An assessment of Aspen real estate |

An assessment of Aspen real estate

She’s back.

Yep, Lee Anne Marlets is teaching local real estate seminars. As the last person to know this, I was the only one to sign up for a class she led last week in a cavernous rock-walled room with tubular windows at opposite sides, through which voices echoed back and forth over the course of an afternoon. I imagined the place resembling the inside of my skull after that session of tortured reason.

Because any exchange with the queen of local illogic is unbelievable, I recorded this one exactly as she spoke it so that you, too, can ponder:

Lee Anne: The most important thing to make your clients aware of in this slowing market is that they are stupid if they are not buying Aspen real estate. I don’t care how you do it, but they need to be shown exactly how dumb they are before you can sell them anything …

Roger Marolt: Wha … (Confusedly stuttering). They are stupid if they don’t buy right now, so we need to make them feel dumb so that they will buy right now … and then they won’t be stupid?

LA: (Irritably) Yes sir. In the biz we call it glossy advertising. If they can afford to buy real estate here, they should. Intelligence has nothing to do with it!

RM: Why? (I asked in spite of my terror at the forcefulness of her speech and the depth of my confusion.)

LA: Oh my god! How on earth did you pass the licensing exam? The first thing I learned in real estate college is that wealthy people will pay anything for nice property. Always! Always! Always! It’s so simple. Don’t you see? Because there are so many extremely rich people in the world who can easily afford property in Aspen, prices cannot possibly go down! Ever! Ever! Ever! It’s basic economic theory that you learn in second grade!

RM: But real estate is a commodity. From a financial perspective, it isn’t much different than a share of stock in Crocs, Inc., is it? Stock prices go up and down based on people figuring out what they think it’s worth.

LA: Crocs makes comfy, modern shoes, but I don’t even think the Old Lady is going to live in those things. There’s no room for her kids, ha ha. So, what’s your point?

RM: My point is that lots of people can afford to buy Crocs, Inc. stock at $35 per share. But not everybody does. People buy it until it reaches a point where they don’t think it’s worth it. They don’t keep buying just because they can afford it.

LA: So, what you’re telling me is that you’re naive enough to believe that Crocs stock and an Aspen estate should be valued using the very same rules of economics?

RM: Um, (nervously) … maybe? (Meekly).

LA: Oh my god! You can’t be that stupid! You’re talking about “people.” I’m talking about “rich people.” They don’t just buy houses in Aspen for an investment. It’s the best place in the world to live, for crying out loud! There’s a huge amount of emotion that goes into owning property here. My clients certainly aren’t just looking for a dividend payment. Lord knows they don’t need any more of those.

RM: Well sure, Aspen is wonderful, but it sounds like what you are saying then is that rich people’s emotions are what will drive prices up indefinitely.

LA: Exactly!

RM: Then aren’t you implying that the next buyer is going to be more emotional about Aspen than the last, and then each successive buyer will be progressively more passionate about this place? If that’s true, it seems that by now we should be a town full of tearful, blubbering, kissing and hugging, touchy-feely soul mates. How emotional can we get?

LA: What do you mean, how emotional can we get?!?! You’re an idiot! You are impossible! Think Italian! Think French! Think Tasmanian! There is no shortage of emotion in the world! The dollar is weak. Our houses seem cheaper than roses and poetry to foreigners. They love this place. They will pay anything to be here!

RM: So now the emotional buyers you were talking about are suddenly foreign currency arbitrageurs trying to cash in on exchange rate differentials? Sounds like doublespeak.

LA: You are trying my patience! Our new breed of buyer thinks with their head and heart, 24/7. It’s what makes them so unique and is why they are searching for unique opportunities.

RM: Even so, what happens when the U.S. dollar regains some strength? Couldn’t that lead these lovers to use more of their heads and cash out with huge profits, causing demand for Aspen real estate and prices to fall?

LA: Yes! And that’s when U.S. buyers will surge back in to snap up the bargains!

RM: But, with a strong dollar, won’t foreign properties seem like bargains? Maybe Americans will start looking around the globe for their escapes again, like the foreigners are doing here now. Stuff in Aspen is going to look really expensive by comparison.

LA: So, you actually believe that real estate prices in Aspen could decline like they are in the rest of the country right now, even though they never have before?

RM: I think you mean “never” since the 1970s.

LA: Well of course that’s what I mean. Aspen wasn’t worth squat before that!

RM: Well, what’s your advice then?

LA: My advice is that you to look for a different career. You’re obviously not cut out to be a Realtor. You belong in business.

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