Sales at ‘Residences’ carry Aspen market in January |

Sales at ‘Residences’ carry Aspen market in January

ASPEN ” The Residences at The Little Nell is embroiled in controversy with some buyers who want out of contracts, but the luxury condo project also carried the Aspen real estate market in January, a report released Tuesday shows.

The Residences at The Little Nell accounted for 41 transactions and $64 million in dollar volume last month, according to a report by Land Title Guarantee Co.

There were 78 total real estate transactions in Pitkin County for $115.94 million, the report said. That means sales of fractional ownership interests at RLN accounted for 52 percent of all transactions and 55 percent of dollar volume.

Even so, the picture for the real estate industry wasn’t pretty last month. Total transactions were down 20 percent from January 2008. Dollar volume was off 9 percent from the month last year, the report said.

To put that into perspective, the dollar volume of January 2008 plummeted nearly 50 percent from January 2007.

The Residences at The Little Nell opened this month after it was plagued by construction challenges and delays. The 26 three- and four-bedroom condos are located at the base of Aspen Mountain and managed by the Aspen Skiing Co.’s acclaimed Little Nell hotel. All but eight of the 208 fractional ownership interests were placed under contract. The three-bedroom interests soared to $1.9 million; the four-bedrooms sold for $3 million, although those prices were established before the market tanked.

Roughly 80 people or entities have terminated their purchase contracts, claiming the developer defaulted on the terms. They are seeking through court, arbitration or both to recover their escrow money.

The development firm, represented by Brooke Peterson, claimed it has honored the contracts. It wants to keep the escrow funds and wants the sales contracts of the disgruntled buyers terminated.

Sales at The Residences at The Little Nell will heavily influence the market performance in February regardless of the outcome of the dispute.

Realtors are seeking good news anywhere they can find it right now. Dollar volume fell 46 percent in 2008 to $1.37 billion. The boom time of 2004-’07 ended.

“We’ve been affected as a company more by this downturn than by any one before,” said Jim Light, a name partner in Chaffin Light Real Estate.

No one can say with certainty what will happen in the Aspen-area real estate market in 2009, he said. But the firm, one of the largest in the valley, has cut expenses and added real estate agents to maneuver itself into the best position possible for when the market recovers. Mason Morse Real Estate and Morris and Fyrwald Sotheby’s International Realty, other big players, also added real estate agents, as have a handful of smaller firms.

Light is among several veterans from the real estate industry who said in recent interviews that they expect activity to pick up in 2009. They said a variety of factors will motivate sellers: Some owners will need to price property to sell because they need the funds after other investments tanked; “spec” houses may be readjusted to move rather than sit on the market; other sellers see it as a chance to make a change and buy something different.

Light said some buyers have been attracted to the Aspen market because they figure that they can afford something now after being shut out by high prices in the past. Other buyers are keeping eyes open for sales of “distressed” properties in hope of a real bargain.

The median single-family home price in Pitkin County was up 52 percent in January compared to the full year of 2008, Land Title Guarantee Co. reported. The median price was $6.24 million, the report said.

The Garfield County real estate market took a rougher tumble than Pitkin County in January, according to Land Title Guarantee Co.’s report. The number of transactions fell 78 percent to just 38. The dollar volume fell 76 percent to $16.6 million compared to January one year ago.

The average sales prices for single family homes still managed to increase 17 percent in January while the median price in Garfield County increased 8 percent to $400,000, the report said.

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