By Damien Alexander Williamson | December 1, 2015 | Home & Real Estate
From billionaire's row to building codes, town's top experts discuss the latest real estate trends and hot-button topics driving Aspen's (nonstop) development.
Aspen Peak Publisher Alex Halperin and brokers Gary Feldman, Maureen Stapleton, and Brian Hazen discuss Aspen’s real estate landscape.
Classical French eatery Cache Cache (205 S. Mill St., Ste. 106, 970-925-3835) played host to a real estate round-table discussion between some of town’s top authorities, among them three longtime real estate brokers, a developer, and an architect. Together, they discussed the current boom in the local real estate market, the shifting popularity of Aspen communities—from Red Mountain to Starwood, the Downtown core to Mountain Valley—as well as the impact of land-use codes and the efficacy of the employee housing program. Despite disagreements and different points of view, one thing was made abundantly clear: the future of Aspen development is in the hands of those who love their mountain home.
Aspen Peak: What are your thoughts on where the Aspen market currently stands?
Maureen Stapleton: The market feels good. And things are hot here in the core, Red Mountain, the West End. Some of the outlying areas like Woody Creek and Snowmass Village are still struggling a little bit, but pricing is getting so high in Aspen that buyers are starting to look elsewhere.
Brian Hazen: I have a different take. There are a lot of areas that are not hot. [The amount we show], that activity drops by 60 or 70 percent outside the city limits. In Starwood, there are 19 listings—an all-time high in my opinion, which belies the fact that Aspen’s hot. The West End was really strong this summer, but it’s not that strong right now. There were 12 listings in June—there are now 26.
What drives the shift in which side of town is hot at the moment?
BH: I think sometimes we’re our own worse enemies. We tell sellers that a certain area is hot, so they jack up the price, and vice versa.
Gary Feldman: The only markets that seem to stand out and are always hot are Red Mountain and Willoughby Way.
Ryan Elston: [Willoughby Way] is not a market, that’s an address.
GF: It’s billionaire’s row.
BH: But even Red Mountain is not always hot. Two or three years ago, not much product moved. That’s because the owners are so strong, and if they’re not motivated, they don’t reduce the price so that it sells.
RE: You have to pull back and look at the macro. Texas used to be our market, but oil and gas have been hit hard. Texans like big homes, they like estates. Where’s our money? New York. Where do New Yorkers want to be? They want to be in the core. They don’t even want to drive up Red Mountain. Willoughby Way, West End, core. That’s as far as they’ll come.
Brokers Gary Feldman, Maureen Stapleton, Brian Hazen, and architect Bill Poss listen up as the moderator poses a question on the Aspen employee-housing situation.
2008 wasn’t that long ago. Is there any trepidation on the part of buyers that the market won’t keep going up and up?
MS: People who are living here now are coming for a lifestyle.
Bill Poss: There’s more practicality to buying in this market.
RE: Exactly. Bubbles can be good or bad, but in the sense of Aspen real estate, the bubble is a protective one. People are OK if they have to stick it out in Aspen. The market will eventually go up again.
What about the building and land-use codes, and specifcally Referendum 1 [which now requires any variance of land-use code to go to a vote of the entire town]? Do they change buying or selling patterns?
BP: Building codes, that’s the secret of Aspen. Growth controls are what make this town so good. The hardest part is explaining to clients that you can’t do what you want with your land.
RE: I think it’s awakened people to the importance of their vote. I’m against Referendum 1. What you essentially did, you cast your vote to the crazies who show up to city council instead of the city council itself. I don’t have the time or effort to show up to every meeting.
GF: We have to give some credit to the council. They were listening to the community who said we needed hotel rooms. They found a developer [Mark Hunt] who was building smaller hotel rooms. The council wanted these [types of] rooms and they gave him the variances that would entice him to do it. And the community said no. It’s a give and take.
Is there a sense that it’s inevitable that Aspen will get larger?
BP: Everyone wants to keep Aspen as small as possible, but I do think town will keep getting bigger. It’s just like traffc. I don’t think there is a solution. It’s a small valley and so many people want to be here.
RE: I think Aspen is four blocks by four blocks, and there should be a Historic Preservation Commission overlay for that core. That’s why people come. They don’t want to see eight-story buildings, like in Whistler.
GF: I like to hear a developer say that! RE: I have three friends who went to Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, and Park City this year, and they all said they were nice places, but Aspen is special. And if Aspen loses why it’s special, these people will stop coming here.
So, is there another ski town we want to emulate?
BH: I think it’s more what we don’t want to be, whom we don’t want to emulate.
I would be remiss to not talk about employee housing.
BP: We don’t know if we need more employee housing, or if more employee housing causes more growth.
GF: I’ll go out on a limb. I think the employee housing as it was set up 35 years ago was set up in error because they focused on ownership at a subsidized rate rather than high-density rentals. There is scarcity of housing because people who own it, they’re never going to sell it. They can rent their place out for six months and go to Tahiti.
RE: If you have a family and you want to grow your life, you might have to commute. And by the way, Carbondale is not a bad place.
BP: When I frst moved here, I would talk to my friends that would say, ‘Oh, we have a house. How are you doing in Aspen?’ And I would say I can’t afford to have a house, but I have twice the lifestyle, even if it costs four times as much!
photography by c2 photography