Home on the Slopes: A Spring, 2004 Look at Mid-Atlantic Ski Real Estate 7
Author thumbnail By John Sherwood, DCSki Columnist

Anyone who has looked at the classifieds recently knows that this area is in the throws of one of the greatest real estate booms in history. Urban DC real estate has risen 20 percent during the past year according to Washington Post real estate columnist Daniela Deane (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A37055-2004Apr23.html). Currently, it is difficult to find a basic one-bedroom condominium in certain city neighborhoods for less than $300,000. Insane? You betcha, but a positive trend for the local ski industry.

People willing to fork out 1/2 of a million dollars for a townhouse in Arlington will gladly purchase a vacation condominium in West Virginia for less than $100,000. As one DCSki reader put it recently on the DCSki Message Forum, West Virginia has become the “lebensraum” for land hungry professionals in the Washington metropolitan region. To provide readers with a better idea of what is happening in slopeside real estate these days, I recently interviewed two of West Virginia’s most prominent ski resort realtors: Doug Keith of Keith Realty at Snowshoe, and David Downs of Mountaintop Realty in the Canaan Valley.

Units in Allegheny Springs, a recent condominium development at West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort, command high prices. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

According to Keith, property values at Snowshoe have risen 15-25 percent in the past year. Single family homes and condominiums in the newer developments have risen the fastest, but almost all properties have risen in value to some degree during the past year. One-bedroom units in Allegheny Springs, the resort’s premier luxury condominium development, now sell for between $234,000 and $300,000. 70-80 percent of all owners at Snowshoe participate in a rental program, but Keith warns that buyers should not expect to cover all of their costs from renting.

“If you bought 7-8 years ago you can cover your costs, but not at today’s real estate prices,” Keith notes.

The typical buyer at Snowshoe is a professional couple in their forties with children. Most hold on to properties about 5 years, and then sell once the kids move away.

“Quite a few people own 2-5 properties,” claims Keith. “Many bought during the mid-90s when prices were low.”

Ski real estate can be an excellent investment, especially in a hot market such as this one.

The story of Canaan Valley is even more dramatic this year. According to Downs, prices of single family homes at the Old Timberline, Northface, and Winterset communities have risen as much as 40 percent over the past year. Slope-side condos have risen by 20-25 percent. All of the Winterhaven land lots are under reservation, and people who bought those lots last year have resold them for over $100,000 over the original purchase price. Those lots now can be sold for between $250,000 and $350,000.

“The big problem right now,” claims Downs, “is low inventories.”

On an average year, 10 percent of the valley’s 400 or so properties are on the market; this year only 1 percent are for sale.

Downs attributes the sharp rise in prices at Timberline to two factors. First, prices are relatively low in the area compared to its nearest competition -; West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort and Maryland’s Wisp Resort. Second, the visible progress of the Corridor H road project has stimulated buyers. West Virginia recently opened a 14-mile stretch of the new road from Baker to Moorfield in October 2003, and the entire 7-mile stretch between Baker and Wardensville is scheduled to open later this year. While it will be a long time before the road reaches Davis, the visible progress between Moorfield and Wardensville has made many potential buyers very interested in the Canaan Valley region -; an area that will be just 2.5-3 hours from DC once Corridor H is complete.

The only real downside to Canaan Valley right now, according to Downs, “is a lack of off-slope activities.” Timberline and Canaan Valley Resorts do not have a vibrant mountainside village similar to Snowshoe or the restaurants one finds in the Deep Creek lake area. However, Davis and Thomas are not too far away, and both towns now offer much more in the way of nightlife than in times past. Thomas’s East Avenue is booming with art galleries, shops, and one of the most famous live music venues in the state -; the Purple Fiddle cafe.

Downs believes that both Thomas and Davis are undiscovered gems.

“You can still buy a house in Thomas for $50,000 to $100,000” he explains. “People do not come here to live in a town, but towns offer a lot of amenities, as well as relatively easy access to the slopes, the parks, and the National Forest.”

A final solution for ski-hungry real estate buyers might be to consider living full-time at a local resort. Whitetail Real Estate is currently selling pre-construction options on 1,585-2,649 square foot units for between $259,000 and $315,000. The units are located near the slopes of Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Resort. Conceivably, one could drive from Whitetail to Frederick, Maryland and then commute into Washington, D.C. via the MARC train.

