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Realtors like 3rd quarter

By Mark Huffman, Jackson Hole Daily
October 08, 2012

Real estate numbers that showed a slight improvement in the first half of 2012 improved at a sharper pace in the past three months, according to Multiple Listing Service records.

The improvement is encouraging to Jackson Hole real estate professionals, who’ve had more than four tough years since the Great Recession began.

The slow but steady upturn during the year might finally signal better times, Jackson Hole Sotheby’s International Realty President Ed Liebzeit said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic with the trends we’ve had,” Liebzeit said. “With the business growth in the last quarter and year to date, it’s encouraging.”

Two recent major sales, Snow King Resort and the Snake River Lodge & Spa, were done off the MLS books, he said.

Brett McPeak, owner and broker at Re/Max Obsidian Real Estate agreed, even after saying he tends to be a “glass-half-empty guy.”

July and August, McPeak said, “showed a noticeable spike” in activity, and “we’re still busy with the momentum of the summer months.

“We’re seeing a lot of things that will close in October and November,” he said. “I’m really feeling more optimistic about the summer of 2012.”

The MLS shows the number of sales up 33 percent in the third quarter and dollar volume up more than 77 percent compared to last year, Liebzeit said. Through the first three quarters, closings were up 17 percent and volume up 31 percent.

More than 300 sales closed in the first three quarters, and volume hit $375 million. The rise in the number of sales is a strong indicator, McPeak said.

“I focus on the transactions, because a small number of upper-end sales can skew the dollar volume,” he said. “But transactions year-to-date were 253 last year, and this year it hit 308.”

The MLS showed quarterly numbers were up in single-family homes, condos, commercial property and land. Sales were up in every corner of Jackson Hole, except south of town, which fell slightly. Another sign real estate agents like is that inventory showed a drop.

Both factors encouraged Liebzeit.

“The signs are positive,” he said. “The stock market is certainly strong and that’s an important element for our market because we do have many second-home owners.”

But, Liebzeit noted, “the market under a million has been very good, and that’s where our inventory is down and our activity is strong.”

Liebzeit attributed some of the up-swing to an “opportunity to get into the market at prices well below” those of five years ago.

Bob Graham, owner-broker at Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, agreed things seem to be looking up.

“The economy seems to be doing well, contractors are going back to work, and we’re seeing new homes being built around the valley,” Graham said. “Those are all positive signs.”

But one of the things that’s bringing customers in to look — prices lower than they remember a few years back — is also worrisome, he said.

“We don’t see prices beginning to escalate at this point,” Graham said. “We hit bottom some time ago, and since then we’ve seen a lot more activity and willingness to close a deal ... but we just haven’t begun to see an increase in valuations.”

A lot of what the Jackson Hole real estate market needs is beyond its control, the brokers said.

“We need continued economic growth, low unemployment, and we need our total national and international economy to have some positive news,” Liebzeit said.

McPeak agreed that “the election, and a lot of other external events” are unknowns that could come into play at any time.

“Elections can always be an issue for us,” Graham said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

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