Moderated by Ryan Waterfield
It’s not news that the real estate market has had its fair share of hurdles in the past few years. But a realistically tempered optimism has taken root among many of the Valley’s real estate professionals. With the coming of summer, Western Home Journal invited three of the Valley’s leading real estate agents to discuss the performance of the market throughout the winter and to offer insight into the upcoming selling season. We were joined by Joanne Wetherell of RE/MAX, and Eeva Turzian and Kirsten Ritzau of Sotheby’s at the Sun Valley Club. Between them, they have many combined years of experience in the property market and each brings a unique and well-studied perspective to the table.
What have been some highs and lows for the wood river valley real estate market over the last six months?
Joanne Wetherell: It was encouraging that even though our snow year was not the best, we still had a great tourist season. Not only did we not get the early season snow, travel all over the country was difficult because of the snowstorms back east. Just think of the number of flight cancellations the East Coast saw this year. Even with all of that, the buzz was good and the energy was high.
Eeva Eurzian: For me the airport developments are a high. The addition of the flight from San Francisco and the Denver possibility are exciting and can only be a good thing for our overall economy.
Kirsten Ritzau: I agree with all those positive notes. I thought the holiday traffic was strong even without the snow. In fact, the lack of snow may have contributed to some of the buzz about town; Holiday travelers who had come to Sun Valley to ski and who might usually spend more time on the hill were out and about town eating in restaurants, seeing movies, visiting galleries. I think the real low for the Valley was the fire this past summer.
Wetherell: The fire has definitely had a lasting impact. But going into winter, it was clear how lucky we are to have the snowmaking that we do because people still come to Sun Valley even if the snow isn’t falling. In terms of real estate, another highpoint is the fact there aren’t as many bank-owned properties on the market anymore. Some of the shadow inventory has cleared up, and the market is much healthier than it was a year ago.
Ritzau: One sign of the healthier market is that values are more accurate and predictable. With all the bank-owned properties that were on the market, values were skewed and pricing was unpredictable. Sellers are gaining confidence in that stability.
Turzian: Working in the midst of a market flooded with bank-owned properties is tough. One bank-owned property will generate multiple offers while the normal seller down the street is removed from the equation.
What trends have you noticed taking root in the valley?
Ritzau: People want in-town living and they want new construction. So much of our inventory is dated and many buyers don’t want to have to do a large remodel. In the absence of inventory that meets those criteria, lot sales are up, which means that new construction projects are on the horizon.
Turzian: People who couldn’t buy in Ketchum around 2007 are now able to look to buy in Ketchum because the prices have adjusted. I’m seeing a wave of younger families move to Ketchum.
Wetherell: I agree with those trends but I’m also seeing that mid-valley is a great value and a desired location. The Valley Club continues to draw interest. I also have a number of condo owners who are looking to move into larger homes with yards. New construction and recent remodels are definitely in demand.
Ritzau: It’s part of a pendulum swing right now; there is a high demand in Ketchum and the inventory is low. In the mid-valley, there’s a substantial amount of inventory at good prices. It represents a good value so people are paying attention to that area.
Wetherell: Another trend I’m observing is that our sellers are savvier than ever. And so are the buyers. Maybe it’s because there has been such an upheaval in the market, but people seem to understand it better. They are more realistic and that helps the market stay healthy. Sellers set realistic prices and that moves inventory.
Turzian: The role the Internet plays in real estate now—I guess it’s not really a trend because I can’t see the use of the Internet and the quick access to information it affords buyers and sellers fading away any time soon. It’s now part of the practice. We do have savvy sellers and buyers; they are better prepared when they start a hunt for a house or a property.
What distinguishes sun valley from other markets?
Wetherell: Our sense of community is second-to-none. And unlike Park City and other resort towns, most of our land is publicly owned so our hillsides are protected and there are limitations on development. In addition, that increases demand on the properties that are already on the market.
Turzian: The cultural opportunities in our Valley really set us apart from other markets like ours. We have a strong year-round population and it’s a professional, educated, hard working demographic. And our part-time residents are extremely accomplished and cultured. The types of people who come here to live full- or part-time and the types of people who are drawn to visit here have high expectations when it comes to culture. And access to the outdoors. We have such ease of access and such amazing outdoor opportunities.
Ritzau: The combination of the two—the culture and the outdoor access—make for a vibrant community. And while, from most places, it takes an extra 30-minute leg to get here, once you are here, that extra leg pays off—our greatest asset is also our Achilles heel.
Wetherell: Our schools distinguish us. There are so many good choices, independent and public. Our schools are certainly helping to draw families here, and that is energizing the area.
Turzian: Ultimately, it’s the quality of life that distinguishes Sun Valley. It’s a place that embraces newcomers; it’s family-friendly, and it’s safe.
Ritzau: There are many things that set us apart from other resorts but the remodel of the Sun Valley Lodge will certainly help recruit more visitors. Updating the Lodge will move us a long way towards having a high-end hotel—the kind that so many visitors to ski resorts expect.
What do you notice about shifting demographics in the valley?
Turzian: Young families are moving in. Like Joanne mentioned, the caliber of schools is a part of that as is the fact that this is a great place to raise kids for the many reasons we’ve already covered.
Ritzau: We’re certainly not getting the ski bum—and I use that term with respect—like we used to. Season passes and the cost of living are too pricey for the traditional ski bum when, in Colorado, you can get a pass to over 5 mountains for around $500. We need to do something in this town to attract the 23-year-olds who are passionate about skiing, and living that life. It’s always been such an important part of our culture and it’s disappearing. It would be an interesting economic experiment to subsidize lift tickets and passes for those under 28.
What has the early summer season looked like for local real estate?
Wetherell: The early season has been very robust with a lot of homes and condos coming on the market, and it seems like it’s just in time. We have a significant demand from buyers right now and I think we’ve turned the corner on our slump.
Ritzau: There have been some fantastic high-end sales already this early summer. It is very exciting to see this kind of activity so early.
What are the top questions or concerns you hear from buyers?
Wetherell: Many of my clients want to know if the condo complex they are interested in can be financed and there is always interest in the current mortgage rates. One of the most popular questions is “How do we make our offer look most attractive to the seller?” That is a sign of the recovery because that means there is the possibility of multiple offers on the table.
Ritzau: Buyers are concerned about finding a great deal before interest rates creep up, as many think they may. They are also interested in easy access to all of the amenities our area offers.
What are the top questions or concerns you hear from sellers?
Wetherell: Sellers most often ask, “Is this a good time to sell?” Also, from their agents, sellers are looking for a significant and effective online presence. These days, most buyers start their search for properties online.
What are locals doing to improve the economy here?
Turzian: There are many organizations starting up events that aim to bring a new crop of people here. The Sun Valley Film Festival, Ride Sun Valley, and the Harvest Festival are great examples of events that draw attention to the Valley for reasons other than skiing.
Wetherell: Obviously, the flights will move the needle. Other signs of positive momentum? The Valley Club is adding members and strategically looking for a younger membership. The more we can do in the Valley to attract families and professionals, the better. The buzz about Sun Valley is good.
Ritzau: It takes vision and courage to make things happen. The Ski Academy is a good example of the vision required to make an impact—since the introduction of that program, there’s been more of a draw for families with kids. We’re a special community. We can’t compete with the ski-in / ski-out amenities in other resorts, but we have to remember and we have to market this—there are so many other benefits to being in Sun Valley.