ArticlesBizWest November 4, 2020

Winter is coming, and impact on real estate uncertain

Winter is coming and, much like the Game of Thrones series, no one can predict exactly what will happen with the Boulder Valley real estate market, but you can be sure that there are going to be some crazy plot twists — and we can hope that the forces of good will win out in the end.  So, rather than make bold predictions, this article will look back at the first three quarters of 2020 and identify a couple of trends that are likely to affect Boulder Valley real estate into 2021.

Looking Back at 2020

2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year in real estate.  The second quarter of the year was by far the most volatile, with a large dip due to the initial COVID-19 surge and accompanying lockdown, and then a burgeoning resurgence as the situation improved.  By the close of the third quarter, you could look at some of our statistics and think that we have had a pretty typical, even robust, year in real estate.

Trend 1: Growing buyer preference for detached homes

While the foregoing statistics indicate an overall strong market, other statistics point toward the first trend we are observing, the change in buyer sentiment in favor of single-family homes over attached dwellings.

As you can see, the inventory of single-family homes available for sale has dropped significantly (to the lowest amount on record) while the percentage of these homes already under contract has gone up tremendously, indicating a very strong demand for these homes.  On the other hand, the number of available attached units has actually increased over last year and the percent under contract has only risen modestly.  The most compelling explanation for this phenomenon is that, due largely to COVID-19, buyers (and their families) are anticipating working and schooling from home for many months to come and are, therefore, seeking larger homes with at least some separation from their neighbors.  I would anticipate this trend to continue well into 2021.

Trend 2: COVID-19 impacts

It appears that COVID-19 will continue to significantly impact people’s lives — and the economy — for months (possibly years) to come.  We discussed its ability to affect buyer preferences above, but COVID-19 may likely have a more direct effect on the real estate market in several ways.  First, if COVID-19 cases continue trending upward and cause local or state officials to issue another full lockdown (i.e., a stay at home order), it could freeze the market again and have devastating consequences that could take even longer to bounce back from than last time. Second, as COVID-19 continues to be a drag on the economy, the more would-be buyers will lose their jobs and with them the ability to purchase homes.  Thus, the longer COVID-19 persists, the more it is likely to erode buyer demand, even with mortgage rates at historic lows.

What can we do?

Looking at the numbers and likely trends, it appears that there are a couple of things we can do to improve the situation going forward.  First, it is imperative to drive the COVID-19 numbers back down, which means practicing social distancing, wearing masks, etc.  Second, if you own a single-family home and are considering selling, this winter will be an unusually favorable time to sell, given the strong demand and paucity of inventory.  If, on the other hand, you own an attached home, you might consider holding off on selling until conditions are more favorable (if you are able to do so).  Finally, if you are a buyer, you should carefully evaluate your financial situation before deciding whether to move forward.  If you decide to do so, expect stiff competition for single-family homes but also know that you could find some potential deals if you are looking to buy a condo or townhome.

Keep in mind that owning a home Boulder Valley has been one of the best investments you could make over the past 30 years and that trend is likely to continue after COVID-19 is just a terrible memory.  Take care of yourselves and each other and we will make it through this better than before.

Originally published by Jay Kalinski, 2020 chair of the Boulder Area Realtor Association and owner of ReMax of Boulder and ReMax Elevate.

ArticlesBizWest October 1, 2020

What will Boulder Valley real estate look like in the fall?

By “fall,” I mean autumn, not the fall of civilization, which one could be forgiven for misunderstanding.  The past six months have been a crazy rollercoaster ride, and many of the statistics we track indeed look like a sadistic rollercoaster.  One statistician remarked to me that “I have datapoints on my charts where no datapoints have ever been before.”

So, where are we now and what is the fall likely to look like? Let us look at a few key indicators that help tell the story.

Appreciation.  Many people predicted that as uncertainty grew in the pandemic, people would become more conservative in their decisions and less willing to take the risk of purchasing a new home, and average home prices would fall accordingly.  This, however, has not been the case, and single-home values were actually 7% higher at the end of this August than they were in August 2019. The average price of a single-family home in Boulder County is now over $850,000.  What has caused home values to generally increase during the pandemic?  Much of this phenomenon can be explained by looking at inventory, buyer psychology, and interest rates.

Inventory. Inventory, or more specifically the lack thereof, is the biggest story this fall.  At the end of August, the number of active listings in Boulder County was down more than 46% from the same time in 2019.  In fact, we are currently experiencing the fewest number of homes per sale that we have ever seen at this time of year. Remember above where conventional wisdom (wrongly) held that people would become more conservative during a pandemic? Well, it turns out that while it may have been wrong with respect to buyers, it appears to have been a spot-on prediction for sellers.  It seems that those who already own a home are holding onto it as a form of security and are less willing to part with it in these increasingly uncertain times.  And, as basic micro economic theory dictates, when the supply of a good is restricted, it can increase the price of that good, even when buyer demand stays the same.  Only in this case, buyer demand has not stayed the same, it has increased.

