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Economy Brighter at Sierra Town : Mammoth Ski Area Reports Record Year

March 03, 1985|LOU DESSER | Desser is news editor of the Times real estate section

MAMMOTH LAKES — This eastern Sierra resort town has survived three major economic setbacks in recent years, always recovering and advancing with new vigor.

Once again the newly incorporated city (Aug. 16, 1984) is on the upswing economically. Indications are that Mammoth Lakes is gradu ally overcoming the devastating effect of volcano warnings by government geologists and media coverage of their findings.

(The geologists have since downgraded earlier estimates of potential hazard to the community from what they determined to be an upsurge in volcanic activity. Some townspeople point out that Mammoth Lakes is in no more danger, probably less, than Southern California, an area pegged by scientists for a major earthquake before the turn of the century.)

One encouraging sign of renewed prosperity for the town is a report from the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area--within the town limits--that it is experiencing its best year ever. The number of skiers is up 9% over 1981-82 (the previous record season).

The popular ski area, among the largest in the country, draws the majority of its skiers from Southern California.

Another good sign is renewed activity in the resale condominium market, according to real estate agents. "We're getting a lot more lookers," observed David Buckman, vice president of Mammoth Properties.

The attraction could be that many properties are being sold at 1980 prices, he said.

"Four to six months ago there were a number of bank foreclosure sales here." Added to that was the sale of their condominiums by people with economic problems elsewhere who were obliged to accept appreciably lower prices for their units. "This created a flurry of sales," he said.

There are 120 escrows pending in Mammoth Lakes at this time, totaling $12.9 million, according to Buckman. Resale listings total 357, with an average price of $116,500, he said.

Eighty-seven new units are currently on the market. "These are projects that are not involved in foreclosures or auctions," Buckman said.

An additional 25 units, involved in foreclosures and taken over by lending institutions, are on the market.

Mammoth Lakes has had its economic ups and downs over the years, as old timers will testify. Buckman doesn't claim to be one of those but says, "In the 11 years I've been here, this is the third hills-and-valleys economic situation the town has experienced.

Drought Years

"The first was the gasoline situation, when it was said: 'If people can't afford to buy gas, how can they come to Mammoth?' There were the drought years and most recently the earthquakes (accompanied by geologists' warnings of danger from volcanic activity)."

Each time there was an exodus from the town, Buckman said. "There is always a revolving door of people coming and going--it's not an easy area to live in.

"But now I see people interested in coming up and getting into retail businesses, whereas six months to a year ago that wasn't happening."

The condominium market is the best since 1982, believes Don Haas, sales associate at Coldwell Banker Leisure Real Estate. Prices are down 30% from their highs, he said, auguring for an excellent sales year.

Home prices have come down, but the bargains are selective. In the current resale market, one-bedroom and studio units (10-12 years old) are averaging $45,000 in price, according to Haas.

Slow Period

Two-bedroom units, which sold for $100,000 in 1981, are in the mid-$80,000-range today, he said. Haas said that condominiums with two bedrooms and loft are averaging $110,000 plus.

Haas said that real estate sales at Mammoth Lakes slow traditionally during January and February. They start up again in early June.

Then, when people start thinking about skiing again (September-October), sales resume for the winter season, Haas said.

There was virtually no real estate activity at Mammoth between January, 1982 and July, 1984, remembers Chuck Tomajko, broker at Mammoth Real Estate Inc. But then, in August, 1984, sales "took off."

Today, home sales are 40% off the peak year of 1981, Tomajko said. But the bargain hunters are out looking for foreclosures.

One example, he said, is at Snowflower, a condominium project whose developer went bankrupt. Units that were priced originally at $180,000 to $275,000 are now on the market for $125,000 to $175,000. But there aren't many such bargains left.

Sales Brisk

In November, 1984, Downey Savings & Loan advertised the foreclosure sale of five new condominiums priced from $155,000 to $160,000. "A real bargain," the ad read.

Gary Williams of Cedar Creek Investment Co., who was just reelected president of the Mammoth Board of Realtors, said home sales were brisk during late August and September of 1984 because of pent-up demand and lower prices. An auction of 34 condominiums at the Aspen Creek development in September built up excitement and led to other sales in Mammoth, Williams said.

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