Real estate activity in 2004 moved like a locomotive: It started out slow in the first quarter and gradually gained speed through the summer, fall and winter -- easily setting new records for annual sales and transactions in the area covered by the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors Multiple Listing Service.
And still, the real estate train is giving no signs of slowing down.
"Consumer confidence is probably as high as it's ever been, and from what I've heard from other brokers, it is continuing," said Doug Labor, owner and broker of Buyer's Resource Real Estate and president of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors.
Total sales volume for the year was about $444 million, a 32 percent jump from sales volume in 2003 and an18 percent jump from the previous record for sales volume set in 2000, said Labor, who tracks real estate statistics in Routt County and parts of surrounding counties.
The board has been keeping statistics since 1995. About 10 percent to 20 percent of real estate in the area, including properties for sale by owners, is not tracked by the service.
At 1,259, the number of real estate transactions last year also was a big improvement from 2003, which saw fewer than 1,000 sales. Real estate transactions in 2004 easily beat the record, set in 2000, of 1,176 sales.
Low interest rates, as well as the many loan packages available, including interest-only loans, adjustable-rate mortgages and first-time homebuyers loans, were a big factor behind real estate activity in 2004, brokers said.
"Interest rates were good, and it was easier to borrow money," said Jill Limberg, a broker at Colorado Group Realty who also serves on the Board of Realtors board of directors.
Brokers also attribute burgeoning real estate sales in part to buyers' view of real estate as a way to diversify investment portfolios outside a shaky stock market.
"People are kind of getting tired of not feeling like they have control or security, so they're banking on appreciation of real estate," said Evlyn Berge of Axis West Realty. "That way, they have something they can use as well."
The "magic" of real estate is that it allows buyers more leverage with their money, Labor said.
Fourth-quarter sales volume in 2004 was down from the third quarter, which was another record-setter. But with $125 million in sales, the last three months of the year still were the second best quarterly volume numbers ever.
The fourth quarter set a record for median sales price, which falls in the middle of prices for the total number of properties sold. The median, about $286,000, was boosted by buyers' demands for bigger, higher quality homes, condos and townhomes, Labor said.
In 2001 to 2003, for example, condo sales saw the most activity in the $100,001 to $200,000 range. Last year, the $200,001 to $300,000 range had the most condo sales.
Aging baby boomers, looking for a full-time place to retire, have been a big influence in Routt County property sales, Berge said.
"They have money to spend, and they are looking for alternative lifestyles in retirement," she said.
The highest number of Routt County residents, about 19 percent, are concentrated in the 45 to 54 age group, according to the 2005-06 Community Indicators Project released by Yampa Valley Partners.
In 2000, the report shows the age group had increased a whopping 176 percent from 1990.
"There are definitely more people living here year-round," Berge said.
The absorption rate, which measures the number of listings to the number of sales, also is putting pressure on prices, Labor said.
Sales typically hover at about 12 percent to 16 percent of listings, as was the case at the beginning of 2004. As more properties sold, the absorption rate quickly increased to more than 25 percent in the second half of the year.
The highest recorded absorption rate was about 33 percent in the second quarter of 2000, according to MLS statistics.
Overall, 2004 real estate activity bodes well for sales this year, said Labor, who attended a National Association of Realtors conference in November.
Speakers there noted mortgage rates are not expected to rise drastically and the biggest dampeners on consumer confidence would be continued oil price increases and any terrorist attacks, he said.
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