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As homebuyers flee to luxury mountain towns, local housing markets are heating up

Prepare for bidding wars in Aspen, Vail and Jackson Hole

moving van

During this time when people are hunkering down with their families in cramped homes, an expansive vacation property seems more ideal than ever, especially in mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

After seeing significant drops in April and May, the luxury market has rebounded in places that are usually popular for second homes. But it’s not just single-family homes with more square footage getting the love – agents say they’re getting inquiries for condo rentals, too.

In an interview with HousingWire, Sara Roberts, vice president of marketing at Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate in Vail Valley, Colorado, said that overall, it’s this market’s busiest time of the year.

Like the rest of the country, open houses in Vail shut down in April and May, squeezing an already compressed buying season for the vacation area.

“It is just so unusual. Summertime is usually our busiest season, but this is different. Because we’re a seasonal resort we usually have a busy summer season and we’ll pull back in the fall and then of course pick up again in the ski season,” Roberts said.

“We’re not seeing that dip yet,” Roberts said. “By now, in August, we’d see people leaving town and it’s going to be calming down, but we haven’t hit the peak yet. So it’s kind of crazy, it’s just it’s been very, very, very busy.”

Roberts said that the Vail market brings in people not only from other parts of Colorado, but from all over the country, including people from Texas looking for an escape.

Another trend Roberts said she was seeing was second homes becoming the new primary home, and even buyers moving up from smaller vacation homes.

“Maybe they had a condo here and they would rather now have a single family because they want to spend more time here,” Roberts said. “We’re seeing a lot of traffic in the luxury high end market, the single family homes that usually take a bit longer to sell seem to be the more popular purchases happening right now. I think the little two-bedroom condo that you use one or two weeks out of the year is fine when you’re not living in it full time, but now, people want to come and stay longer so they’re looking for those home offices, more space, less shared common area.”

Year to date through May, the Vail market was down 25% in closed sales volume, but rebounded by July, closing that gap to 9.5% down over 2019 YTD totals.

Roberts said she expects to see a busy August and September, continuing to close that gap and maybe even surpassing 2019 totals for closed sale volume.

“It’s just crazy to think all these second homes that usually stayed empty for a good amount of the year are now being occupied full time,” Roberts said.

Kelli Bennett, a RE/MAX Realtor who leads the Kelli Sells team in Summit County, Colorado, said the market this summer was “unreal.” Summit County includes ski resort towns Breckenridge and Keystone, and the interest in the area has kept everyone involved in the real estate transaction very busy. Title agents are booked up to six weeks out, Bennett said.

“July showings in Summit County were up 92% over last year, so buyers have to go in strong and fast,” Bennett said. “If buyers don’t have time to come up here, they need to Facetime with their Realtor and get it off the market before another buyer gets it.”

Further north, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Latham Jenkins, an associate broker at Live Water Jackson Hole, said that “COVID-19 refugees” began flocking to this vacation town in May. Jenkins said not only is the Jackson Hole purchase market flourishing, but its rental market is off the charts, too.

“Single-family homes with a little bit of acreage around them [are in demand],” Jenkins said. “We have seen in the $3 million plus segment, really a record-breaking pace over the last two months of pending listings.”

As more people than ever are working from home, Jenkins said that more people are retreating to bigger and more relaxed lifestyles, which is what Jackson Hole has to offer. This also leads to more bidding wars.

That mirrors a recent Redfin report that found 46% of homes listed above $1.5 million received multiple bids in July.

“Buyers call me up and say ‘I have been quarantined in my condo in Manhattan now for 75 days,'” Jenkins said. “So it’s interesting you don’t feel the effects in these lifestyle markets like you do in the dense urban settings.”

Another factor in this trend is that many schools are going virtual due to COVID-19. With telecommuting to work and now school, homeowners and students can be anywhere and still get their work done.

“I believe pricing pressure will come in as more inventory gets absorbed — our inventory has been rapidly absorbed to the point that most of my colleagues and I fear that in the months to come,” Jenkins said. “The buyer demand will continue, but the inventory levels will be at historic lows.”

Mountain towns seem particularly popular right now, as luxury markets in more coastal areas like South Florida aren’t seeing the same escalation. A recent article in the Miami Herald said that the South Florida luxury housing market suffered in the second quarter, as the number of sales dropped up to 55.6% year over year in one neighborhood, for example.

“It goes without saying that moving has been more targeted in the luxury segment of the market, as those buyers have the means to move into these lifestyle markets, and also dovetails with the desire to live in experiential markets,” Jenkins said.

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