By Mark Huffman
Jackson Hole News & Guide
Post Date: Feb. 17, 2016
Jackson Hole real estate had a big year in 2015, experts say, but the future remains hard to see.
Overall dollar volume in the year past was up 36 percent to $1.095 billion, Broker David Viehman noted in his recent end-of-the-year Jackson Hole Report. A total of 684 houses, condos, land parcels and commercial buildings changed hands, up 12 percent from 2014, according to the report.
But, as has been the case starting in 2013, the rush to buy is driving prices upward and leaving inventory at historic lows.
Viehman, of Re/Max Obsidian Real Estate, also reports that inventory is at its third lowest level in 25 years. That’s what makes record sales in 2015 different from record sales in the years leading up to 2008’s Great Recession.
“We have a different situation today than before the recession,” Viehman said. “We don’t have the inventory to satisfy the buyers because there’s no new spec building, no new subdivisions.”
Julie Faupel, broker and president of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, the Christie’s affiliate in Jackson, agreed that 2015 was good for business but not completely reassuring about what’s to come.
“Certainly it was wonderful to see such a robust return to some of the values, even exceeding prerecession levels,” Faupel said. “But I’m a little bit more wary of what 2016 will bring.
“We’ll continue to see scarcity in inventory,” she said, “and the overall global economic conditions and it being an election year will weigh on people’s minds.”
At Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty Chief Operating Officer Donna Clinton said that for her firm the past year was “a very good year for sales — we found 2015 the strongest year since 2007.”
She said Sotheby’s saw unit sales rise 4 percent and dollar volume increase 30 percent during the year.
It was the same at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Brokers of Jackson Hole, where owner-broker Kurt Harland reported a strong year. He was hopeful that in the wake of recession and recovery there might be some steadying in the market.
“I’m hoping the market stabilizes. That creates confidence for buyers and sellers that they’re not at the bottom or the top of the market,” he said, avoiding “the ups and the downs of the past 10 years.
“I don’t think it’s healthy to have big price fluctuations, with prices going up and down,” Harland said. “It’s not healthy for our community in general.”
The market for homes priced under $1 million was roaring during the past year, with sales in the segment accounting for 52 percent of all transactions. The strength of the segment and the scarcity of inventory there means higher prices in the coming year, Viehman predicted, with less than two months’ inventory on hand.
In the under-$1 million segment there were 139 listings at the end of the year. The $1 million-to-$2 million segment saw 164 sales during 2015, and ended the year with 97 active listings.
Clinton said Sotheby’s agents found that “the trend was toward higher-valued properties, especially single-family homes.”
Viehman reported that at the end of the year there were 44 properties under contract, down 29 percent, with an average advertised price of $2.68 million, up 14 percent, and a median price of $985,000, down 30 percent.
Faupel said some of the factors that have boosted property purchases in the area continue to exert their influence.
“Wyoming is such a tax haven and such a healthy and robust state, I think we’ll continue to see demand from people to come here and establish residency,” she said.
But Faupel added that there’s also “an air of caution” when looking at that market.
“Jackson, largely, is at the high end of the market,” she said, “and that is largely discretionary spending.”
Harland said he was encouraged by talk about developing a new subdivision on part of the Lucas Ranch, 5 miles south of Jackson bordering the 3 Creek Ranch golf resort and subdivision.
A former builder, Harland said he “thinks the community needs to do some thoughtful development.
“We’re challenged by a limited amount of space, so anytime there’s thoughtful expansion I’m all for it,” he said. “And we need to do something for our workforce.”
Clinton also thinks that “anything that adds inventory would be welcome.
“There’s lots and lots of activity out there, which makes us feel positive about 2016,” she said. “But in 2015 and so far in 2016 inventory will continue to be a challenge.”
Viehman agreed that if there were to be new residential development “it will fly off the shelf — there’s a lot of people waiting for something to come on the market.”
But he was doubtful about the Lucas property proposal, noting that “people down there have resisted that kind of density” when it was proposed in the past.
He said an area less likely to spur major opposition from neighbors and more easily win approval would be some of the old Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch land near Jackson Hole High School, now in business as the Lockhart Cattle Company.
That area, though, has been proposed for development in the past, including a major planning effort and annexation push in the mid-1990s, without anything coming of it.