single-family home sales, especially, should be unaffected, predicted Joshua Saslove, broker/owner of Joshua & Co.Most of the people who are focused on individual ownership are still focused in that direction they havent swayed, Saslove said.Theres still a lot of people who want to own their own thing and come whenever they want, Dopkin agreed.Some fractional buyers are discovering they want something that offers them more time in Aspen than the typical three or four weeks offered in a timeshare or fractional-ownership arrangement, she said.For some people, its a stepping stone, Dopkin said.Early on, the fractional market appeared to take a cut out of the condo market, as buyers went for brand-new fractional units that come with luxury hotel-style amenities and services.In 2003, though, the demand for condos heated back up, Wagar reported.It has rebounded, he said. I dont have a good explanation only the rising tide effect [it raises all boats]. The whole market came back.Activity so far this year bodes well for continuing strength in the market, added Wagar, who put eight properties under contract in December and January.Usually, if I have one or two at this time of year, Im happy, he said.Ritchie handled $25 million worth of offers on several properties just yesterday morning.Right now, Ive got offers on every listing Ive got, he said.[Janet Urquharts e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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