The most talked about question in the local real estate community is whether the Aspen-Snowmass market has peaked, and where is it likely to go from here? To answer that question, we need to look at a number of factors. Real estate is a cyclical industry, with growth and contraction patterns created by variations in interest rates, macro-economic trends, supply versus demand and demographic trends. These various factors create an environment where the market is either flush with buyers but few sellers, flush with sellers but few buyers or a market in equilibrium, where the number of sellers fills the needs of buyers looking to buy. Often it takes months before market tops and bottoms can be determined.
When there are too many buyers and not enough sellers, real estate prices typically go up — like we’ve seen in the past two years. When there are lots of sellers but few buyers, real estate prices tend to trend downward, like we saw back in the 2009-to-2012 aftermath of the Great Recession. When the market is in equilibrium, prices either flatline for a period of time or trend upward at a modest pace over an extended period of time, like we experienced in the market from about 2012 through the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
The current real estate market has slowed significantly since the first half of the year in terms of the number of completed transactions. Since mid-2022, the number of residential real estate transactions in the Aspen-Snowmass market has averaged about 30 per month, about half the number of transactions completed per month from mid-2021 to mid-2022. This is almost as low as the spring of 2020, when the market stalled due to the COVID lockdown. At the same time, we’re still seeing record-setting prices for the sales that are taking place. In addition, the existing number of available properties on the market to purchase still stands near historic lows, in the 270-to-290 range.
To answer where the Aspen-Snowmass market is in its market cycle, it’s useful to look at patterns in past cycles. What we’re seeing now in the local market is a pattern we haven’t seen since the mid-2006 to mid-2008 timeframe. During that period, inventory of available properties for sale dropped into the 230-to-260 range for several months and the number of transactions declined to 40 to 60 a month. At the same time during that 24-month period, the number of residential listings slowly increased through the summer of 2008, when the available inventory stood around 900 — more than three times the available listings just 12 months earlier. Also in the second quarter of 2008, real estate values peaked, at numbers roughly 22% above values in the summer of 2006. Following the summer of 2008, the local residential market experienced a pretty significant decline in values as a result of the Great Recession that unfolded over the subsequent four years, through 2012. By most measures, property values declined approximately 40% during that period.
As we approach the end of 2022, sale prices of residential properties in the Aspen-Snowmass area are at record highs, inventory is still at record lows and the number of transactions has declined to near-record lows. Looking forward, what are the possible scenarios ahead for the Aspen-Snowmass real estate market? The answer likely lies in macroeconomic factors such as whether a recession is going to play out in 2023, whether interest rates will continue to increase, and the likelihood of a financial crisis unfolding as the economy slows.
The one thing we know is that three of the macroeconomic factors that have driven the local real estate market these past two years have reversed course: The record-low interest rates of the past decade are no longer available, the stock market has declined 20% and the pandemic migration has slowed if not reversed in some cases. How the macroeconomic forces may play out in the next year is anyone’s guess. But what is likely is that the local real estate market has peaked for now in terms of pricing and transaction volume — but we’re unlikely to see any softening in sales prices until the inventory increases significantly from where it is now. Stay tuned.
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.