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.
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.”
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.