Scott Bayens: Finding save haven at Mach 5
Back in 1947 when Chuck Yeager first punched past the speed of sound, there were many who thought it couldn’t be done. Within years of that historical breakthrough, brave test pilots smashed the record of that initial supersonic flight by a factor of five.
What’s happening in our region now is analogous to that exponential acceleration.
It’s no secret since state and local lockdowns were lifted, a housing market we all thought was pretty much toast for the rest of the year took off like an X-Plane. If sales and activity was at Mach 1 a month ago, we’re easily pushing Mach 5 now.
As of Friday, there were roughly $500 million of pending volume in Aspen-Snowmass. Of those in escrow, at least eight are priced north of $15 million. Add another $100 million in the midvalley down to Carbondale. Those numbers represent more than 150 transactions since July 1.
In June, title companies reported 56 closings with more than $100 million in gross volume in Pitkin County alone.
Keep in mind, these are deals that have gone under contract in just the last four to six weeks! These are absolutely astounding numbers when you consider the record for sales volume in this area for the entire year is just over $2 billion. Industry veterans say they haven’t seen anything like it since the frenzy that culminated in 2007-08, and for some, perhaps never.
By now we’ve all heard the explanations for this recent surge (forgive the pun). Record low interest rates, pent-up demand, low inventory and migration from urban centers to rural communities are among the reasons provided industry insiders.
But as I think about it, there’s another more primal and emotional motive at play here. After getting a taste of lockdown, isolation and anxiety of the unknown, many who are here shopping and buying are looking for a getaway, a safe haven; to satisfy a need to settle in and hunker down.
And who would blame us for doing so? We’re in a hot war with an invisible and deadly enemy and losing. CNN just reported more than 90,000 have succumbed to the virus since we reopened. And if we’re being honest, talk of a vaccine as a solution just isn’t realistic. HIV emerged in 1983, and we still don’t have a cure for AIDS. And if we do find a magic pill, how long does it take to manufacture and distribute? There is simply no panacea for this pandemic.
So again, my theory regarding the need for safe haven. The need to escape, perhaps start over.
The truth is, the gravity and scope of the crisis are beginning to sink in. Tragically, there are now inconceivable numbers to consider, unprecedented in our country’s history. In the U.S. we have 4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, nearly 150,000 deaths, more than 50 million out of work, $2 trillion in federal stimulus and likely another round on the way.
Locally, the Roaring Fork School District, which includes Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, will not be returning kids to classrooms for at least the first month of school. No word yet on what the Aspen School District will do. We all agree that’s not a sustainable, long-term solution.
These stats and news clearly show we haven’t even begun to see the long-term effects of the crisis and likely have years of recovery ahead. It’s too much to process. We’re in a place where none of us has been before, and not our parents or their parents. As I said back in my column back in April (“Adjusting to the new abnormal and future of our housing market,” The Aspen Times, April 25, 2020) what we are all really dealing with is grief. The absence of hugs and kisses, the loss of our favorite stores and restaurants, the way we used to watch movies, sharing a cigarette, even the death of coins and cash.
In a way, the phenomenon we’re witnessing in the local real estate market is synchronous with our denial, and ignoring the now-obvious consequences of our complacency. If emotion is one reason for all this activity, then that emotion is certainly related to fear. But, one could argue, leaving the city and starting over in places like ours is an example of forward-looking optimism.
When you ask local experts how long this supersonic summer might last and what’s around the corner, most agree this is a limited window. With a presidential election this fall, civil unrest and COVID cases on the rise, there’s likely to be a pause. In terms of what happens after that is anyone’s guess, but one thing’s for sure: There were a multitude of reasons to live here pre-COVID. And now, thanks to a tiny pathogen discovered seven months ago, there are many more.
Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more about him and view current listings at http://www.aspendreamhome.com.
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