Scott Bayens: Adjusting to the new abnormal and future of our housing market

Scott Bayens
Deeded Interest
Scott Bayens
Courtesy photo

My wife and I were on a video call with our family therapist last week — something I highly recommend in these trying times — and she said something to us that hit home. Appearances aside, we’re all in crisis, all in flight or fight mode, and everyone’s cortisol levels are collectively through the roof. She essentially reminded us, as a couple and as a family, just how significant and unsettling all this is and how everyone on the planet is sharing in this experience.

Of course, it’s important to remember we have it pretty good here in the valley. We haven’t seen a deluge of cases as feared and our existence here already has a built-in element of social distance. Point is, we’re not in the same boat as New York, Italy or Spain to name just a few. Despite the challenges ahead, we all have so much to be thankful for now.

Several weeks ago, as the gravity of the crisis was really hitting home, I was forwarded a story titled, “That Discomfort You Are Feeling is Grief.” The piece printed in the Harvard Business Review encapsulates and describes the sudden emotional shift we all are feeling — the loss of normalcy, the fear of a long-term economic toll, and of course, the sudden loss of connection. Everyone I’ve sent it to says the article describes their upended psyche to a tee. Now that we find ourselves in a place few of us could have imagined, many are starting to focus on what’s ahead, and how to adjust to this new “abnormal.” We are coming to grips with how many things will change for good and just how different the future might look; brick-and-mortar retail for example, how we’ll buy our groceries and view sporting events. The same speculation is occurring in the world of real estate.

According to the MLS, there are 24 properties under contract in the Aspen area, with 10 of those in Snowmass. This time last year, there were 55 properties under contract in Aspen, with between 35 and 40 in Snowmass — quite a significant swing. On the bright side, two monster deals — negotiated prior to the outbreak — sold for $21 million and $12 million in the past two weeks. But the numbers also show the stark reality of financial fear and uncertainly, with as many as 30 buyers having walked away from deals that were under contract pre-COVID-19.

As Gov. Jared Polis slowly begins lifting restrictions put in place last month for non-essential medical procedures, hair salons and the like, so too have rules on specific real estate been relaxed. Starting Monday, brokers will be allowed to conduct face-to-face showings, so long as strict social-distancing measures are adhered to. A ban on construction in Pitkin County also has been reversed, with builders required to check temperatures of those on-site. Throughout it all, title companies have gone online and virtual, and appraisers and inspectors who were deemed essential from the start, continue their work.

During the shutdown, the industry as a whole was forced to pivot — adapt or die. Brokers allowed potential buyers to view vacant homes by themselves. Negotiations took place outside on the curb. FaceTime virtual showings became a thing, just as meetings among relevant parties were conducted via Zoom. And interestingly, even as we continue to reopen, I would expect many of these new procedures to stick. Video calls rather than just voice are likely to remain a staple to preserve that face-to-face feel as we continue to stay 6 feet apart. Top-notch photos, video and 3D virtual tours are more critical than ever as visits to real estate-related websites are reporting record traffic as folks stuck at home surf for ideas and options.

Meantime, there’s an encouraging trend emerging that benefits us here in western Colorado. Local brokers are reporting increased interest in larger, private and more remote properties. Those looking to escape the confines of larger metro areas have been poking around and I would expect we’ll see some activity this summer and fall if we continue to keep the spread at bay.

But make no mistake, we have miles to go before we sleep, as poet Robert Frost once mused. Record unemployment, getting our classrooms open, bailing out the airline industry, getting shops, restaurants and hotels open again are among just a few of the herculean tasks we face. But as I said in my last column, we have no choice but to persevere; we will get through this and remain #rfvstrong. Be well my friends, stay safe, stay sane and take good care.

Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. He can be reached at