The 50-mile valley in the Rockies offers buyers a taste of the high life in one of the most tax-friendly states in the US

By Troy McMullen
Financial Times
Post Date: Nov. 6, 2015

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Dramatic mountain vistas and abundant natural beauty have long drawn wealthy travellers to Jackson Hole, a rugged 50-mile valley in Wyoming between the Teton and Gros Ventre ranges of the majestic Rocky Mountains.

Considered by many to be the heart of the American West, the valley started to attract prominent visitors in the 1920s when US business magnate and philanthropist John D Rockefeller began purchasing large swaths of ranch land that later formed part of the Grand Teton National Park. 

The list of notable residents in Jackson Hole today includes former US vice-president Dick Cheney and the actor Harrison Ford. Jackson — the largest town in Jackson Hole and Teton County as a whole — is 12 miles from Grand Teton National Park and about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Yellowstone National Park, a 3,400 sq mile wilderness that is home to bison, elk and moose. 

For second-home buyers, however, Jackson Hole offers something more prosaic: appreciating property values in a state that is among the most tax-friendly in the US. “There’s no tax on the sale of real estate and no tax on out-of-state retirement income and inheritance or estate tax,” says Julie Faupel, owner of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, an affiliate of Christie’s International. “For people who want to accumulate property and protect their wealth in the area, Jackson is very attractive.” 

She adds that median home prices in Jackson Hole reached $823,500 in the third quarter of 2015, a rise of 15 per cent from the same period last year. In 2014, the total sales volume surpassed $1bn. Sales at the upper end of the market were especially robust. There were 21 sales of homes priced above $5m in the third quarter of 2015, a rise of 110 per cent from the same period last year, according to Jackson Hole Real Estate. Included among those sales was a six-bedroom house with 72 acres that was bought for $22m in August. 

A limited number of available homes is driving prices higher, according to Collin Vaughn, an agent with Sotheby’s International Realty. Three per cent of the land in Teton County is private, according to conservation group Jackson Hole Land Trust. The remainder is owned by the national government. “With so much of our land protected, it means available property is scarce,” says Vaughn. “But that’s a part of the draw of being out here,” he adds. “You are surrounded by a beautiful landscape that you know won’t be radically changed by excessive development.”
Jackson Hole is popular with avid skiers, thanks largely to it having some of the steepest terrain and most challenging ski runs on the continent.

Yet the area’s appeal goes beyond the slopes. Many travellers gravitate toward the mountains and its glacial lakes in the warmer months, for everything from biking and hiking to white-water rafting and fly-fishing. “The expansion of year-round activities has helped this market grow,” says estate agent Zachary Smith of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. Jackson town, Teton Village and the area known as the West Bank on the western side of the Snake River still rank among the most popular locations for year-round activities. “We’re now seeing just as many vacation home buyers showing up in warmer months as we do for ski season,” adds Smith.

A four-bedroom property in Jackson with more than four acres is on sale through Christie’s International Real Estate for $15m. Built in 2001, the house measures almost 6,500 sq ft and has six bathrooms, a pool and a lift, as well as splendid views of the Teton mountains. Sotheby’s International is selling a five-bedroom house with five bathrooms for $10.75m. The home, made of reclaimed logs and rocks, sits on 5.8 acres and measures just under 8,900 sq ft. The property is located within Indian Springs Ranch, a community of about 25 homes on about 1,200 acres located between Teton Village and downtown Jackson. 

The condominium market in Jackson town also increased in the third quarter of 2015. The median sales price for condo apartments reached $505,000, a 12 per cent rise from the same period in 2014, with sales of condos priced above $3m almost doubling in that time, according to Jackson Hole Real Estate.

“Property buyers have seen an opening in the condo market here,” says Tayson Rockefeller, a broker with Teton Valley Realty — and no relation to John D. “Although prices are rising fast in that sector, they are still far below what we are seeing for the larger, single-family homes. And that is appealing to buyers.”

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