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When it comes to setting record prices for real estate in the Aspen-Snowmass real estate market, the downtown Aspen market for condos, townhomes and penthouses is the place to watch.

Roughly 2,500 condos, townhomes and penthouse units make up the bulk of the downtown Aspen real estate submarket. In the past year, we’ve seen Aspen condo, townhome and penthouse real estate trade for numbers approaching $6,100 per square foot, putting Aspen in a very select group of the most expensive real estate markets in the world.

In the past 12 months, we’ve seen 155 Aspen condos and penthouses trade hands, representing about 6.5% of the total inventory of existing ­condos and penthouses in downtown Aspen. This is a record-setting number of condo, townhome and penthouse transactions for Aspen in a 12-month period, and twice the average monthly sales that we experienced during the pre-pandemic period in 2018 and 2019. The last time we saw this volume of condo sales in Aspen was back in 2007, when 125 condo and penthouse units traded hands in a single year.

One of the most spectacular sales was a penthouse unit that sold last summer at the Dancing Bear Residences. It set the price-per-square-foot record of $6,088 and was second only in total price — at $18.3 million — to a penthouse at 535 E. Hyman Ave. that sold in 2015 for $25 million. Although the market has produced a handful of spectacular penthouse sales of newer properties in the past few years, the bulk of the condo sales in and around downtown Aspen were much smaller condos in properties that were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Almost 80% of the inventory of existing condos in downtown Aspen is 40 to 50 years old.

Of the 155 condo and penthouse sales that took place in the past 12 months, 128 were units built before 1990. The pre-1990 stock of condos make up the lion’s share of today’s Aspen condo market. Many of the older condo buildings have undergone extensive renovations in the past few years, and many of the individual units in these properties have also been renovated to give them a more modern and updated look. The bulk of these condo and townhouse units sell in the $1,800 to $2,500 per square foot range with unit prices ranging from as low as $520,000 for a studio-size unit to as high as $7.7 million for a large 2,500-square-foot-plus townhouse unit. Prices have reached as high as $3,250 per square foot for a handful of very well-located condos in older buildings near the base of the Aspen gondola. This past year, the median price for condos and townhomes in downtown Aspen reached $2.4 million, with the median price per square foot approaching $2,200.

From an investment point of view, condo owners in downtown Aspen have generally been rewarded for buying and holding over the long term. In January 2008, the median price per square foot for a condo in Aspen was around $1,260. The market peaked at $1,490 per square foot in December 2008 after an 18% run-up in value during that year. As the Great Recession set in after 2008, the Aspen condos, townhomes and penthouses experienced a roughly 40% decline in value over four to five years until the market bottomed in 2012-2013, as reflected by the median sales price per square foot.

If you were fortunate enough to be a buyer in the Aspen downtown market at the bottom of the market during the 2012-to-2014 period, then you would have experienced a roughly 149% increase in value over the past eight years, a 12% annual appreciation. Even if you purchased a condo, townhome or penthouse property in 2008 at the top of the last market peak, you would have seen a respectable annual appreciation of about 4.4% over the past 13 years. By comparison, in the past 12 months, the Aspen condo, townhome and penthouse market prices have appreciated about 17%.

Despite the big run-up in prices over the past year, we’re still seeing a strong appetite for Aspen condos, townhomes and penthouses. So far this year, we’ve seen 75 closed transactions (roughly 13 per month) with another 18 pending contracts and only 62 properties currently on the market, a 10-month supply at the current absorption rate. The number of days a listed property stays on the market has dropped from 161 days last July 2020 to only 106 today. All these indicators point to a continuing strong demand for Aspen condos, townhomes and penthouses for the near future.

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.