Mammoth Real Estate Sales Report, September 27, 2020

Mammoth Is Smoked Out and Very Quiet, But Gets a Weekend Reprieve!

Market Summary  Sept. 13 to Sept. 27

The Mammoth Lakes MLS is reporting 43 real estate closings for the period ranging from a low of $130,000 to a high of $1,800,000. The volume of closings remains high and consistent. Of the 43 closings, there were 42 financeable properties and 29 were conventionally financed. Fourteen of the closings were condos selling under $500,000. There were 10 closings in Snowcreek including three (3) early phase 1-bedroom units. There were 12 single-family home closings. The 10-year Treasury yield ended the period relatively flat at .659%. The local real estate system remains bogged down with heavy volume (both sales and re-finances). Delays with appraisals, physical inspections, title reports and HOA insurance certifications are the norm. But the lack of visitors in town due to smoke and forest closures and the lack of inventory has slowed the local real estate market down slightly. This may give the local industry a chance to catch up. This market activity is in stark contrast to 2016 during the election period when the market was in a near stall.

Condominium Inventory

At the period’s end the condominium inventory is up five (5) to 56. There were 24 new condo listings brought to the market during the period and eight (8) have already gone to escrow. There are still 16 condos listed under $350,000. Some of the new listings are coming to the market with prices substantially higher than the last comparable sales, including some large Snowcreek units. One large Plan 6 unit (3,445 square feet) in the Lodges came to the market at nearly $200,000 more than a similar closed sale of just three months ago. It is already in escrow. Two closings in the new Mountainside project at Canyon Lodge sold for nearly $700 per square foot. A 2 bedroom / 2 bath in Snowcreek 4 closed right at the most recent sales of the past three months. A similar unit is now in escrow for $60,000 more.

Single Family Inventory

The inventory of single-family homes is up six (6) to 28. There were a couple of new listings on the low end, but they won’t be appealing to most of the second homeowner buyers. One fabulous luxury home was listed at $6,850,000. The seller purchased it for $3,200,000 just two years ago. Clearly, we are beginning to see some “fishing expeditions” and apparently some will be successful. I was running some numbers for a client and the single-family home sales activity in the past four months over $1,000,000 is impressive. Since June 1 there have been 14 closings of homes over $1M, and there are 15 in escrow. And there are a handful of sales that are currently not being reported in the MLS. This could be two-to-three years of normal activity in this segment of the market in just four months.

Pending Transactions

The total number of properties in “pending” (under contract) in Mammoth Lakes is down 23 to 158 at period’s end. The total number of pendings in the aggregate Mammoth MLS (which includes outlying areas) is down 28 to 203. Clearly, the compromised air quality, the closed access to the National Forest, and a lack of inventory are all impacting the continued sales activity. The demand is still here. Many new listings receive multiple offers. There are many frustrated buyers watching the new listings. Some upward pricing could shake-out some new sellers. And if it snows and the Ski Area actually opens, the demand could actually increase.

Market Updates and News

There was great concern during the period that the nearby “Creek Fire” may force the evacuation of Mammoth Lakes. Social media didn’t help. Many second homeowners were wondering if they should come to protect their properties. But Mammoth fire chief Frank Frievalt released a memo to calm everyone down. Yes, there is an evacuation plan that includes south bound traffic on both the southbound and northbound lanes of Hwy. 395, but they weren’t close to implementing the plan. The serious threat was two Friday’s ago when the winds were suppose to increase significantly during a small cold front. But the front also brought a decent amount of rain to various areas of the Sierra including a good amount to Mammoth Lakes proper. This was certainly welcome.

The Creek Fire is now reported as the largest single wildfire in California history. It has burned approximately 300,000 acres including forest with vast tree mortality. The fire is currently 10-12 miles west of Mammoth but is being buffered at the northeast end of the fire by a large burned-out area from two years ago and plenty of high altitude granite. It is basically running out of fuel where it is closest to Mammoth. The fire fighters are back burning and that is currently producing most of the smoke that is flowing into the area. It was announced yesterday that the helicopter fleet working the fire will be moved from Mariposa to Mammoth Lakes Airport. This is due to a change in expected weather patterns and is not the result of any increased threat of fire progression towards Mammoth.

There continues to be criticism of the past Forest Service policy that did not allow certain areas of forest to sporadically burn. And because of this past policy we now have these major fires. Add in significant tree death due to drought and infestation, and this is the result. Thankfully, Mammoth has had 15-20 years of very proactive thinning and clearing on the periphery of town and within town to help protect the community from such a disaster.

The smoke in town was generally heavy for most of the period. There were some clearer mornings (the last two mornings –– physical activity was possible). The town has been very empty. September had solid bookings but almost everybody either cancelled or left after a brief stay. Many local residents decided to leave too. With the lack of visitors many restaurants and businesses simply curtailed operations or closed. If it weren’t for the smoke the mild weather would have been ideal for late summer recreation. The forest reopening scheduled for last Friday was postponed. Most local residents believe the forest closure after the Labor Day weekend deluge of illegal camping and campfires was the right thing to do.

