The U.S. is now experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections that have pushed hospitalizations and deaths to levels that exceed records set this past spring. As the medical systems across the country are pushed to the brink, new restrictions are being put in place to help stop the spread.
Pitkin County is now at the orange-plus level, which requires restaurants to limit indoor dining to 25% capacity and to close early. As we head into the holiday season, the county and the state are teetering on the edge of the red zone, which would require a complete shutdown of nonessential businesses like we endured this past spring. Also like last spring, this could have a disruptive impact on the local economy and potentially the real estate market.
But despite the bad news on the rising COVID-19 infections, it appears the cavalry is on its way. Last week, the major news story was about the coming COVID-19 vaccines. The U.K. became the first country in the world to start a nationwide vaccination program. The FDA approved Friday the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for distribution in the U.S., and the vaccine started shipping to destinations around the country over the weekend. It’s expected that over 40 million doses of this vaccine will be available for use in the next three weeks, with another 200 million doses available in the first three months of the new year. Pitkin County could see its first shipment of vaccines within the next week or two. It’s no doubt the vaccine is a likely game-changer.
If the average vaccine is 90% effective and experts say you hit herd immunity if 50% of the U.S. population has either been vaccinated or had the disease and recovered, herd immunity could be achieved by vaccinating the most vulnerable and highest risk set of 80 million adults (31% of U.S. adults), or by indiscriminately vaccinating about 142 million adults (56% of U.S. adults). The latest projection is that 100 million Americans can be vaccinated by the end of March. If this is the case, the pandemic could be effectively under control by early to late spring.
With the end of the pandemic in sight, how is the Aspen-Snowmass real estate market likely to react and what could the vaccine mean for real estate values? The stock market is currently pricing in a quick return to a normal pre-pandemic world with travel stocks like Disney, cruise lines, airlines and hotel stocks increasing in value at the expense of stay-at-home stocks like Zoom and Peloton. Will the demand for resort real estate in places like Aspen and Snowmass change as well?
This past summer, the local real estate market, and other resort markets around the country, experienced a pandemic surge of demand unlike anything that could have been foreseen earlier in the year as people fled the cities for the suburbs and resort areas. Through the end of November compared to 2019, the number of real estate sales in the Aspen-Snowmass area increased over 48%, and the total sales volume was up over 131%, with home and condo prices experiencing a significant increase in value.
With a vaccine arriving and the end of the pandemic in sight, the exodus from the cities is likely to slow significantly, if not reverse. Former city residents, especially the younger millennials, will likely want to get back to the urban lifestyle and the amenities that cities offer. City life will likely rebound quickly as we move into the summer months and the pandemic fades.
It’s also likely the demand for rural remote locations that were great places to hang out during the pandemic will fall out of favor resulting in prices and demand returning to pre-pandemic levels. Resort markets like Aspen and Snowmass that experienced the big pandemic demand surge in 2020 could see that demand for real estate slow substantially into 2021.
The market will likely return to transaction numbers and sales volumes similar to what was experienced in 2018 and 2019. Price increases are likely to stall due to the slowing demand, but not likely to decline due to the lack of currently available inventory. Aspen and Snowmass will always be popular places to visit and live, so it’s likely the real estate market will continue to be healthy, though not at the frantic level of activity we saw during the summer and fall of 2020.
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.