Aspen housing loses ground

Multi-million dollar home sales slump in real estate market

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Luxury homes long have been a trademark of the Aspen real estate market, not only for their opulence and size, but for the princely sums paid for those residences.

The homes, which can command well in excess of $10 million, are featured on television shows and in magazines as testaments to wealth.

They are, in short, emblematic of the rich and famous. But in an economic environment that has stripped back the wherewithal of people across the globe, the desire to buy such homes seems to have waned.

"Flashing wealth is just not cool," said Randy Gold, of Aspen Appraisal Group, at a recent industry luncheon on billionaire buyers who currently are not shopping the market.

That would go a long way toward explaining a more than 40 percent drop in sales around Aspen above the $10 million mark in the last year. As a result, the number of listings in that category has swelled to 79 this year, from 57 in 2007.

Listings cover the first 11 months of each year.

The increase is more pronounced - 114 percent - when 2008 listings are compared with the same period in 2006, according to data compiled by Gold.

"It's pretty slow, frankly," said Brian Hazen, a 32-year industry veteran and a founding broker of the Managing Broker Group in Aspen, who has sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of properties in his career.

Although Hazen said it is not unusual for the off-season to be slow, which it has been this year, the real test comes in the next couple of weeks. He said the combination of some motivated sellers and the influx of the so-called "secondary crowd" could lead to deals getting done.

"It is a fertile time, and it is an exciting and intense two weeks," said Hazen, who has listings for $18 million and $19 million in Aspen. "It is when you try and make hay."

That would be fine with Kelli Gardner of Joshua & Co. in Aspen, who is marketing a $43.8 million property at West Buttermilk.

The residence measures 16,000 square feet, has seven bedrooms, seven full baths, and enough detail to seemingly fill a library's worth of books.

Should a buyer be willing to meet that price, it would shatter the $36.5 million Jeffrey Soffer paid for a Prince Bandar bin Sultan home in Starwood in 2007. That transaction established a record for a single-family home sale in Aspen.

A full-price sale for the Buttermilk property also would top the $36.375 million Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich paid about eight months ago for Leon Hirsch's Wildcat Ridge estate near Snowmass Village, according to the Pitkin County Assessor's Office.

Hirsch was the founder of United States Surgical Corp.

Of note, the Abramovich deal is the highest recorded residential transaction this year, and it stands as only one of two properties that has sold for more than $20 million, according to statistics compiled by Gold.

By comparison, several properties sold for upward of $20 million in 2007, including the $26 million paid for Popish Valley Ranch in May, and $23.5 million for a home on Castle Creek Road in June, according to assessor's office. Hazen closed both deals.

Gardner said the Buttermilk residence has drawn "considerable attention" from potential buyers, as well as media around the globe. She said the area's reputation for such homes certainly helps.

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