Rich buyers historically propped up Aspen's housing prices even when the U.S. economy tanked, but even they couldn't protect the local market from the Great Recession and the recent housing bust. "We learned in 2008 and 2009 that we're not immune to broad economic cycles," Ernemann says. So buyers looking for the best prices in ski country should obviously hunt for deals when the housing market and broad economy are weak -- as they still somewhat are today. The time of year when you look for ski properties can also make a big difference. For instance, Ernemann says Aspen's bargain hunters often wait until just past the community's key February/March and July/August home-buying seasons and focus on properties that didn't sell.
Prices on ski homes and condos tend to vary based on a wide range of location-related factors, from the quality of a property's mountain view to how close it is to ski trails, shops and restaurants. Experts recommend deciding ahead of time what you want nearby and what you're not willing to pay extra for. "A family with kids might want a great family space, while a jet-set couple with no children might just want to be near the local bars and restaurants," Ernemann says. "That's important to think about, because the further you get from heart of
Sometimes you can find ski-house bargains by getting off the beaten path -- literally. Spencer says many homes in his town are right on ski trails, but people looking for deals can buy properties that aren't and hop on Park City's complimentary buses to reach the slopes. "If you're on a ski trail, that obviously increases a home's price," he says. Ernemann says Aspen-area househunters on a budget should consider Snowmass Village, Colo., some eight miles away. "It's still part of the same resort community, but real estate there has been slower to recover and there are some great opportunities for buyers," he says. Check a property's rental value
If you plan to rent out your ski property when you're not using it, make sure you know before you buy how it will fare in the rental market. Ernemann says agents who show you properties will often prepare a free rental analysis for you. If you're worried about a broker's objectivity, most ski communities have lots of property-management firms that will give you a free market analysis in hopes of getting your future business. Understand second-home mortgages and taxes
Some lenders have different underwriting standards for second-home mortgages, so don't assume you'll qualify for a loan or get today's lowest rates if you're buying a vacation property. Ernemann says some second-home buyers end up paying around 0.5 to 1 percentage point higher interest these days than they would for a loan on a primary residence. "Some banks charge