Buyer Psychology. It would seem that shelter truly is one of life’s basic necessities, and it further appears that many buyers are seeking to own a home in order to feel more certain in their situations. This can be seen in the 11% decrease in the average days a home spends on the market before selling as compared to last year. And not only are buyers looking for just any home, the pandemic has shifted the kind of home buyers are looking for. Because many people are anticipating spending a greater share of their time at home, they are now looking for larger homes (a home office, more room for family members to spread out, etc.), as well as more land.  For example, the median price for a single-family home (which comes with some land) in the city of Boulder increased about 2% from last August through this August, but the median price for attached dwellings (which mostly do not include a yard) fell 9% over the same period. Not only are buyers looking for larger homes with more land, thanks to historically low interest rates, they can also afford a lot more.

Interest Rates. I have discussed the 1% = 10% Rule for mortgage rates in the past.  Essentially, this rules states that, for every 1% drop in mortgage rates, a buyer can afford 10% more house. And interest rates have plummeted nearly 2%, back to historic lows — to 3% or less for a 30-year fixed conventional mortgage.  We are seeing buyers taking advantage of this extra buying power to buy larger homes with more land. In fact, the median price of homes on the suburban plains and in the mountains, which typically feature larger homes on larger lots, are up 16.3% (almost $100,000) and 18.4%, respectively, compared to this time last year.

Looking forward. What all this means as we head deeper into fall is that it will likely be an unusually good time for homeowners to sell, as less competition and strong demand boost home prices. It is also an unusually good time for home buyers because mortgage rates are projected to stay very low — if they can find an available home.

Of course, this party could be interrupted by more significant spikes in COVID-19 and/or the political fallout of a presidential election whose results are not immediately known. So, buyers and sellers, enjoy October and make hay while the sun shines.

Originally posted by Jay Kalinski is the 2020 chair of the Boulder Area Realtor Association and owner of ReMax of Boulder and ReMax Elevate.

ArticlesBizWest July 2, 2019

Where have all the buyers gone?

well-functioning market consists of two sides: suppliers who offer a particular good for sale and consumers who purchase those goods.  In the Boulder Valley residential real estate market since 2012, there have been more consumers looking to buy homes than there were sellers offering homes for sale, which has led to a long appreciation period for homes.  Now, however, it appears that the number of buyers is dropping as is their willingness to pay ever-increasing prices.

Spotting the trend

First, how do we know that there are fewer buyers in the market?  The most direct measure of buyer activity that my company tracks (courtesy of Broker Associate Mike Malec) is the number of showings per available listing.  From examining the data, it is fairly easy to see that this year’s showing activity is markedly below the recent boom years, but is still above the levels present during the recession.

Second, to further substantiate this decline in buyer activity, we can look at more indirect measures, such as average sales prices, available inventory of homes on the market, and average time a home will be on the market before sale.  Each of these markers indicates a decline in buyer activity.  Through May of this year, the average price of a single-family home in Boulder has fallen 0.6 percent, while the average attached unit has fallen 4 percent, compared to the same timeframe last year.  This indicates that there are fewer buyers competing for available homes to the point where home appreciation rates have stalled.  At the same time, the amount of homes available on the market has increased nearly 20 percent for single-family homes and almost 50 percent for attached ones, while the average time on the market for single family homes has gone up 5 percent and nearly 20 percent for attached ones.  These statistics indicate that those buyers in the market are becoming choosier and are able to take their time making decisions.

Based on the above discussion, it seems that there are fewer buyers in the market and that those who are in the market are more cautious, but why? 

Economic Conditions?

It does not appear that our local economic conditions explain the drop in buyer activity.  According to the State Demographer’s office, people are continuing to move into Boulder and Broomfield counties, albeit at a slower rate than previous years (though the city of Boulder has seen its population declining in the last two years).  And local unemployment levels continue to be historically low. 

Economic conditions at the national level are softening, to the point where the Fed is discussing interest rate cuts, so these conditions may play some role.  But, interest rates are actually about half a percent lower than they were at this time last year, which would appear to weaken that argument.

Could it be the weather?

Another possible explanation I’ve heard is that our unusually cold and snow winter could have suppressed buyer demand as people were less willing to trudge through the snow to go see houses.  While this is plausible, all else being equal, we would have expected to see that pent up demand being released as the weather improves, but we just have not seen that play out in the data yet.

The takeaway

Whatever the cause of the decline in buyer activity may be, local real estate legend Larry Kendall of the Group Inc. Real Estate in Fort Collins always says that buyers are the smartest people in the market, so they may be acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, meaning that they could be a leading indicator that our market is shifting from a seller’s market to either a balanced or buyer’s market.  If you are a seller, be wary of pricing above the market in these shifting conditions.

Originally posted by Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.