This is how one broker associate found her way into the luxury real estate business in Colorado’s mountain communities — and what COVID-induced trends she’s been seeing in her market.

October is Luxury Month on Inman. Inman Handbooks offer deep dives on luxury marketing and agent branding, luxury staging, referrals, and more. We’re thinking about what luxury means now, examining how the pandemic is reshaping the needs of luxury buyers, and talking to top luxury agents, all month long.

There’s an old adage when talking about Vail, Aspen or any other mountain resort community — you come for the winter and then stay for the summer. And for many of us, we then just stay!

I was a Midwestern girl who dreamed about traveling the world and eventually ending up in a place I considered “heaven,” like San Diego or somewhere in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Taking a job as an international flight attendant, I saw the world, and after meeting my husband, we settled down in San Diego.

But after a short time, I began feeling very restricted for many reasons — from outlandish traffic to housing costs and job insecurities. I soon realized that the mountains were calling, and I needed to follow my heart. I just needed to convince my husband.

Like the adage above, we came to Vail for the winter but stayed for the summer. That was nearly 30 years ago. In time, I found my way into the luxury real estate market. I’ve grown to love everything about Vail and Aspen, and it has been easy for me to successfully sell these areas because when I talk about them and all the wonderful things they have to offer — it comes from the heart.

When you go after the things you’re passionate about — whether it’s a property you want to list or an area you not only want to sell, but also live in — good things will come. Maybe the mountains aren’t the thing calling you, but go after what is, even if it feels out of reach.

Since COVID-19, the terms “success” and “luxury” have both taken on a new meaning for me. It’s no longer about having material “things,” but rather having safety, comfort and choices as to how one spends their time. It truly means being happy, being with your family and friends, and embracing the natural beauty that surrounds us.

I know I’m not alone. Many people are seeking new options beyond the city. We’ve seen an influx of buyers looking for a mountain escape — a place that’s ideal for creating that connection to the land and community, not to mention a lifetime of memories.

For example, because of the strong market and demand, my client and I decided to list her $27.5 million home in September, and it sold in two weeks. Since June 1, the firm I work under has written 564 new contracts worth more than $1 billion in sales volume in the Vail Valley alone.

The firm exceeded its August 2019 numbers with a 117 percent increase in new written contracts and 178 percent increase in sales volume. More than half of the buyers are those looking to escape from the crowded urban areas. Here are some other trends we’re seeing: 

1. More time in mountain towns

Homeowners who have a second or third home in Vail or Aspen are spending more time there and for longer periods than before. Some are considering switching this to their primary residence, while others are opting to spend the hot months in the cooler mountain temperatures.

We’re seeing a lot of buyers come into Aspen and Vail from states like California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida. For brokers working in these homeowners’ primary residences, this may be a good time to reach out to clients to see if they’re looking to make a move or buy an additional property in a mountain town.

If they are, brokers should consider setting up a referral. Large real estate firms typically have an internal referral network to work from. If your firm doesn’t have a referral network, do your own research.

Go online to find the best brokers in the town your clients are interested in. Reach out to them, and set up a referral. It’s typical that the broker making the referral will receive a referral fee of 25 percent of the gross commission. 

2. More demand for spec homes

Many clients are looking to purchase land and build a beautiful home that meets their need to live, work and play. Never before have we seen so many people buying spec homes in Vail and Aspen.

Agents should stay in-the-know on buyer desires and new builds so they’re ready to answer any questions their clients may have and move quickly if a client is ready to buy. Remember that real estate is a daily learning business.

I keep an eye on several different publications and associations to make sure I’m in the know with the latest national, regional and local real estate trends. I love articles from Inman’s Luxury Lens, as well as the publication’s e-newsletter Morning Headlines.

I also look at news from the National Association of Realtors and the Colorado Association of Realtors. Constantly educating myself about what’s current helps me be of better service to my clients and, ultimately, grow my business. 

3. Home offices and outdoor living spaces

Since it’s easy to work virtually and with homeschooling a reality for many of us, people want great home offices and areas where they can create a school-like environment.

They also want room to move and breathe, such as outdoor living spaces and easy access to recreational activities. Get creative in staging the homes you’re listing in ways that really highlight these areas.  

4. Business happens anywhere

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about COVID-19, it’s that business can happen anywhere. In July, I listed a $5 million home in Vail. Interest was immediate, especially by one D.C.-based family who did a virtual tour, and then proceeded to handle the entire transaction virtually.

As I said above, this is a good time for agents to be reaching out to their clients. See if they’re considering upgrading their home or moving to a new location

5. Large common areas

Buyers are looking for homes with large common areas where kitchens naturally flow into family rooms, enabling everyone to comfortably and intentionally gather in one central space.

Play up these areas in the photography you take of your listings. The photography is the first thing most potential buyers will see, so clearly highlighting common areas will get their attention.

For as many people who are looking, there are plenty who are selling. Many sellers see this as a great opportunity. Other owners, who know that they will be spending more time at home or in Colorado, see this as a good time to upgrade their homes for increased square footage and luxurious outdoor living spaces.

Agents should be cognizant of these trends and be reaching out to clients and going after the business. We work in an industry filled with opportunities, so don’t settle. Continue to go after your dreams, and you will find success — however you define it.

Liz Leeds is a broker associate at Slifer, Smith & Frampton in Vail and Aspen, Colorado. Follow her on LinkedIn and Facebook. 

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