Real Estate sales near Mountain Creek in Vernon very slow this year due to warm winter


SKIING down the mountain in the morning and golfing on the fairways in the afternoon, with just a five-minute drive in between? How can that be possible?

And yet it is exactly what some intrepid sportsmen are doing in the northwest corner of New Jersey, where the Crystal Springs/Mountain Creek resort in Sussex County continues to produce artificial snow, but has also opened its golf courses a full six weeks earlier than normal.

“We call it the ski-and-tee package,” said Bill Benneyan, the vice president for marketing at Mountain Creek. “It’s 50 degrees out, and there’s still snow on the mountain.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Benneyan said, ski business is down 15 percent at Mountain Creek this winter, which has been particularly mild, especially compared with last year’s. With almost no natural snow, the task of enticing people to spend the day at the ski resort, formerly known as Great Gorge and Vernon Valley, not to mention invest in real estate here, has proved challenging.

“It’s been a tough winter,” said Jason Brinker, a sales associate with the McCullough Group at Re/Max Connection in West Milford. “But buyers realize it’s a gamble every year. But our buyers are a different breed. They’re not looking to go to Killington, Vt. They’re coming here because of the easy commute to New York.”

Those trying to market the hundreds of condominiums, town houses and single-family homes in close proximity to the ski resort have had to adjust their pitch somewhat, first by letting prospective buyers know that Mountain Creek has some of the most sophisticated snow-making machinery in the country, and second by promoting the area’s four-season appeal.

To that end, Crystal Springs and Mountain Creek’s new owners, a group of investors led by Eugene Mulvihill, have been enhancing the area’s amenities, not only opening a 55,000-square-foot ski lodge and increasing the number of tubing lanes to 35, but also planning a zip line and a roller coaster for the summer. The area already has seven golf courses, a water park, downhill bike trails and two spas.

When prospective buyers come to visit, Mr. Brinker said, he gives them the grand tour — the ski trails, the lake communities, the spas. While admitting that the scarcity of snow has had an influence on clients’ impressions, he said, “They have to realize, I make them realize, it’s been a bad winter here.”

Still, snow or no snow, this area is considered one of the most depressed real estate markets in the state — so the main driver of sales lately has been fire-sale prices. Kevin Detwiller, a broker at Mountain Resort Properties, which handles most of the sales at the several developments connected to the resort, said business had been brisk of late. Returning from vacation recently, he said, he found three offers awaiting him on condominiums in Great Gorge Village, a 1,400-unit mountainside development.

“I’m feeling a percolation at the bottom of the market,” Mr. Detwiller said. “As prices come down, people are starting to buy.” (He also said it had been a fairly good ski year, “albeit, no natural snow.”)

Prices are down significantly from what they were six or seven years ago, after some of these developments opened. For instance, Mr. Brinker said, he sold a one-bedroom one-bath condominium unit in the Appalachian Hotel in November for $42,000 on a short sale. A similar unit sold for $275,000 in 2004, he said.

One attraction, at least potentially, is that as a condominium-hotel, the place allows owners to “bank” their units and rent them out for about $175 a night. Nigel Cunniffe, a broker/sales manager at Mountain Resort Properties, said he had had offers on nine town houses being sold as short sales at Black Creek Sanctuary, a gated community whose units lesbian porn once went for more than $500,000 and are now selling in the mid-$100,000s.

But inventory remains high. The town of Vernon has 350 homes for sale, with 49 sold in the last three months, according to Mr. Brinker. Neighboring Hardyston has 141 houses listed, with 21 sold since early December.

“There are a lot of homes on the market,” he said, “and not many people are buying them.”

Mr. Cunniffe estimated that half his recent celebrity porn business had been in short sales. Prices will remain relatively low until the excessive short-sale inventory is sold off, he predicted.

Still, “a lot of people are deciding it’s a great time to buy,” he added. “People are buying multi-units, either to put into the rental market, or for the appreciation they’re going to see. If someone is paying $150,000 for one of these places, you can’t even build it for that much.”

Richard Blas of North Bergen, interested in getting back into skiing after a hiatus, decided he wanted a ski house for his family, and in December 2010 ended up buying a two-bedroom bilevel condo next to the mountain in Great Gorge Village for $95,000. He said he had been out on the trails only twice this season, noting, “It’s been nothing like last year.” But he isn’t complaining about the mild winter, because it has allowed him, his wife and two children the chance to take advantage of other amenities at or near the resort.

“You can get a ski place anywhere,” Mr. Blas said, “but what are you going to do if there’s no snow? Here you can go to the pool, go horseback riding. They’ve got the lodge and the nightclub. It’s like being on a cruise ship. You can go out and have a couple of cocktails and not have to worry about driving home at night.”


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