The last 50 years have been a wild ride for Old Town owners |

The last 50 years have been a wild ride for Old Town owners


The Park City Coffee Roasters Café now offers organic juices and smoothies as well as other healthy breakfast options. Photo by David Ryder/Park Record

In the 1950s, Park City resident and former miner Richard Martinez bought a house on Main Street for $1,200 and sold it for $600 a few years later. He might have gotten more for it, but sold it do someone a favor.

This spring, the Martinez home on Daly Avenue was valued by the county at $1,361,168. He paid almost $5,500 in taxes.

Old Town has always been close to the mountains, close to Main Street and full of character. But it hasn’t always been a real estate gold mine. As Realtors are experiencing today, the economy has as much, if not more, to do with home values as the oft-repeated mantra: "Location, location, location."

From boom town to ghost town

In 1965, the year Martinez was elected to the Park City Council, his six-bedroom home purchased by his step-grandfather in 1923 at 187 Daly Avenue was assessed by the county at only $2,125.

"In the 1950s, there were only about 1,100 people in town – mostly because they didn’t have any money to leave," he said.

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There were so few jobs in the mines that someone had to die for an opening to appear, he said.

But even when mining was good, homes weren’t considered a major investment. Sometime between 1923 and when Martinez was born in 1935, his step grandfather turned the two-bedroom home assessed at $1,500 in 1925 into a six-bedroom home to house all of his children. 1935, the home was still only worth $2,275.

When Martinez’s own children were all moved out, he returned the home to its original 1920s size about nine years ago and built a speculation home on the remaining lot. Even though it was much smaller, the internal renovations helped bump the value from $104,000 in 1995 to $507,000 in 2005.

Determining value in Old Town

But value is a tricky thing, pointed out Old Town Realtor Carol Agle. As chairperson of the Park City Board of Realtors statistics committee, she’s very familiar with trends in real estate. Even though the county must assess values to levy taxes, the true value of a home can only be determined by what someone is willing to pay for it in a regular sale.

There are about 60 properties for sale right now in Old Town. Some of them have covered garages, high ceilings and energy-efficient features. She questioned if it made sense to compare old miner homes with these in estimating values.

Martinez would agree with that. He didn’t buy his home from an aunt in 1956 as a long-term investment. He doesn’t have any interest in making a million bucks.

"I’m going to be here until I die," he said. "This is where I want to stay. My whole family is buried in the Park City cemetery."

For the one to two dozen people like him who have spent their entire lives in Park City, the increasing values and rising taxes don’t make sense to them.

"I paid $50 a year in taxes in the 1950s," he said.

For his friends on limited incomes, the taxes are almost like a pending eviction notice. Martinez darkly joked that they almost have to measure how much in taxes they can afford, and be careful to die before the amount exceeds that.

Newer is better

The last 20 years may boggle the minds of people like Martinez, but Old Town is so desirable, Agle explained, because it is what’s called a "dual-buyer market."

It’s a great second-home area, it’s also a fun place for a small family raising children, she explained.

"Second-home owners enjoy being able to walk to everything," Agle said.

They can walk to dining and shopping and take a trolley to Park City Mountain Resort or Deer Valley. If someone forgets their gloves, they can just walk back, she said.

The prospect of conducting nightly rentals out of the home is also appealing.

"This allows them to purchase the home as an investment property under IRS tax-deferred 1031 exchange," she explained.

Empty nesters and people with children love knowing they’re living in the heart of a vibrant community, she said.

That said, Old Town is definitely a unique neighborhood. Lots are all 25 feet wide and 75 feet long. You have to buy an extra lot or half lot to build a bigger house.

"This makes parking garages difficult," Agle explained.

A home making the historic register is appealing to some buyers, and not to others. Ironically, some homes from the 1970s are worth more than original Victorian mining-era homes because there are no restrictions to gutting the newer home and replacing it with something brand new designed by the owner, she explained.

"Nationally, new homes sell for approximately 40 percent more than dated product," she said.

Agle is a huge fan of the new eight-unit "Parkwood Place" near the Town Lift. Even in the current market, it sold out for $1,100 per square foot.

For people interested in real estate as an investment, building new over old has improved values for decades.

316 Park Avenue was used as a commercial space for several years. Sometime during the low-point of the 1960s the Kearns-Tribune purchased it, likely at a tax sale. The mining company and Kearns-Tribune Company bought up real estate for practically nothing in anticipation of the coming ski industry, Martinez remembers from his councilman days.

That property in 1969 was assessed at $500. At some point the structure was torn down, and the empty lot owned by the Silver Mill of Park City was worth almost $20,000 by 1989. Today, the fairly new house at that address is for sale and listed for about $1 million.

"Old Town is the heart of Park City and there will be a continued demand for real estate in the Old Town district," said its agent Brad Jensen.

In his experience, only renovated homes sell for over $1 million. Historical value is appealing to some, but buyers want "modern features and more functional floor plans that are suited for today’s lifestyles."

That said, older homes have their place in making the neighborhood what it is, he suggested.

"The diversity of Old Town is the very thing that makes it desirable," he said.

Martinez Family Home

187 Daly Avenue

1925: $1,500

1935: $2,275

1945: $5,650

1955: $6,000

1965: $2,125

1975: $6,100

1985: $13,080

1995: $104,000

2005: $507,000

2006: $817,000

2007: $1,218,960

2008: $1,361,168