Dalrymple column: Housing market is rarely down for long in resort towns
By now, just about everybody knows that volume is down for home sales in the state and across the country. The causes are pretty much common knowledge as well: shortage of materials and shortage of labor resulting in higher prices, coupled with stagnating wages.
These cycles are inevitable, and when they occur, it’s interesting to look up, as in raising one’s eyes to the Rockies, to see a real estate economy that often marches to a very different drummer. Real estate markets in Colorado’s major mountain resorts can be relatively counter-cyclical when the U.S. housing market languishes.
This is because bad breaks are always good breaks for somebody, and, to paraphrase scripture, the one percent will always be with us.
Wages flat? Sure, but there’s been a lot of money made in the stock market over the past few years, and some of that loot is finding its way to second homes in premier resorts. When something is down, something else is up. The numbers and buying power of the very-well-to-do elite stay fairly constant, kind of like the talent pool in major professional sports. Just the jerseys change.
The top resorts, like Vail and Aspen, have even more going for them than some of the second tier destinations. The scarcity of available land and local government growth controls create a buffer against extraneous economic woes. Add the cachet of the location, and prices tend to stay very high, with demand not falling off much at all. Somehow, a $40 million asking price on a Starwood (Aspen) estate closing on a $35 million offer doesn’t exactly trigger a frisson of panic.
Vail was a resort of choice for rich Mexicans in the late ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s. There was still quite a bit of new condo development going on in the valley during that time, so the concentration of Mexican wealth was significant. Mexico devalued the peso in December of 1994. It was one of the first financial crises caused by “capital flight,” and it affected just about every Mexican second homeowner in Vail.
This sparked a mini-crash in Vail residential real estate values, but it didn’t last very long. Vail didn’t lose any of the amenities that made it attractive, not the least of which was a very prestigious international address. New rich people quickly took the place of old, not-so-rich-anymore people.
Real estate development is a game of musical chairs. The music always stops, and somebody will be left standing. But, in the instance of the top Colorado resort markets, which include Aspen, Vail, Summit County and, to some extent, Telluride, the music starts right up again, with two or three new dancers on the floor.
Back in the last three decades of the 20th century, a few small financial institutions and regional mortgage bankers took advantage of the resort opportunity, and did very well at it. Today, there are still some home town mortgage brokers that often outproduce their mega-bank competition, but the smaller community banks, for the most part, seem to have left the building. Which is unfortunate from their perspective, since there’s still a place for a small bank with the right local manager.
Today, the development pace has slowed considerably, especially in Aspen and Vail. As noted above, a lot less land, a lot more local government regulation. But some of the old rhythms remain: In most markets, summer is when the most residential real estate sales close; in ski areas, it’s often late fall, right before Thanksgiving, when transfers can spike, as purchasers push to get occupancy in time for a long holiday break.
It’s nice to do business with the one percent.
Pat Dalrymple is a western Colorado native and has spent more than 50 years in mortgage lending and banking in the Roaring Fork Valley. He’ll be happy to answer your questions or hear your comments. His e-mail is email@example.com.