This Mammoth Real Estate Q&A appears in this week’s issue of The Sheet. Town has loaded up with visitors and the snow condition are excellent. I’m back and I’ll likely be showing property all week.
Q: We’ve been looking at Mammoth townhomes in the mid price range and lower end homes and we’re surprised how few of the properties in this price range have good garages. We mainly want a garage to store our toys in, so we’re not so concerned about parking in the garage. We’ve also noticed that many of the condos don’t even have garages. The agents we’ve talked to say garages are at a premium. If most people want them how come so many properties don’t have them?
A: Welcome to Mammoth. And yes garages, especially private garages, are at a premium. Part of the answer can be found in how Mammoth developed in the 60’s and 70’s and what consumers were demanding at that time (which wasn’t much compared to today) and some of it is a byproduct of the zoning codes that evolved in the 90’s. But much of the answer lies in the simple scarcity of privately owned land in the Mammoth area and Eastern Sierra, and as I’ve discussed many times before, that isn’t going to change.
Today, many of the new buyers of Mammoth real estate want a private garage. If they can’t afford a property that has a private garage, they definitely look for significant “owner lock-offs.” These can include a variety storage areas, closets, and cabinets to store their personal belongings. This latent demand is the result of more and more owners in all price ranges looking to generate some rental income (even if it is just to close associates and friends) AND the explosion of toys Mammothites want.
In the 70’s a pair of good skis was almost a luxury. Today, most real skiers need at least three or four pairs, and snowboards, and some cross-country and/or telemark skis. And then things get out of control. Snowmobiles are almost becoming a must. And that is only winter. From there; bicycles of several sorts, float tubes and fishing gear, and a boat or two. The climbing equipment won’t take up too much space, but the camping equipment could, especially if you have a camper or trailer. And very large motorhome garages are in fashion if the lot allows. And now a Rhino or other ATVs, and motorcycles (that could be dirt bikes and/or Harleys) almost seem required. Heck, we are in a hang gliding mecca, so you probably need one of those, even if it is just for show. And on and on. (After reading all of that, you know who you are.)
Private garages and storage have always made sense in Mammoth. After all, getting things out of the snow and snowpack only makes sense. But back in the 60’s and 70’s the developers were satisfying the needs and wants of that era’s weekend warriors. Look at condo projects like Sierra Manors, Mtn. Shadows, and the Dempsey built “Four” projects. The owners back then probably didn’t even leave their skis in their unit when they went home—-, they put them in the rack on top of the Country Squire. Most were focused on skiing all day, a dip in the spa, and heading to places like the Rafters (if only they could bring back some of those characters and bands––the place would certainly be a hit!). Just drive up Chateau Road (from Old Mammoth Road) and you’ll see how demand evolved away from garages and towards another bedroom. It was about packing in people, not having toys.
And the homes from that era? Drive through the neighborhoods subdivided in that era and you will find some remaining “A” frames and gambrels (flat roofed “A” frames) that were hauled in on the back of a truck and put up in a weekend. You will also see a variety of almost comically added-on garages. They’re relics today. Many have been bull dozed. In the late 80’s and early 90’s those same lots saw the construction of relatively inexpensive 3 and 4-bedroom homes with one or two car garages. Many of these garages aren’t feasible for a truck or large SUV. Many have support posts in awkward places so even if you can pull the vehicle in you can’t get out the vehicle door. But those garages are coveted for their storage capacity. Those homes signify another era.
Today, the owners of these same lots want a big house and a big garage. Here’s where the zoning regulations imposed in the 90’s come into play. You have to move into some of the newer “luxury” subdivisions to find lots bigger than the 7500-8500 square foot lots developed in the late 60’s and 70’s. (And those are still some of the most desirable locations: like the Knolls, the Slopes, Majestic Pines, and the Vistas). The newer zoning regulations limited “site coverage,” meaning because of increasing infill in these subdivisions and the reality of snow and snow storage, a new owner (and remodeling owners) can only cover so much of the site with impervious surface.
I had to sit though many public hearings on this topic and some people considered site coverage to be a non-issue, but when we had neighbor’s roofs shedding into each other (and big winters like ‘93), it WAS an issue and it had to be dealt with. Neighbors were pushing and blowing snow onto each other lots. The joke back then became “that’s not my snow.” But the site coverage regulations limited the size of a house and garage an owner could build on these lots. Today, if you want a bigger garage to go along with your big house, you have to find a bigger lot. That usually means a more modern subdivision (think Starwood, The Bluffs, Snowcreek Ranches, etc.).
Meanwhile, the same zoning code changes from that era forced condo developers to provide “covered parking,” some of it is actual private garages, but much of it is open, understructure parking (which was automatic in condo hotel project). Because of these changes, Snowcreek was forced to offer private garages in Phase 5. The larger townhomes had real 2-car garages. The more prolific 2 and 3-bedroom townhomes offered small 1-car garages. Good luck getting out of your Suburban after pulling in. Over the years these have been very popular units. The garages make great storage and the driveway is ample for parking. But the inclusion of more garages had a negative impact––more visual density. So again, the impact of limited privately owned land made an impact. Today, only new deed restricted or “affordable housing” projects can have open parking.
There is some salvation though. Through the last boom there was a good amount of “storage units” built down in the Industrial Park, at the airport, and the industrial park by the airport. Although they aren’t attached to the owner’s residential property, these make great storage for those who are lacking. The biggest “pigs” are at the airport in the full sized hangars. These units were originally marketed as “Toy Boxes In Paradise” and are right on the tarmac and are big enough for a plane (or two), and a boat, motorhome and more. Or there are units simply big enough for a Suburban and a boat or snowmobile trailer and enough ceiling height for all kinds of options (like building lofts). Many of the larger hangars aren’t even owned by plane owners, they’re just chocked full of everything else. Some even have “entertainment areas.” Today, the value of being at the airport is having access to flights, if that is your fancy. Meanwhile, there are some great new units in the industrial park by the airport next to the cement plant. And there is a variety large-and-small in Mammoth’s Industrial Park just east of town below the schools.
So ultimately, garages are just another part of Mammoth’s real estate evolution and another part of the buying decision. They have value and they are in limited supply––kind of like powder days. Have a great holiday, and Happy New Year! Hope you got plenty of new toys.