Real estate sales down 50 percent |

Real estate sales down 50 percent

ASPEN ” The Pitkin County real estate market report card for the first half of 2008 was as bad as expected.

The dollar volume of real estate sales was down 50 percent through June compared to the first six months of last year, according to a report released by Land Title Guarantee Co. The number of transactions was off nearly 33 percent from last year’s pace, the report said.

Sales and transactions have been down each month this year compared to 2007, so the poor halftime report comes as no surprise.

The report confirms that Pitkin County isn’t immune from the national downturn in the real estate market or the general economic malaise. Conditions started slowing in the Aspen market during the fourth quarter of 2007, real estate agents said.

On the other hand, the Pitkin County market is coming off its three best years ever ” with annual sales topping $2.2 billion in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Matching those numbers is tough.

The record year was 2006, with total sales of $2.4 billion. “It’s probably never going to be repeated,” said Bob Starodoj, a real estate broker with Mason and Morse who has worked in Aspen for more than 40 years.

Sales from January through June hit $716.82 million this year compared to $1.43 billion in 2007, the Land Title report showed. The number of real estate transactions dropped from 669 the first half of last year to 453 for the first half of this year ” a decline of 32.29 percent.

The title company files a monthly analysis based on deeds recorded with the county clerk’s office. It reflects all real estate sales, from McMansions to more humble employee-housing units.

Robert Ritchie, a veteran real estate broker with Coates, Reid and Waldron, said there is more to the Pitkin County market than meets the eye in the title company’s report. The “core markets” of single-family homes and condominiums in Aspen and Snowmass Village are performing much better than real estate in Pitkin County overall, he said.

For example, the total dollar volume of Aspen home sales is up nearly 3 percent from the first half of last year, based on Multiple Listing Service data, Ritchie said. The total dollars of home sales in Snowmass Village is down 23 percent, he said.

The average home sales price in Aspen and Snowmass soared 23 percent during the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2007, Ritchie said. Two sales in excess of $35 million skew that figure somewhat, Ritchie said, but it still shows that the high end of the market is still active.

“The G5 crowd is still fueling those babies up and is still picking up the nice [properties],” said Ritchie. “Their lifestyle is weighing more into their decision than the economy.”

Starodoj said there are still “a hell of a lot” of people looking at real estate in the Aspen area. It’s just not resulting in a lot of sales right now.

Many buyers are being conservative and want to see where prices are going; many sellers “are in denial,” said Starodoj. “They still think it’s 2007.”

He said the real estate market is in a cycle that occasionally occurs. The market flattens out, the prices come down, then sales pick up and prices rise again. He expects prices to come down by 10 to 15 percent from their high a year or two ago, but he acknowledged that the magnitude of the slump probably won’t be fully known until October. “Calling it is very, very difficult,” he said.

Ritchie said activity will continue to be slow this year but noted that “well-priced property” is still showing. “We don’t have 20 percent appreciation right now,” he said. “We still have [appreciation], but it’s in the single digits.”

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