According to Colorado Ski Country U.S.A., the state received 13.8 million visitors during the 2018–19 ski season—23 percent of all skier visits in the United States. While the pandemic has led to a vastly different 2020–21 season, as COVID-safe activities go, skiing has to be one of the best. It’s what happens when the skis are off—crowding at restaurants, socializing at après spots—that has authorities concerned.
With this in mind, resorts have placed limits on the number of daily lift passes available, and require skiers to wear face masks and practice social distancing. But what impact have these restrictions had on Colorado, its ski season—and real estate? Happily, all the experts we spoke to agreed that even with an unusual season underway, the lifestyle offered by the state is still in high demand.
Read on for more of their insights on the trends in their respective markets, how their brokerages have adapted in the wake of COVID-19, and their outlook for this quarter and beyond.
A Season in Flux
“The usual Colorado ski season is exciting; full of people enjoying great places to dine, some of the best skiing in the world, winter snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and so much more,” says Marty Frank, founder of Christie’s International Real Estate Summit Colorado.
“This year, there are limits on the number of people who can ski, so the mountain is less busy,” he says. “But in Breckenridge, the real estate sales have been brisk and exciting. The only change is that the buyer pool is different—we’re now seeing ‘end users,’ who are mostly interested in homes, condos, or townhouses for their personal use. Our usual speculative and rental buyers are being replaced with people who want a second home.”
“Skier visits are declining this winter due to on-mountain capacity limits,” adds T.D. Smith, president of Telluride Real Estate Corp. But, like Frank, he notes that the Telluride market has experienced a record-setting pace. “December 2020’s closings increased 95 percent over the same period in 2019, and sales increased by 166 percent in 2020 compared to our five-year average.”
Despite the Aspen area introducing more stringent restrictions in late January, P.J. Bory, principal at Christie’s International Real Estate, Aspen, has seen a similar trend. “While many of the usual amenities, like dining-in at restaurants and shopping, aren’t available, Aspen Ski Company has kept the mountain open,” he explains. “And, as far as the real estate sales market goes, it’s been a great year. In 2020, our market did over $3 billion in sales, an almost 50 percent increase on what was achieved in previous years.”
Over in Denver, “Our market has never been stronger,” says Gwenivere Snyder, broker associate for Christie’s International Real Estate, Denver. “People are wanting to hunker down, so rentals have been at an all-time high in terms of cost—and they’ve been scarce to find. And houses are selling very quickly, as buyers are looking for a second or third home. It’s a sellers’ market here.”
So, what’s drawing people to Colorado beyond the ski season? All four real estate insiders agree: out-of-state buyers have fallen in love with the lifestyle.
“We’ve noticed two distinct trends,” says Bory. “There are people who have been thinking of buying a second home, and who can now work from anywhere, and so are jumping at the opportunity—with the view to eventually head back to their primary residences. Then there are those who are choosing to make a lifestyle change and move here full-time. What’s unique about our market is that we’re in a beautiful area, with a great community, and world-class activities all around. That’s really resonated with our clientele.”
“Our buyers now plan to buy, stay, and use their homes,” adds Frank. “Some are moving to Colorado for the ski season; others are spending every weekend up here; and then there’s a new group who are taking months at a time to work remotely and have their children learn remotely. I believe this is becoming our new normal, and we’ll have people continue to enjoy these extended stays for years to come.”
For Snyder, the trend also extends to the kind of properties that are now in demand. “Before the pandemic, many of our buyers were people who were downsizing. So bigger homes, those over 10,000 or 20,000 square feet (930-1,860 sq m), took much longer to sell. Now, everybody wants a large space where they can shelter with their family members.” Smith agrees: “Our buyers are motivated to relocate to areas with more space and less congestion.”
“In the past, penthouse units, condos, and town homes in the Aspen Core have always been in the highest demand,” Bory explains of his marketplace. “And while that area has certainly appreciated, it hasn’t seen as high an increase as those properties that are on the outskirts of town. Ranches that have been on the market for a while have suddenly sold really quickly, and at prices that are almost double that of previous years.”
However, all four agents point to the result of such high demand—a corresponding shortage in inventory.
“We closed an enormous amount of sales in the month of January alone,” says Snyder, “and so we’re finding that inventory is lower. More and more buyers are coming from other cities—L.A., Chicago, Seattle—and listings are snapped up as fast as they come onto the market.”
“In the last two quarters of 2020, we saw 309 closings. For the same period in 2019, that number was 127,” says Bory. “We don’t have that big of a market, so to have over 300 closings in that time is remarkable. But it does mean that we just don’t have enough listings to keep up.”
Frank points to a longer-term shortage. “We know that end-user buyers tend to hold onto their properties for a long time,” he says. “Often, these become legacy homes that are passed down from generation to generation, and never come back on the market. If this is the case, it means our inventory will continue to be low in the long term.”
But to Smith this represents an opportunity: “Given the reduction in standing inventory, I’d look at investing in vacant land, which is readily available to design and build new homes,” he advises.
Due to March 2020’s national lockdown, and the social distancing measures that have been in place ever since, “FaceTime and video walk-throughs have become the norm,” says Smith. “And we’re conducting considerably more visual communication and diligence with prospective buyers before we hold on-site visits.”
“Historically, real estate has always been an asset that people want to view; they want to touch it, and feel their way around a home,” Bory says. “Now, I’ve done a couple of transactions where buyers have only seen the house via a virtual Matterport video, or over FaceTime or WhatsApp. It requires a whole new level of attention to detail from the broker’s standpoint, because you’re fully representing what a house is. Embracing this technology has really transitioned us into a new era.”
Snyder too has sold properties sight-unseen, with buyers only viewing a home via a virtual walk-through. But she points to a completely different innovation she’s offering her clients: a bespoke concierge service. “Many of my clients own a number of properties in different states. So, if a home they’ve listed with me has sold, I can provide a concierge service where I’ll have their belongings packed, shipped to their new address, and unpacked. And they don’t even have to fly back to finalize the closing. It’s something I’ve definitely seen an increased demand for during the pandemic, as people are more conscious of the number of touchpoints they come in contact with.”
The Rest of 2021, and Beyond
So, what’s the outlook for real estate in the remainder of the Colorado ski season, and the rest of this year?
“2021 will be another great year,” says Frank. “We do have some great real estate for buyers, and there will be more coming on the market over the next few weeks and months. Interest rates are also historically low, so people’s purchasing power is increasing.”
“Only the lack of inventory could slow the market a bit, as demand in our marketplace remains at an all-time high,” Smith adds. “Undoubtedly, more ‘profit takers’ will enter the market as summer approaches and the current wave of the pandemic recedes.”
Snyder points to the influx of Spring listings that the Denver marketplace traditionally sees, but adds that “It’s going to continue to be a seller’s market through 2021 and 2022. Right now, our projections are that it will continue to be a very strong market.”
Bory is similarly optimistic: “We’re seeing strong interest in our area, and I’ve always believed that the lifestyle here is what sells real estate. That’s more true now than ever.”
Banner image: A home in Joaquin Road in Telluride, Colorado, recently sold by Telluride Real Estate Corp.