This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Although most coming to Park City will be there strictly for the Sundance festival fortnight, a handful of people on historic Main Street call the town home. Or at least they call it a great place to invest in real estate.
"We've seen steady improvement in the local real estate market," says Mark Seltenrich, an agent at Prudential Utah and statistician for the Park City Board of Realtors. "We hit the bottom of the market, where good deals were easy to find, where investors were snagging property. Now we are reaching a tipping point, a cusp. We're seeing more sales and fewer properties on the market, and buyers may find the really great deals harder to find."
Since Robert Redford bought the Timphaven ski resort in 1969, stars have sought refuge in the snowy town, population 7,500. A few years back, Will Smith bought a house in The Colony at White Pine Canyon, a ski-in, ski-out neighborhood bordering Canyons Resort, one of two resorts in Park City that offer snowboarding. Modern Family producer Steve Levitan and Paramount CEO Brad Grey own houses in Park City, as do Cheech Marin, comedian Bill Engvall and former Good Morning America host Charles Gibson. And, according to a source, Lisa Kudrow owns a house just outside of town.
"People who can afford a $3 million-to-$15 million home can buy anywhere," says Prudential agent Ann MacQuoid. "But we find whenever we do sell a house to someone that has that kind of money, they have looked in places like Aspen, Vail and Jackson Hole, and even though we are still expensive, we are much cheaper than other markets. In Aspen, and to some degree in other resorts, people buy a home and tear it down or completely renovate. We still have land for sale, which makes us unique."
The median price for houses sold in Deer Valley -- an area of Park City with some of the most impressive ski-in, ski-out properties -- was $2.65 million in 2012, a 22 percent increase compared with a year earlier, according to the Park City Board of Realtors. Helping goose the numbers was the sale in March of a 6,800-square-foot condo residence at the two-year-old Montage Deer Valley resort for $8.25 million.
The most expensive house sold in Park City in 2012 was the Deer Field Estate near Deer Valley Resort, an area that continues to attract upscale second-home buyers. The property -- which sold for $11.25 million and includes a screening room -- is situated in Deer Crest, a high-end neighborhood with direct access to the Deer Valley ski trails as well as private trails for owners and guests.
DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is hoping to beat that: He put his pine-and-granite house, located in a gated community, on the market in August for $20.5 million, making it the area's fourth-most-expensive listing. Built by Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn, more than 20 years ago at a cost of $10 million, the 14,000-square-foot, six-bedroom residence has an indoor pool and billiards room. The furnishings, including antique American West pieces, come with purchase.
But Park City home prices are well below average compared with price points in similar winter resorts such as Aspen and Vail. Despite agreement among real estate agents that prices began to rebound in 2012, the market remains a good value. Brokers note that the most interest is in ski-in, ski-out houses and condos in gated communities such as The Colony at White Pine Canyon or, for a condo closer to Deer Valley Resort, Empire Pass, a 1,600-acre development. Condos and houses there range from $1 million to $14 million.
Three years ago, according to area real estate agent Peggy Marty, there were 80 condo units for sale at The Village at Empire Pass, a ski-in, ski-out collection of properties near Deer Valley's Silver Strike Express chairlift. "Now there are only 14 units; that's a huge difference," she notes. "Our inventory is way down, so there will start to be upward pressure on the market."