The danger of Boulder’s CAVE people thinking

Let’s face it, what happens in Boulder affects the rest of Boulder Valley in terms of housing, transportation, economics and myriad other dimensions.  If you want to know where your neighborhood is headed, it’s informative to know what Boulder is doing, even if you live in say, Erie.  And, if you even casually follow Boulder politics these days, you might be perplexed and concerned by the (seemingly) increasingly bizarre actions coming from Boulder’s City Council.

For a council that purports to support the environment, public safety, and inclusivity, its recent actions don’t seem to match its rhetoric.  In my opinion, however, its actions make sense when you understand the true underlying motivations and desires — and to do that, you have to understand Boulder’s CAVE people.

Who are Boulder’s CAVE people and what do they want?

Simply put, I call these people “Citizens Against Virtually Everything” (CAVE), and they seem to have the ear of the majority of the current council.  It appears that the plurality of Boulder’s CAVE people arrived in Boulder in the 1960s and ‘70s as students, hippies, ski bums, etc.  They decided to stay, bought homes here, and have become relatively well off as Boulder’s home price appreciation outstripped virtually everywhere else in the country.  At the same time, they seem not to like the multiple dimensions of growth Boulder has enjoyed over the last several decades; indeed, their strongest desire is apparently to see Boulder return to as it was “back then,” with fewer people, fewer businesses, less crowding, etc.  Their apparent goals, then, are to slow, stop, or reverse growth of all kinds in Boulder.  Their tactics appear to be to (disingenuously?) cloak themselves in the rhetoric of environmentalism, populism, and liberalism in order to achieve these goals.

Recent examples of CAVE people tactics and their effects:

1. South Boulder Flood Mitigation Plan.  The 2013 flood brought the issue of flood mitigation to the front of everyone’s minds in Boulder Valley, but the study of how to best deal with this issue in South Boulder goes back well before then.  After nearly a decade of study, and more than $2 million in fees and environmental studies, and extensive public engagement, the City Council had a few feasible flood mitigation plans, one of which (500-Year Variant 2), had the support of the University of Colorado (the property owner), the city’s Water Resources Advisory Board, and general public.  One would think, then, that it would be an easy decision for the City Council to support.  One, however, would be wrong.

Recently, the Boulder City Council voted to proceed with a different flood mitigation plan, one that is opposed by CU, disregards expert testimony, the preferences of the city’s Water Resources Advisory Board, and general public sentiment. 

Why would the council disregard science, experts, reason, common sense and nearby residents?  Using the lens of CAVE people logic, it may be because they believe that taking a position in opposition to all of these things will greatly slow the process of CU developing that land, which fits the goals of “slow, stop, reverse.”

2. Sales Tax Revenue. Cities like Boulder depend on sales tax revenue as an important component of their budgets.  Earlier this year, Boulder reported a $4 million budget shortfall, attributable primarily to flattening sales tax in the city — at a time when nearby cities are enjoying double digit growth in their sales tax revenues.  Members of the City Council held a study session on the topic on July 10 in which some members declared that they apparently want fewer visitors to Boulder (both tourists and locals from neighboring cities).  They expressed these opinions even with the knowledge that locals already visit downtown Boulder an average of seven times per month, but tourists spend several times what locals do per visit.

Why, in a city that prides itself on being welcoming and at a time when sales tax revenues are falling, would members of council declare an apparent desire for fewer tourist (and accompanying tax dollars)?

3.  Increased housing density. Council members often voice their support for efforts to provide inclusive housing, reduce Boulder’s carbon footprint, and improve our city’s environmental sustainability; however, when it comes to increased density — the thing that would arguably go the farthest toward achieving those aspirations — the council’s words do not match their deeds.  Boulder’s draconian housing restrictions, including the 1 percent cap on annual residential growth (which we’ve never actually hit), blanket height restrictions, severe occupancy limits, among other measures, has forced our workforce to largely live outside the city.  This, in turn, causes the more than 60,000 daily commutes into and out of Boulder. By simply ameliorating some of these harsh policies, and allowing a modicum of sustainable and smart development, Boulder could include more of its workforce within city limits and could considerably lessen its environmental impact.

Why, then, has the city actively resisted efforts that would address these critical housing and environmental issues?  One possibility — CAVE people logic: if it is extremely difficult to add housing density, not only will it slow population growth, it will force workers into longer commutes and growing frustration.  Over time, businesses will relocate to areas more accessible to their workforce, and there will be fewer people, fewer jobs, less congestion… like it was “back then.”

What’s to come?

Rather than building a bridge to the future, Boulder’s CAVE people seem intent on digging a trench to the past.  In fact, their efforts seem to be achieving results — not only did Boulder run a budget deficit, but its population actually decreased between 2016 and 2017.  There is no stasis for cities — they are either growing or dying.  It seems the CAVE people are succeeding at pushing their agenda of “slow, stop, reverse,” through council.  And if they win, all of us who are truly for the environment, public safety, and inclusivity will lose.

 

Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.

