Property Types and the Real Estate Market in Mammoth Lakes

Single-family homes and condominiums dominate the real estate market in Mammoth Lakes, both in sales and availability.

Both segments of the market have a broad variety of properties (the “Thirty-One Flavors”). They range from small to large, old and new. And old and small is not necessarily bad. One facet of the market many people miss – some of the older properties are built in some of the best locations. The redevelopment of older properties is a present and future trend.

Residential Single-Family Homes

The spectrum of single-family homes in Mammoth Lakes is fascinating. And unless they have been substantially remodeled, they will clearly speak to the period of their design and construction. The high-altitude mountain environment challenges all structures, and some have stood the test better than others. Quite often homes in Mammoth are described by the name of the architect/designer or builder (or both).

The demand for larger homes continues with time – from the historic little cabins and A-frames to the “basic” 1,500 square foot homes of the 1980’s to the larger “mandatory” 3,000 square foot homes of the 2000’s. And super large homes have been built almost all along, but today we keep increasing the size and quality. And because Mammoth has limited privately owned land, there is scarcity. There are very few “large” residential lots (an acre plus) in Mammoth Lakes. The average is around 8,000 square feet.

Today a new 3,000 square foot home is built on a lot that size, with a 3-car garage. The newer premier subdivisions like The Bluffs, Greyhawk, Starwood, etc. were built with larger lots to accommodate larger structures. We’ve seen an 11,000 square foot home built on a 10,000 square foot lot. Meanwhile, Mammoth building codes are strict on “site coverage” of 40-50%. Unlike the beach, piles of snow have to go somewhere. All of these factors put homes close together in Mammoth. And homes with adjacent open space like Forest Service land become more valuable because of this.

Condominiums and Condotels

The condominiums in Mammoth Lakes come in a broad variety also, maybe more than homes. There are approximately 100 different Condominium Homeowner Associations in Mammoth. Some are small and some are large. Most have a very small percentage of primary residence owner occupants. A few have proliferated as affordable housing for local residents. Most have resident on-site managers. They have a variety of amenities ranging from spas, saunas, pools, recreation rooms, tennis courts and even racquetball courts.

Historically the condominiums in Mammoth have been a (if not the) substantial “bed-base” for visitors to the community as well as vacation homes for their owners. The condominium nightly rental business and property management is big business in Mammoth Lakes. Condominiums produce a significant portion of the Town’s Transient Occupancy Tax (bed tax).

In the early 1990’s the Town planners changed the codes and required all new condominiums to have garages or covered parking. A large percentage of the condos built prior to that time do not have garages or covered parking. Many of the condominiums built in the 1960’s and 70’s were conceived as simple weekend getaway spots. Many of the same condominiums do not have in-unit washer/dryer arrangements or adequate closet space.

Today, owners and guests stay longer, have bigger vehicles and more toys. The older condominiums remain in the “affordable” price range but often do not meet the needs and wants of the consumer. The advent of the condo-hotel properties brought a whole new segment to the real estate market in Mammoth Lakes. These condominium projects “walk and talk” like hotels, but the “rooms” all have separate ownership and kitchen facilities. This is a whole different option for owners. For some it feels “more like a vacation” than their second home.

Today, most condo hotel units are being purchased purely for the rental income/return on investment rather than owner usage. And many regular condos are owned as “crash pads”; a simple place for second homeowners to sleep, eat, store their toys and perhaps do some entertaining. The luxury for these owners is more runs on their season pass and more time outdoors and away from city life.

Fractional and Timeshares

Mammoth has a small amount of timeshares and fractional properties as well. These concepts have not been overly successful in Mammoth, primarily because the resort remains more regional (to southern California) than “destination.” There is low demand and more than adequate supply.

Vacant Land and Lots

Mammoth’s residential subdivisions were not developed/improved like modern housing tracks – all at one time. Homes have been built over time. Therefore there are still vacant lots throughout town. Every year more and more lots are built on. And sometimes older homes on attractive lots are purchased and the homes are demolished and replaced by new homes. Over time, as vacant lots are increasingly unavailable, the more “tear downs” we shall see.

Owners of vacant lots who propose to construct a new home must first assess whether there is an active HOA and/or design review board in their subdivision (many are no longer active). If so, they must “understand” the preferred design and architectural style.  Next they should have a survey and topographic map produced so they can better understand any constraints (and they will need these when applying for a building permit). Then they should have the home designed and meet with contractors. Once they have a finalized plan they can move for approvals.

Multifamily and Commercial

There are substantial multifamily/apartment properties in Mammoth Lakes. Housing for the local workforce is a critical need. Most of these properties, by virtue of zoning, are located in the Sierra Valley Sites and the old commercial lodging zones in town and Old Mammoth. A broad cross-section of investors own these properties as well as the commercial properties in town. Generally, in a mountain resort community, the expenses are typically higher (snow removal, utilities, etc.) and rents and occupancy trend lower because of the seasonality of business and the transient nature of the population.

For a small town, Mammoth’s breadth and variety of real estate is rather astounding. There almost appears to be something that would appeal to anyone’s needs, style or taste. The underlying value is based on scarcity matched with demand. And the demand does not seem to wane.