Located three hours from Denver, Colorado, Aspen is America’s most famous ski resort. The mountain town offers premier ski trails and year-round alpine adventures, but is equally famous for its sprawling celebrity mansions and some of the country’s most expensive real estate. After prices and sales volumes plummeted during the recession— according to Knight Frank’s Global Ski Price Index, luxury prices in Aspen hit US$2,694 per square foot in 2008, before falling 36 percent over the next 18 months—the market is booming again. This year, January marked the best month for home sales in Aspen since 2007.
According to a report published by Douglas Elliman, the second quarter of median sales price in Aspen jumped 46 percent to US$3,200,000 from the prior year quarter, making it the highest first quarter result in five years. Aspen’s average price per square foot has also increased to US$1,377, the highest it has been in a decade. Homes in the centre of town are going for US$18.5 million, feeding the impression that the boom is back, at least among UHNWIs.
Aspen, like the Hamptons, is known as a playground for America’s rich and famous. According to local records, 50 of the world’s 1,826 billionaires own property in the county in which Aspen is located. Ranked by wealth, the list leads with the Koch brothers, best known for backing libertarian and Republican political causes in the US. Charles Koch has a US$5.8 million home, while David Koch has two houses worth a combined US$12.7 million and the third Koch brother Bill recently put an estate about 16 kilometres from Aspen on the market for US$100 million.
Despite the plethora of multi-million dollar estates, agents say Aspen has managed to maintain its quaint alpine atmosphere. “People are drawn to Aspen because it has retained most of its small-town history and charm,” says Gary Feldman, a broker with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. “Aspen is not a manufactured ski resort like Vail. It had its beginning as a silver mining town in the mid-1800s. In fact, the largest silver nugget ever mined was from an Aspen mine.” Unlike many other ski resort towns, Aspen also draws a surprising number of visitors during summer months. Winter rentals bring approximately 25,000 people to Aspen (which has a permanent population of 6,000), while the population during July and August increases to around 30,000. This means renting out properties is lucrative even outside of high ski season. “The best-kept secret about Aspen is the summer,” says Feldman. It is often said that people come to Aspen for the skiing but stay for the summer. The rental market is very active with many properties finding renters within a few days.”
Development in Aspen has been regulated by stringent anti-growth measures since the early 1970s and this has helped to keep supply in check—the area is dominated by single-family homes and the occasional low-rise condominium. One Aspen, a new-build project located at the base of Aspen Mountain will feature 14 townhouses finished with Colorado stone, rich millwork, expansive picture windows and extensive metal detailing. The units range from 4,067sf to 5,772sf with prices between US$10 million and US$16 million.
For single-family homes, properties on Willoughby Way at the base of Red Mountain, also known locally as “Billionaire’s Row”, command the highest prices in Aspen and offer large lots and often upwards of 8,000 to 15,000sf of finished space with views of Aspen, the four ski areas and Mount Sopris. Properties located in Aspen core and in the West End are also popular. Sotheby’s Realty is currently marketing a three-bedroom property on the corner of Francis and Fifth Street in Aspen’s West End. The home features views of Smuggler Mountain, Aspen Mountain and Shadow Mountain and is listed for US$5.75 million.
- Housing prices increased year-on-year for the fifth consecutive quarter in the second quarter of 2015. The average price per square foot has also increased to US$1,377, the highest it has been in a decade. In the luxury market, which comprises the top 10 percent of all sales, the average price per square foot is now US$1,946 with an average sales price of US$14,758,333.
- In the first quarter of 2015, the number of sales expanded 16.7 percent to 56 percent and inventory fell 22.1 percent from the prior year quarter. “This combination means that the market is moving about 33.3 percent faster,” said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel Inc., a real estate appraisal and consulting firm.
- By the second quarter of 2015, rising prices had pulled in additional inventory. There were 440 listings up 27.5 percent from the prior year quarter. With the rise in sales and larger increase in the number of listings, the pace of the market eased.
This year, in addition to rising prices, reports indicate low inventory (down 22.6 percent from last year) and that buyers are looking to buy more space. The average size of sold homes increased 18.5 percent to 3,015sf compared with the same period last year. As Aspen sale prices continue their steady upward march and buyers look to purchase bigger homes, some prospective investors may look to the nearby ski village of Snowmass for more reasonable prices per square foot (US$909 per square foot) as it is likely that low inventory and improved market confidence will continue. “I expect the prices to continue to rise in the future,” says Sotheby’s International Real Estate broker Gary Feldman. “Because of Aspen’s stringent land-use code which limits real estate growth to about two percent a year, Aspen real estate is a scarce commodity pursued by the world’s wealthiest investors.”
Aspen at a glance
- Permanent population: 5914
- Average snowfall: 7.62 metres
- Winter temperature: -18°c to 0°c
- Closest airport: Pitkin County airport Sardy field (ASE)
This story was first published in Palace Magazine