Scott N. Miller
smiller@vaildaily.com

Eagle County-based home buyers lead market

EAGLE COUNTY — Looking at resort real estate markets, Eagle County is different in many ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is just who is a “local.”

Land Title Guarantee Co. recently released a report detailing sales activity in seven mountain counties — Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Pitkin, Routt, San Miguel and Summit. Of those counties, Garfield is the outlier in that it’s not really a “resort” area. The rest of this story will focus on counties that have a combination of ski areas and a significant amount of high-end real estate.

Out of those six counties, Eagle has had, by far, the most sales to “local” buyers through the first half of this year, about 53 percent. In comparison, “local” sales accounted for fewer than 30 percent of sales in Summit County, and fewer than 25 percent of the sales in Grand County.

That number of “local” sales here is due to a couple of reasons. First is the diversity of the market, which ranges from tony Forest Road in Vail to the working-class homes on Lost Lane in Gypsum.

Then there’s the matter of just who a “local” is.

Teachers, carpenters, doctors, accountants and others have traditionally made up the full-time population of Eagle County.

But one area broker said the pool of full-time residents is expanding.

Josh Lautenberg, a broker with Sonnenalp Real Estate, said he’s seen a number of families moving into the valley full-time who used to be second-home owners. Lautenberg said his kids’ school, Vail Mountain School, is seeing more families from Mexico and other countries who choose to enroll their children in either that school or the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. Those people are now “local” buyers.

Then there are the empty-nest buyers who are downsizing, or selling their large homes for smaller units in the valley. On the other side of the coin is the market in Eagle Ranch. That area — which has most of the biggest homes in the western valley — was particularly hard-hit when the local real estate market collapsed in 2009 and 2010. The area is rebounding, primarily due to a combination of lower prices and still-low interest rates. Local residents able to move up are moving into those homes.

Homes, particularly those priced below $1 million, and especially those priced lower than $500,000, have long made up most of the sales in the county. These days, though, the “dollar volume” in local real estate — the price of the units sold — has dropped a bit from last year’s levels.

Of the six resort counties surveyed by Land Title, only Eagle and Pitkin have seen a decline in “gross sales volume.” Those are also two of the top three counties — along with San Miguel, home of Telluride — for both average and median home prices (Land Title doesn’t have last year’s comparisons for San Miguel County).

Longtime area broker Bob West, co-owner of Hoffman-West Real Estate, said there aren’t enough buyers for higher-priced homes right now.

“The median price is very low right now,” West said. “The median price will tell you if people are buying at Solaris or the Four Seasons.”

Lautenberg said some of the decline in the high-end market may be due to the successes of the past year or so. Potential sellers are seeing some of the modest increases in sales prices in some neighborhoods, Lautenberg said. Those sellers then list their homes accounting for those increases — and maybe a bit more. Buyers then balk.

“I think it’s slowed the recovery somewhat,” Lautenberg said.

And West said he’s seen more price reductions in the past several weeks than he did several months ago.

Expensive homes — most often purchased by people from elsewhere in the country and world — do more than just generate revenue. They also generate jobs.

“The ultra-luxury homes need people to maintain them,” West said. Beyond that, many buyers of very expensive homes spend additional money remodeling or upgrading those places.

“We’ve seen so many extreme remodels,” he said.

While that part of the market is lagging at the moment, both Lautenberg and West said international buyers — currently a small fraction of the market — will be increasingly important to the growth of the real estate business.

“We always want foreign exposure,” West said. “The foreign press (coverage) from all over the world is just extraordinary branding.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 19, 2013 11:45AM Published Nov 22, 2013 12:19PM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.