COVID effect? The Park City-area housing market is booming but planning applications are down.
The Park City-area housing market is hot, Realtors say, as buyers look to escape urban environments seen as COVID-19 hot spots or embrace the freedom of movement granted by working remotely.
But Summit County’s community development director says new development projects in the pipeline are slowing down and numbers are off significantly from this time last year.
Pat Putt says it’s too soon to know if this is the beginning of a larger slowdown, the result of cautious developers waiting for the pandemic to play out or maybe the first signs of a shift prompted by the novel coronavirus in how humans use land.
“I think the country has gone through a pretty radical market and economic adjustment here, and as goes the world or the national economies and markets, so will go Park City. I can’t say we absolutely perfectly reflect that. I mean, we’re down, I’m not surprised by the fact that we’re down,” Putt said. “… Everybody is acutely anxious right now. We all hope that we’re going to survive this as whole as we can where we’re not seeing just the bottom drop out here. And it has in the past.”
He said the number of planning applications submitted to the county has dropped by about 25% compared to last year at this time and that the value of new construction in the county is off by more than 40%. But development projects continue to populate the agendas of public meetings and his office is busy processing applications for permits.
Single-family home construction and remodeling continue to be busy, he added.
“We haven’t ground to a halt by any stretch of the imagination,” Putt said.
The story is different for those downstream of the approval process who buy and sell real estate.
Some Realtors are saying they’re as busy as they’ve been in 20 years or more, with single-family homes and condominiums that have separate entrances drawing particular interest.
“This just started about five weeks ago after the town opened back up. People are coming here and buying like crazy” said Nancy Tallman, a former president of the Park City Board of Realtors. “If you just drive around town, you will see tons of out-of-state license plates. I think people are fleeing urban areas. … They’re trapped in urban condominiums with their families. They want to come here, they want a place where they can have some space and get outside and go to the grocery store and have some semblance of a life. One of the things we’re seeing is people who are able to work remotely are saying, ‘If I can work remotely, why not work in Park City?’”
Melissa Band, a Realtor and former chair of the Park City Planning Commission, said the market is “crazy.”
“I’ve been in real estate 20 years — I don’t think it’s ever been this busy,” Band said. “… Everybody’s buying and if they’re not buying, they’re remodeling.”
She said her business is showing properties to clients two or three times a day, sometimes virtually, and that numerous clients have made offers on properties they had never set foot in after being given a virtual tour.
Several Realtors who spoke to The Park Record theorized that the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing people out of metropolitan areas seen as hot spots of the disease and that Park City’s mountains, open space and proximity to an international airport are increasing its attractiveness.
And low interest rates are also making it an appealing time to buy, they said.
Band said that some of her clients from California are weighing whether to home-school their children in what may become a second home here, or in fact send them to Park City schools, while the family heads to the mountains to wait out the virus.
Tallman said many of her clients are asking about the potential of earning income by renting out the property.
Park City School District business administrator Todd Hauber said it’s too soon to tell if the district will see an influx of enrollment related to COVID-19, but that he’d heard similar rumors. He said data will be available around the time students return to school Aug. 20.
The Realtors said that the gains made in recent weeks came on the heels of a virtual freeze during March and April when many properties were taken off the market and contracts were canceled amid panic and uncertainty.
“March and April, I think everyone in our business was wondering if we were going to experience a big recession again like 2009,” Tallman said. “I mean, it was a little scary. There was just nothing going on. … There were so many cancellations at the beginning of this because people were scared.”
Putt said it’s too early to know how the pandemic will affect land use going forward, but one potential impact might be a reduced emphasis on dedicated commercial office space as workers increasingly work remotely.
Though the project application numbers are down, Putt said that the county has processed many permits that applicants had yet to pick up or pay for, meaning the slowdown might end suddenly.
And Band suggested that contractors in the area are working full-tilt and that it has taken weeks to receive bids for some remodeling and roofing projects she’s been involved with.
In looking at the area’s economic resiliency, Putt said that the Park City-area real estate market is buoyed by its transition in recent years from a winter-only destination to more of a year-round attraction.
That’s a point echoed by Rick Shand, a past president of the Park City Board of Realtors, who said that a previous boom in the early 2000s might have been attributable to the 2002 Winter Olympics, and a new surge has taken hold after Vail Resorts came to town.
He said this market is a beneficiary of the “Vail effect” bringing in new buyers from markets like in Texas and Mexico City who previously might have overlooked the Beehive State, coupled with people from hot climates who want a home in the mountains to escape the heat.
“I think since Vail has been in place in Park City … that’s been driving a lot of our growth,” Shand said. “We are seeing people coming into Utah that wouldn’t give it the time of day. People are giving Park City and Utah a try and they like what they see.”
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