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Colorado Resorts’ Housing Market Rebound

A huge December pushed 2012 high-country real-estate sales to their highest levels since 2008.

Three years after the resort real-estate market cratered in 2009, sales in six Colorado resort counties have rebounded.

Realtors say the rebound was supercharged in the last few months of the year, with December sales ranking as one of the strongest since the boom times of 2007.

In Pitkin County, where average prices in tony Aspen were $4.2 million in 2012 and most high-end deals are done in cash, December sales reached $270 million, up 116 percent over December 2011.

Aspen broker Tim Estin said uncertainty over tax changes planned for 2013, primarily estate and capital-gains taxes, “likely fueled a number of these transactions before the end of the year and trumped the uncertainty caused by the ‘fiscal cliff’ debate.”

In Eagle County, where December sales climbed 90 percent, buyers whittled away at a dwindling supply of properties.

“It was a combination of people searching for a good investment and watching a market near the bottom,” said Vail broker Gil Fancher, who posted his best month ever in December with a mix of high-end, midmarket and fractional sales. “People are realizing I can park money in this area and come and use it or I can rent it and I can even gain a little back on my investment when the market returns.”

That return has been slow, especially to the levels seen in 2007. Back then, real-estate sales in Eagle, Grand, Pitkin, Routt, San Miguel and Summit counties topped a record $10 billion. Two years later, the economy reeled, resort-area foreclosures reached rec-ord levels and prices plummeted. Total sales in those counties in 2009 barely hit $3.6 billion. Last year, sales in the six counties reached $4.9 billion, still less than half of 2007 but 22 percent ahead of 2011 and 37 percent ahead of the 2009 low point.

“The new normal is realistic expectations. Slow and steady,” said Mike Periolet, a 20-year broker and 10-year town councilman in Winter Park, anchor of the Grand County market that saw a 26 percent annual increase in dollar volume in 2012.

Periolet said he thinks the market eventually will return to the volume seen in 2007, when Grand County posted a record $640 million in sales. But it will take time and development of new homes to replace the Fraser Valley’s ample supply of 30-year-old condos.

“There are always buyers for new product, so as the demand creeps back in, the developers will follow,” Periolet said. “We’ll start building again, and it will all cycle. Until the next crash. And I’ll be retired by then.”

Steamboat Springs’ Routt County has seen a slower rebound than other resort areas, climbing 7 percent in 2012.

The county’s real-estate market fell hard from 2007 to 2009, losing more than $1 billion in sales volume.

Routt’s climb back has been slow, with prices remaining low. And as in other resort communities, December was exceptionally busy in Routt County, with $73 million in sales, a 56 percent increase over the previous December. Still, average prices in Routt did not climb in 2012.

“We have some tremendous values, and right now, it’s the time to buy,” said Stan Urban of Land Title Guarantee Co.

Telluride also saw a momentous December, with $76 million in sales, the highest since July 2007. San Miguel County enjoyed a 47 percent surge in sales volume over 2011, the largest increase of all six resort counties and its best year since 2007. (Still, 2012 sales in San Miguel County were less than half of 2007.)

Investor mentality is shifting from a concentration on financial returns toward lifestyle returns, said longtime Telluride broker T.D. Smith.

Many see the Telluride and Mountain Village market as “bottomed out,” Smith said.

“There is definitely a recognition by people that they can buy in this market and they are not going to get hurt,” he said. “People are tired of being tired. They are ready to move on and teach their children and grandchildren how to ski and fly-fish and be a part of the mountain environment.”

Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, jblevins@denverpost.com or twitter.com/jasontblevins

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