Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Real estate market levels off

Prices stabilize after boom in 2004

Express Staff Writer

The number of real estate transactions in the Wood River Valley was down in 2005 but sales of numerous high-end properties brought the dollar volume up. Photo by Willy Cook

Property sales in the Wood River Valley have tapered off in the past several months in the wake of a record-setting sales spree that ended last summer.

The slowdown is reflected in 2005 sales numbers. Last year, 971 properties sold in Blaine County, compared to 1,268 the year before, according to the Sawtooth Board of Realtors. The totals include single-family houses, condominiums and townhouses, vacant land, commercial properties and agricultural properties.

Nonetheless, dollar volume was higher. In 2005, sales were approximately $858 million, compared to $764 million the previous year.

The higher dollar volume reflects an increase in sales of properties above $1 million. According to Windermere Real Estate, which has sales offices in Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue, 2005 saw 246 sales above the $1 million mark, compared to 194 the previous year.

"We still have a healthy real estate market," said Jeff Brendel, a sales associate with Cornerstone Realty Group in Hailey. "I think we got somewhat spoiled during the boom we had in 2004-2005. Now, things are settling back down to a normal market."

Brendel said the culprit is over-valuation. "We had a lot of people that were trying to get top-dollar prices for their property, and the buyers just sort of went away."

This season's wintry weather conditions also played a part in the downturn, said Dan Gorham, managing broker for Windermere in Ketchum.

"It's hard to get a good look at a place when the wind is blowing sideways," he said.

Gorham said 2005 sales were still close to the five-year average in Blaine County.

"2004 was a record-setting year," he said. "The low interest rates had a lot of people buying property."

Hardest hit since the slowdown have been the Hailey and Bellevue areas, said Gorham.

According to the Sawtooth Board of Realtors, Hailey property sales dropped to 306 in 2005, compared to 466 the previous year. In Bellevue and areas south, sales fell to 148, compared to 204 in 2004.

"There's a big standoff going on right now," Gorham said. "A lot of sellers are standing at their prices and waiting for buyers to step up, and a lot of buyers are waiting for prices to come down."

Brendel said prices have leveled off during the past several months.

"Now we're going to see the inventory start to move," he said. "We're getting to more of a regular market than the boom in 2004-2005.

"I don't think prices are going to go up this summer. I do see them going up next year after we cycle through this inventory."

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