March transactions roar like a lion

Unprecedented $141 million total is a record for all months

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March real estate closings passed $141.79 million, making it the busiest single month in Routt County history. The first quarter of the year is typically the slowest for the local market in terms of closings, but the first quarter of 2007 reached an unprecedented $317 million, up about 30 percent from last year.

— The dollar volume of real estate closings in Routt County during March surged to unprecedented levels, eclipsing $141.79 million.

That figure marks a new record for any calendar month. The March boom helped fuel a first quarter that saw a record dollar volume for the period, though the number of listings was at a historic low.

The March dollar volume doubles the value of closings in Routt County in March 2005 and represents a 37 percent increase over the 2006 figure, according to statistics researched by Bruce Carta of Land Title Guarantee Co. in Steamboat Springs.

"March numbers are in, and once again, Routt County total sales volume has broken another record," Carta said. This was "the highest Routt County sales volume sold in one month, overshadowing the old record of $138.54 million set in November 2006."

Last year set a new 12-month benchmark for the Routt County real estate market, surpassing $1 billion for the first time.

January, February and March are typically the quietest months of the year for closings. That wasn't the case during the first quarter of 2007.

In terms of unit volume, a large portion of sales of residential units are still at prices below $500,000. Through March, 143 of the total 294 residential sales were between $200,000 and $500,000 with another 27 between $500,000 and $600,000. There were 39 sales at prices more than $1 million with seven residences selling for more than $3 million.

Realtor Doug Labor said sales volume for the first quarter of 2007 was $212.32 million ($317 million when transactions not involving a Realtor are considered). Labor's numbers for the Steamboat Springs Multiple Listing Service are up 30 percent over the same quarter in 2006.

"This activity is even more amazing when considering the number of listings was at an all-time record low, averaging 900 through the period and giving buyers fewer properties than normal to choose from," Labor said. "Properties saw little time on the market, and sellers were often considering multiple offers."

Labor is a principal in Buyer's Resource Real Estate. He maintains statistics for the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors and its Multiple Listing Service.

It's important to note that Labor and Carta are analyzing two different sets of real estate statistics.

Labor's numbers reflect transactions that were the result of listings with Realtors. Carta's numbers trend higher because he tracks transactions that did not involve a Realtor. For example, Labor reported a record 352 transactions from the MLS while Carta's research at the Routt County Courthouse showed 472 first-quarter transactions overall.

It's significant in interpreting the numbers to realize that March closings are attributable to contracts signed 30 to 60 days earlier. That means a portion of the business could have been written in late December and early January when holiday ski crowds were in town.

It's also significant to note that the March figures were influenced by the $24.6 million sale of the "Brown Property" just west of the city limits. However, even without that transaction, March 2007 dollar volume was greater than any single month during the robust 2005 real estate year.

Veteran Realtor Pam Vanatta, co-owner of Prudential Steamboat Realty, called the first-quarter numbers remarkable.

"This level and velocity of sales, it's really hard to fathom," Vanatta said. "We just hope the economy stays strong. There's a lot of money on the sidelines right now.

However, she cautions that it may be difficult to match the pace of first-quarter sales throughout 2007 and 2008 simply because the delivery of significant new inventory from projects currently coming out of the ground is about two years away.

Projects such as One Steamboat Place, Trailhead Lodge, The Edgemont (Bear Claw III) and others will usher in a new era when those high-end condominium and townhome units receive their certificates of occupancy, Vanatta said.

In the meantime, affluent buyers eager to get in on the ground floor of the new luxury projects are adding steam to existing condominium sales, Vanatta said.

"They want to own something now and use it," she said. "Condo sales are skyrocketing."

David Baldinger Jr., a principal in Steamboat Village Brokers, agrees that the advent of new products in a couple of years will signal a change in the market. Current property owners are taking a wait-and-see attitude as projects such as One Steamboat Place go through their marketing period, he said. At present, inventory is restricted and there isn't a lot for those owners to trade up to.

"Everyone is holding and remodeling," he said. "In 24 months, you'll see the inventory expand."

Labor said the sale of the Steamboat Ski Area for $265 million to Fortress Investments/Intrawest, coupled with a drop in interest rates, is helping fuel interest in the Steamboat real estate market.

Baldinger Jr. said it would be a mischaracterization to describe the first-quarter jump as an "Intrawest bounce."

He said in the case of Steamboat, some of the highest quality developers already working in the Western United States preceded Intrawest's arrival here. In some regards, it was a reversal of the normal pattern, he said.

The current scarcity of listings is a result of very few new projects beginning three to four years ago. He doesn't expect the local market to overheat, Baldinger Jr. said, because the typical Steamboat buyer goes through a multi-year cycle beginning with vacation trips to the valley.

He is encouraged by the decisions he sees current developers making.

"The developers are doing a lot more research about what the market needs," Baldinger Jr. said. "They are talking to each other more than ever to avoid going head to head. That's something that's really good for Steamboat."

Developer/Realtor Jon Peddie concurs.

"There's a lot of expertise in the market," Peddie said. "There can be a lot of product introduced at the same time if developers are cognizant" of what one another are planning. "If we build complementary projects, everyone benefits."

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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