Mammoth Mountain continues to express their winter operations plan. They are reporting that they have spent $1million on Covid-19 upgrades to protect the public. I guess we’ll just have to get on the Mountain and see for ourselves. There will be no walk-up window lift ticket sales (which have been the most premium priced in the last few seasons). But apparently there will be no “reservation” type system like other resorts have planned. Everyone will have to wear masks. We’d love to have a snowstorm but the 15-day forecast has the Mammoth region remaining in the low 70s. The Ski Area plans to open on November 14.

The Mammoth Town Council doesn’t meet gain until Oct. 21 so it doesn’t look like the existing members will be finalizing a vote on the Ice Rink/MUF before a new Council is seated. But it sure has taken a long time for the latest stripped-down version of the plan and budget to come forward. And the project’s gung-ho public works director has now retired and will be a consultant on The Parcel affordable housing project. We are just beginning to hear from the new Council candidates. One new candidate wants to focus on housing and not the Ice Rink/MUF. She is promoting a roof and upgrades for the existing rink. Hopefully there is increased dialog on this subject in the next month. Then let the community decide.

Noteworthy Sales

Two Village 1 bedroom units closed. One a top floor unit in Grand Sierra Lodge in a quiet location and one a lower floor unit at White Mountain Lodge in a noisy location. This is probably the spectrum of the most desirable to least desirable. The Grand Sierra unit closed for $480,000. The lesser closed for $435,000.

The early phase Snowcreek 1 bedroom units closed from $299,000 to $368,500. The higher priced unit had previously been in escrow for a lower amount but the escrow was canceled during the lockdown. The seller benefitted from the pandemic.

A lower floor 2 bedroom / 2 bath at the Westin Monache closed for $612,500. This is the second Westin 2/2 closing over $600,000 in the past month.  Despite the “refresh” assessment, these units have increased in value by 10% since the town’s reopening on June 1.

Favorite New Listing for the Period

Take your pick. These two 1 bedroom units in Snowcreek Phase I just came to the market yesterday. Both have been owned by an investment group and they have been long term rentals. These are spacious floorplans with with good utility. There is room and hook ups for a full sized stack washer/dryer. The bedroom has two large closets. Good sized kitchen. Both are corner units with extra window. Obviously they are going to need some updating, but they are worthy of it. These units are close to Minaret Road so it is an easy walk out to the Red Line shuttle. One unit is super close to the common area spa. Great low density project.

Both Listed at $339,000
Listing courtesy of Coldwell Banker

Other Real Estate News

I ran into John Hooper on a job site last Saturday and we had a good talk. He said he is seriously winding down and heading towards retirement. But we’ve heard this before. In 2006 he infamously told everyone “Il’l never build in Mammoth Lakes again.” He was especially frustrated with the Town’s building department at the time (and is again). But within a number of years he was back. He obviously saw too many opportunities. This last round included dozens of high-end homes including all of the Graybear homes (he built the subdivision too) in the Sierra Star golf course. It also included the Mountainside townhomes at Canyon Lodge.

Hooper has built in Mammoth for 40 years. He’s probably built half of Mammoth. The half that Tom Dempsey didn’t build. He is often criticized one way or another and often by people seeking perfection. But the reality is he has provided incredible value to this community, often in less than great economic times, and when nobody else had the vision or moxie to develop what he did.

In the mid-to-late 1980s the local economy wasn’t that good but he started building small, affordable homes. They were often less than 2,000 square feet and had 1-car garages. Most has giant wood burning stoves on the ground floor. They are peppered through the Mammoth Slopes and other subdivisions. One just closed in the last period for $685,000.

In the early 1990s when the economy was really down, he developed numerous apartment buildings in Sierra Valley Sites (aka The Ghetto). I was involved with these as a Planning Commissioner. Hooper needed variances to put fourplex buildings on some of the substandard lots that were slightly less than 10,000 square feet. They all made sense and today I can look back and see they weren’t problematic. We did approve one eightplex on a smaller substandard lot that is really tight. But it has been occupied and provided valuable housing for the past 25 years. He also built a variety of mixed-use buildings in the commercial districts of town that have residential apartments above ground floor commercial. In an era of the public clamoring for affordable housing, most forget that Hooper was the original affordable housing developer in Mammoth and has clearly developed more than anybody, by far.

As the economy improved in the late 1990s he moved into larger affordable homes (he built one for me in 2000). Once again he had the vision for where the market was going. Or he simply created it. And he has always worked cooperatively and generously with the local real estate community. During much of this era if a local agent brought him a good lot listing he would buy it and turn around and list a spec home with the agent. It was a powerful incentive to bring him vacant lot deals. 

In the mid-2000s he developed what I call the “modern mountain Craftsman” design. The homes in Graybear are all of this design. It is a mountainy feel and is essentially a timeless design style. I built one in 2007. In 2014 he purchased a lot I had listed up by Eagle Base and he said he believed there was a market for $1M+ plus spec homes for “the next 2-3 years.” That idea flowed into Graybear and beyond. We could probably sell dozens of them right now. Nobody else had the vision in 2014.

Ultimately the man has had tremendous impact on the Mammoth Lakes community. He has kept many people employed even during poor economic times. He alone has radically improved the tax base of the community. He has provided incredible economic opportunity for everyone involved in the real estate industry. His retirement alone could boost real estate values in Mammoth just for the fact that he won’t be out there producing new product (supply). And I don’t see any youngsters with his vision and skills.  

But then again, a few years of retirement and some changes at the building department, he might be back.

Thanks for reading!  Please stay healthy.

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