Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Auction interest hints at real estate recovery

Sales increased 20 percent in 2010

Express Staff Writer

Summer Baldwin Bauer, an associate broker for McCann-Daech-Fenton Realtors, shows a Chilali Lodge unit Tuesday afternoon to part-time valley resident Tom Morgan. Units at the Ketchum development will be auctioned off Feb. 19. Photo by Willy Cook

Cynthia Siwecki stands inside a swank, ground-floor condominium that has been transformed into her office. The cabinets and floors are all built of cherry. A granite slab covers the kitchen countertop and the bathroom includes both a Jacuzzi tub and a glass-encased shower. It's not your normal office but, in this case, it serves a valuable purpose.

This condo and 10 others within Chalili Lodge will be auctioned to the highest bidder on Saturday, Feb. 19, giving the Ketchum condos their first owners since construction finished in 2007. Siwecki, vice president of auctioning company Accelerated Marketing Partners, has been offering the curious a tour of what they could buy with a simple wave of the hand. And 435 people have walked through her door at the corner of Sun Valley Road and Second Avenue over the past month, much more than her 30 years of experience in new-home sales would lead her to expect.

What's more, the company said half of these 435 people already own property within five miles. The auctioning company has also received 14,000 visits to the property's auction website,, but the number of interested locals is what caught the eye of Ken Stevens, the company's West Coast CEO.

"The auction has been a fabulous litmus test for Sun Valley," he said, adding that the high interest indicates that buyers who were sitting on their cash before are now coming out of the woodwork. "They've been maintaining this dry powder to fire up when the time is right."

He claimed buyers are now sensing the "bottom" of price declines.

"There's a lot of money waiting for the right opportunity," he said.

The minimum bids for the Chilali condos are reduced 58 to 65 percent from the original asking prices of 2007.

Stevens, who's been in the real estate business since 1978, said he couldn't speak for the Sun Valley area but mountain resort real estate is recovering quicker for the reason that these buyers often have money at their disposal to make a move. He said the company sold 20 homes in Deer Valley and Park City, Utah, last winter, averaging $1.9 million per sale.

But is the Sun Valley area following the upward trend of other Western mountain resorts?

"Yes" is the simple answer, according to Jed Gray of Sun Valley Associates, who has been selling real estate in the area for 31 years.

Valley property sales increased 20 percent in 2010, totaling $227 million, compared to $218 million in 2009, according to Gray, who's also vice president of the Sawtooth Board of Realtors, which represents all valley real estate agents. The number of sales jumped from 291 in 2009 to 383 in 2010.

Gray has a wider perspective than just the valley because he's also vice president of the Western Mountain Resort Alliance, an organization composed of real estate agents from 13 mountain resort areas, including Vail and Telluride, Colo., Park City, Utah, and Jackson, Wyo.

He said the vast majority of mountain resort areas are experiencing an improvement in real estate sales, and Sun Valley is no different in that respect. But, he said, Sun Valley's climb is at a slower pace than the others. He said that's because of a couple of factors: lack of proximity to a population center and air accessibility.

"Sun Valley is remote with fair transportation, at best," he said. "So, we move just a little bit slower."

Gray presented the valley's sales statistics to the alliance at its Jan. 20 winter meeting in Vail, and said the consensus among the group was that resort buyers are stepping off the recession sidelines and into the game.

"People are tired of sitting around and feeling badly," he said, adding that buyers know they hold all the cards. "This last year, buyers were tough. Their dollars were precious and they knew it."

He said this has also been advantageous for those trying to buy their first house. Gray said the average price for a lower-end home was $350,000 in 2007, but that's now $140,000.

However, Gray said, the northern end of the valley experienced the greatest increase in sales during 2010, meaning high-end property sales are bouncing back quickest. But will that translate to a successful auction for the luxurious Chilali Lodge condos? Gray asserted that people's "curiosity" about Chilali doesn't mean a thing if nobody bids on Feb. 19.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said, which is just a two-week wait away.

Trevon Milliard:

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