Steamboat prices at modest end of ski-town real estate tape measure

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The average price of a condominium here in the first half of 2007 was a relatively modest $379,000 when compared to $791,000 in Park City, Utah; and $955,000 in Vail. That trend may change within two years when condo projects under construction begin to close on sale contracts.

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— The average price of a single-family home in Steamboat Springs has increased 30 percent in two-and-a-half years. However, that average price - $813,000 - is less than in several other mountain resort communities.

Figures maintained by the Rocky Mountain Real Estate Alliance confirm that Steamboat is one of only a handful of destination ski towns where you can still aspire to purchase a single-family home for less than $1 million.

Through the first two quarters of 2007, Park City, Utah; Vail; Whistler, B.C.; and Teton County - home of Jackson, Wyo. - all posted average sale prices for single family homes of between $1 and $2 million. The markets bracketing Steamboat are Sun Valley, Idaho at $860,000 and Summit County at $753,983.

The gap between Park City's $1.1 million average and Steamboat suggests Steamboat's market can still continue to grow, Steamboat Realtor Doug Labor said. As a community, Park City evokes Steamboat in many ways, only on a larger scale.

The percentage gap between average condo prices in Steamboat - $379,000 - and other mountains towns is even greater. The average Park City condo this year cost $791,000 and the figure in Vail was $955,000.

Labor, of Buyers Resource Real Estate, said monitoring sales trends in other ski towns could give real estate professionals and their clients a perspective on the local market.

"Steamboat is not enclosed in a bubble," Labor said. "Many of the demand factors impacting our market are consistent with other Rocky Mountain resort communities. Baby boomers want a piece of the Rockies."

The average price of a single-family home in Summit County may be lower than in Steamboat, but the rate of escalation is steeper. Just two years ago, the average price of a single-family home in Summit County was $504,000. At the mid point of 2007, it has increased by 50 percent.

Summit County is distinctly different from Steamboat in that it has a half-dozen well-established and distinct markets, including Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco and Breckenridge, plus the ski villages at Keystone and Copper Mountain.

Labor's colleague at Buyer's Resource Real Estate in Frisco, Chris Eby, said Summit County is also significantly different than Steamboat because its communities are more tightly closed in by public lands, a factor that limits growth.

"We've seen a lot of growth the past 30 to 35 years, and now we're focusing on buildout," Eby said. "Most municipalities have very defined parameters, and we're marching steadily toward" the time when there is no more undeveloped land available.

Summit County is also influenced by the proximity of Vail and its average single-family home price this year of $1.4 million.

"If you've been to Vail recently, you've noticed some amazing tear-down activity," Eby said. "Summit County tends to have a more working-class orientation than Vail. People who can't afford to buy in Vail come to Summit County. We like that."

It should come as no surprise that, by far, the highest average single-family home prices in the Colorado mountains this year are in Aspen, at $5.38 million.

But the numbers are surprising even the Aspen real estate community, according to the Aspen Times. Realtors there say they didn't expect the current upward spiral would be sustained as long as it has. In 2005, Aspen's average price was $2.58 million.

A trend that might surprise real estate watchers in the Yampa Valley is the profound influence escalating prices in Aspen are having in the "mid-valley" section of the sprawling Roaring Fork Valley. It's a market that stretches from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and even as far west as Silt.

The Aspen Times reported that through the second quarter of 2007, the average single-family price in the "Basalt zone" (including El Jebel) has risen 22 percent since just 2006, from $669,404 to $723,000. The residential sales volume in Basalt jumped 55 percent in that same year, from $56.23 million to $87.5 million.

Labor says his preferred measuring stick is neither dollar volume nor average single-family sale price.

"One big sale could skew dollar volume," he said. "I place more importance on the number of transactions as an indicator of market health."

While the growth curve for transaction volume flattened in Telluride, Sun Valley and Park City in the first half of the year, the same track grew in Whistler, Steamboat and Vail.

Steamboat six-month transaction volume was 913 compared to 693 for the same period in 2006 and 748 in 2005.

Vail grew from 1,254 last year to 1,317 this year. Park City, perhaps riding out the end of a 2002 Olympic wave, declined from 1,464 in 2006 to 1,166 this year.

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