As we all know, 2020 was an extraordinary year for the real estate market in the Aspen-Snowmass area. With total sales volume and number of closed transactions approaching $3.5 billion and 668 respectively, according to the Aspen-Snowmass multiple listing service, new all-time records were set.
But as we roll into the new year, the question on everyone’s mind is what’s likely to happen in the local market in 2021. As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” That being said, we should be able to make reasonable forecasts of future market trends by examining past market patterns where we have seen similar market activity. As the other saying goes, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
As we look at the past, the last time the Aspen-Snowmass real estate market set an all-time record for transactions and sales volume was back in 2007 when the total real estate sales volume in Pitkin County topped $2.5 billion. Adjusted for inflation and appreciation in real estate values over the past 13 years, the 2007 sales volume number was actually a slightly bigger real estate year for the local market than 2020; and the total number of sales transactions far exceeded the number of transactions we saw in 2020.
The 2006 to 2007 real estate sales boom was driven by low interest rates, a rising stock market and easy mortgage availability. In 2020, the market was driven by pandemic migration, ultra-low interest rates and also a rising stock market.
From 2007 through 2008, the boom in real estate markets across the country came to an end as residential real estate prices reached unsustainable levels and inventory dried up. As real estate markets slowed, prices started declining and the subprime mortgage crisis came to light. The real estate boom market of 2006-2007 was followed by two years of declining sales transactions and sales volume, until the real estate and stock markets bottomed in 2009. This pattern repeated itself in the Aspen-Snowmass market as well. At the peak of the 2006-2007 market, the average monthly inventory of available listings in the Aspen-Snowmass market had declined to around 280.
At the start of this new year, the current number of listings throughout the market is also near a record low of about 330. As the last Aspen-Snowmass market boom came to an end in 2008 through 2009, the number of available listings rose from a record low to a record high of 1,072 by the spring of 2009.
As we look into the future, our predictions need to take into consideration the basic economic law of supply and demand. Due to the existing record low inventory of available residential properties to buy of around 330, it’s hard to imagine that we could have another year of sales transactions in the 600-plus range since the supply doesn’t seem to exist.
On the demand side, Aspen and Snowmass should always be desirable places to live; however, a large part of the market boom in 2020 came from buyers seeking shelter from the impact of the pandemic. By all current estimates, COVID-19 vaccines should be widely available to the general public by early spring and anyone wanting to get vaccinated will be able to by summer. That’s likely to stem the tide of the pandemic migration as people return to their pre-pandemic lives and locations.
The stock market is at record highs with record valuations driven by record low interest rates. If we see any type of stock market correction or increase in interest rates in 2021, that could also negatively impact the wealth effect and lower demand for high-priced resort housing.
When we looked back to the Aspen-Snowmass real estate market of 2007 to 2009, we saw a 35% decline in real estate sales from 2007 into 2008 and another 38% decline in sales transactions from 2008 into 2009 when the market bottomed. At the same time, inventory rose by 48% from 2007 into 2008 and by another 26% from 2008 into 2009. If the market of 2008 to 2009 is any indication of what may lie ahead, we’re likely to see a cooling off of the market in 2021 from the frantic activity of 2020. Based on these past market patterns, we could see a decline in overall transactions and sales volume in 2021 — perhaps as much as 25% to 30% simply due to the lack of supply of available properties and lagging demand.
Whether the local real estate market simply slows down versus a more significant correction will depend on how the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, the direction of interest rates, and the stock market. As long as the national economy holds up, the local residential real estate market should stay healthy as well. However, it’s unlikely to be anything like what we experienced in 2020.
(Editor’s note: the sales volume referenced here was based on reporting by the Aspen multiple listing service covering Aspen, Snowmass, Old Snowmass, Brush Creek and Woody Creek for 2020. In a Jan. 1 story, “A year of big changes in Aspen real estate,” figures from the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office database were used and they reported transactions of $2,365,563.485 through Dec. 29, 2020 that were recorded for the year across sectors from agricultural property, commercial, condominiums, fractional, deed-restricted property, lodges, residential units and vacant land. The recording time for the public record follows behind that which is reported through the MLS.)
Lori and William Small, CCIM are recognized luxury and commercial real estate experts with Coldwell Banker Mason Morse in Aspen. They can be found through their website theSmallsaspen.com or by email at thesmalls@theSmallsaspen.com.