Originally posted by BizWest on Wednesday, June 1st, 2018. Original found here.

Posted on September 2, 2018 at 6:11 pm
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Boulder’s average single-family home price surpasses $1.2M

This 4,987-square-foot home on Boulder Creek was featured in Bizwest’s Distinctive Homes of the Boulder Valley in April 2016. According to Zillow.com it sold in May 2017 for $3,495,000.

 

At the close of 2017, many were speculating that Boulder had finally reached a price ceiling at the limits of people’s purchasing power. The speculation continued that prices in Boulder would level off for some significant period of time as the city waited for buyers to accumulate more savings, wages to rise, etc. After all, approximately 40 percent of the homes sold in Boulder were over $1 million last year, so surely the pool of buyers able to buy a million dollar home must be depleted, right? The first quarter of 2018 has largely disproven that theory.

The average single family home price in Boulder reached $1,207,403 by the end of March, which represents a whopping 21 percent increase over the same period last year. Anecdotally in my real estate sales practice this year, I have seen multiple homes listed over $1.3 million ultimately sell for at least $200,000 over asking price. On the seller side, it is a cause for celebration, as the next chapter of their lives will be unexpectedly more comfortable. On the buyer side, it can be incredibly frustrating and demoralizing to save for a major purchase, believe you are well-positioned to make your dream come true, only to have the finish line moved forward on you. When you include the fact that about one quarter of the city’s recent home purchases have been cash transactions — and mortgage interest rates are a full point higher than last year — you begin to understand the size of the challenge facing buyers.

Looking back to 2008, you can see that home prices have almost doubled in the last 10 years (see City of Boulder chart).

Looking back even further to 1978 (see Appreciation chart), one can see that this appreciation trend is not an anomaly in Boulder. In fact, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Boulder County has appreciated more than anywhere else in the country going back to 1991.

I have used earlier versions of the chart [to the right] in previous articles to try to assess when our current appreciation cycle would level off. Back then, I noted that the pattern going back to 1978 would have predicted that our appreciation cycle would have ended in mid-2017. I further stated, however, that there were factors present today that were not issues previously, the most prominent of which being that Boulder has almost reached full build-out under current zoning regulations.  That is, we are much closer to running out of land now, which will continue to put upward pressure on existing homes.

 

What does all of this mean?

Crossing the $1.2 million threshold means that Boulder is becoming disconnected from the surrounding cities. Some call it becoming a “resort market” like Aspen, others compare it to Silicon Valley (Nerdwallet published a study in support of this assertion, wherein in Boulder was listed in the top five least affordable housing markets, along with San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Honolulu and San Diego). However you characterize the situation, it is becoming clear that this is not an aberration and the challenges facing buyers will likely continue to mount as summer approaches.

 

Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.

Originally posted by BizWest on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018. Original found here.

Posted on May 3, 2018 at 3:52 pm
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Boulder-area market holding steady, proving strong demand eclipses low inventory

It’s beginning to look a lot like this year’s Boulder County real estate sales performance will outperform last year’s robust close. Year-over-year sales data for 2017 shows slight improvements compared to 2016, even with inventory at persistently low levels.

“It just proves that demand is strong and consistent,” says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor® Association.

Single-family home sales in the Boulder area improved 2.1 percent year-to-date through November 2017 compared to the prior year – 4,224 homes sold vs. 4,138.

And the sale of 1,377 condominiums and townhomes through November represented a 5.5 percent gain compared to the prior year’s 1,305 units sold.

“We saw year-over-year sales improvements, but the pull-back in November compared to October was more than average,” says Hotard.

He’s referring to the 7.9 percent drop in single-family home sales in November compared to October — 359 vs.  390 homes sold. Attached dwellings sold decreased 2.4 percent month-over-month with 123 units sold vs. 126.

Since the weather was excellent for house hunting, the pullback is likely indicative of more than the typical seasonal slowdown.

“Inventory is probably the culprit in the November pullback this year, which resulted in not only fewer sales, but also a softening of prices,” he says. When it comes to low inventory, there is “no end is in sight for the foreseeable future.”

Hotard believes price-softening is confined to higher end homes where inventories are larger and homes take twice as many days on the market before selling. “Lower priced homes are not affected,” he adds.

While buyer demand is strong, low inventory can’t supply that demand. November’s inventory is telling: Single-family homes for sale in the Boulder-area dropped 22.8 percent in November compared to October with 777 homes for sale vs. 1,006. Condos and townhomes felt the pinch slightly harder with a 24.7 percent drop for the month of November – 146 units vs. 194.

Mortgage interest deductions may diminish in importance as a result of the doubling of the standard deduction as part of recent tax reform legislation. The National Association of Realtors predicts only a small percent of homeowners will take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction in years to come because of that change.

 

*Photo courtesy of Edwin Andrade on Unsplash.com

Posted by Tom Kalinski Founder RE/MAX of Boulder on Friday, January 5th, 2018 at 10:15am.

Posted on January 16, 2018 at 5:38 pm
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