The first quarter of 2004 marked a record high median price for real estate sales in the area covered by the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors Multiple Listing Service.
The first quarter of 2004 is also highlighted by the second highest number of transactions ever, with 180, and the second highest dollar volume ever at $65 million in sales. The totals equal a 37 percent increase in transactions and a 28 percent increase in sales volume over the first quarter of 2003.
Local real estate brokers say sales were up largely because of some of the lowest interest rates in almost 50 years.
"People saw that interest rates were not getting any lower and it was a good time to buy," said Doug Labor, owner/broker of Buyer's Resource Real Estate and president-elect of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors.
"The market psychology is the biggest part of it," said Ken Gold, owner/broker of RE/MAX Steamboat. "In the past couple of years, there was a lack of confidence in the market. People were reluctant to make large or luxurious purchases. On one hand, they thought it was not a good time to buy. On other side, they began to see better interest rates.
"When they started to see the economy rebounding and their confidence went up, they were relieved of that sort of pent-up anxiety about buying. They said, it's time to buy now and jump in to take advantage of these low interest rates."
Low interest rates also allowed people to afford slightly higher priced homes, which contributed to the increased median price in the first quarter, said Judy Duncan, a real estate broker with Rainbow Realty.
The improved sale figures in the first quarter of 2004 compared with the same quarter last year should bring buyer-dictated prices back to seller-dictated prices.
The first-quarter sales of 2003 marked one of the worst quarters ever in the history of the Steamboat Springs MLS, and during that time, sellers were more willing to negotiate, Gold said.
"If sales go up, it's more of a sellers' market," Duncan said, but he acknowledged buyers can still find motivated sellers who are willing to negotiate.
Because real estate sales are typically seasonal in the Steamboat Springs MLS area -- which encompasses real estate listed mostly in Routt County, but Moffat and Grand counties as well -- comparing sales from comparable quarters is "the best way to measure the pulse of the local market," Labor said.
The median price of single-family homes rose to $315,000 in the first quarter of 2004, from about $275,000 in the first quarter of 2003, which is another indicator of growing strength in the market and a major contributing factor in the quarter's record-setting median price.
With 180 transactions, second only to 192 in 2001, inventory in the MLS is down to 13,042 listings, 10 percent less than the average number of listings since 1995.
The reduction of listings is a trend that has continued during the past year, Labor said, largely because major subdivisions such as Silver Spur and West End Village have sold out. Those two developments, which accounted for 129 lots and 72 lots, respectively, accounted for a large portion of the MLS inventory.
Other projects also are selling quickly, including the downtown condominium building The Residences of Old Town and Gold's condominium development, Sunray Meadows.
Almost 50 of Sunray's 136 units were listed in the MLS before construction began, and almost 40 were sold by the time groundbreaking began this spring, Gold said.
More Sunray units will be placed on the market this summer, and a new subdivision west of West End Village should boost inventory again.
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