With telecommuting options more widespread in the region, living in places near resorts is now an option for some professionals. Imagine being to able to ski every day of the season.

David Downs laments the fact that he only bagged 30 days on the slopes last year. This year he intends to ski 50.

My manager rejected my application to telecommute from my condo at Timberline last season, but yours might be more merciful. As Warren Miller would say, “the idea of 50 ski days a year suddenly makes a dishwashing job at a ski resort look pretty good.”

About John Sherwood

John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.

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Reader Comments

Jarrett
May 23, 2004
John, the lots are selling for $250,000-$350,000 before construction?
John Sherwood
May 23, 2004
Yes. Unimproved lots (dirt, no property) with cable, electric, water, and sewer hookups ready to go. All you need to do is build the house.
Jarrett
May 23, 2004
Sounds like a nice bargain if one is willing to keep it rented out most of the year to recoop some costs. Great book by the way, thanks for sending it. )
John Sherwood
May 24, 2004
Jarrett:

As you move upward in property price, the return you can expect to make in rental income declines as a percentage of property costs. On the other hand, capital appreciation is much stronger with bigger properties than smaller ones, so its a tradeoff. According to Doug Keith, many of the big homeowners at Snowshoe (and I expect the same is true at Timberline) dont rent their properties. Resorts frown on this practiceknown in industry parlance as cold beds because cold beds do not bring warm bodies to a ski resort. Wealthy property owners, however, often prefer to collect their profits in the end as capital appreciation rather than deal with renters staying in their trophy houses, many of which are decorated with expensive art and antiques.

Snowshoe and other resorts are countering the cold bed trend by reserving some of the best locations on the mountain for condominiums developments like Allegheny Springs that have hotel-like amenitiesconcierge and bell staff services. People who buy into Allegheny Springs generally rent out their properties because maintenance costs are high (to pay for the services), and on-site staffs are always on there to monitor how guests use their properties.

According to Downs, Timberline has resisted condo development as of late because historically, it has seen high inventories of condos on the sale market. As a result, it could not find investors willing to build condos. Recent low inventories of condominiums, however, may spur some investor to re-consider condos at Timberline and build additional properties.
Lou
May 26, 2004
John's got it right on the ball. Speaking from experience at Snowshoe, the new development of Allegheny Springs is geared to the DC/Baltimore/Richmond/Chatlotte upscale crowd, as it is a concierge building, sort of a mini-resort within a resort, not unlike Deer Valley.

Intrawest is now getting serious competition in the real estate market at Snowshoe's topside. One of the old old old owners had purchased several sizeable tracts of land on top of the mountain years ago, and they are now being developed... The first was the Timbers, that large area right by the Eastern entrance to Snowshoe coming in from Redgate Road. These are MacMansion-size log homes and I have never seen one for rent. As John says, they're trophy homes, all priced way above 500K. The second development is the new Loggers Run. Ever wonder why there are no trails between Knot Bumper (just below Mountain Lodge) and Widowmaker (just below Top of the World? That land is now being converted into a shopping/townhome development. Starting price is a whopping 480K for the townhomes, but they include private hot tubs and dreamlike decor. They may even have convenience stores within the complex; a law firm just moved into the complex.

The Seneca in the Center Village, which I understand is nearly sold out, will also have townhomes within the larger building, indoor parking, and will follow the general trend of Allegheny Springs.

Even old property is getting much better appreciation. Summit units used to go for 60-70K as late as 1998-99. Now the going rate is 160K.

Corridor H will seal the fate of the Highlands area as DC's upscale mountain playground. Another segment will open up this fall, making the once treacherous and slow trip from Wardensville to Moorefield a snap.

About time.
Jarret t
May 27, 2004
I didn't think about trophy homes, thanks for the tips.
Felix M.
July 18, 2004
John,

Just took a trip out to Canaan Valley to have a look at real estate. I was wondering about your experience with Northwoods' management, as well as that of your neighbors. My wife and I are considering buying a place there, but the local real estate agents seem to be pushing Beaver Ridge a lot harder.
Beaver Ridge is in better shape, but it's farther away. I don't see how it could match the rental income of Northwoods. Then again, maybe there's something--or many things--I don't know, and can't possibly fathom. Any information you could impart would be greatly appreciated.

Felix

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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