City housing proposal may be Faustian bargain

There is a serious shortage of homes in Boulder, as is evidenced by the roughly 65,000 people who commute in and out of Boulder on a daily basis.  About half of these people would live in Boulder if they could, but are forced to “drive until they qualify” for a home, which increases their carbon footprint, commute times, and overall stress level.  It is clear that creative solutions are needed to address this crucial issue.

The Boulder City Council’s proposed pilot program to “help” middle income families purchase market rate homes is, while creative, a Faustian bargain, in my opinion.  In the current iteration supported by members of the city council, the city would use a “loan-loss reserve fund” to guaranty second mortgages that would allow people to purchase more home than they would qualify for by themselves.  (An earlier version from a 2016 white paper would have had the city use its bonding power to raise money to buy a percentage of a purchaser’s home, which the city would get back at closing, plus some amount of appreciation).

 

If the program stopped there, I would applaud the city’s effort for trying to get more families into homes that would be owner occupied.  But here is where the Faustian bargain sets in.  In exchange for the city’s assistance, the buyer would have to “voluntarily” agree to deed restrict the home they just purchased to be permanently affordable.

Let us consider the consequences of this for the individual or family who purchases a home under this program:

  1. All of the burdens. The buyers now have all of the burdens of homeownership.  For example, if the furnace breaks or the roof wears out, the burden falls on the homeowner to replace them.  If the home loses value, it is ostensibly the homeowner who bears the loss when they look to resell.  And remember, in this fantasy, a lender is going to agree to loan buyers more money than the lender thinks they can reasonably afford because the city is going to guaranty a portion of the loan, which means the buyers will likely have more financial strain and be at a higher risk of default.  Whether the city can sufficiently incentivize a bank to overlook that they would likely be overextending buyers financially remains to be seen.
  2. Limited rewards.  While the homeowner is saddled with the burdens and risks of ownership, they do not reap the full reward of their home’s appreciation — the city sees to this through its deed restriction.  Suppose homeowners do an outstanding job of upgrading and maintaining their home, and the market rises over the 10 years they own their home, the owners will not receive the fruits of their labor and good fortune of an appreciating market.  Instead, the city will cap their appreciation at some percentage likely well below the market. 

For the majority of Americans, their home is their biggest asset and primary source of wealth creation.  The effect of the city’s program, then, is to make families who avail themselves of this program poorer over time relative to those who purchased homes on the open market.

It is, in my opinion, this asymmetry of unlimited risk and handicapped reward underlying the program that makes it so insidious.

If this wasn’t bad enough, let us now consider the consequences of this for the housing market in Boulder in general.  The more unfortunate souls the city “helps” via this program, the fewer homes will be available on the open market.  If the supply of homes is further restricted via this program, and demand for housing remains strong (remember the 30,000 commuters who would like to live in Boulder?), then the result will be home prices rising even faster.  So, in an effort to create a number of “permanently affordable” homes, the city will make the rest of Boulder much more expensive. 

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

Posted on March 5, 2019 at 3:00 pm
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The importance of property rights and good governance

The Boulder City Council’s recent handling of their attempted “emergency” vote to limit “McMansions” provides an excellent opportunity to step back and consider the importance of property rights and principles of good governance.

Why do we as a society care about property rights?

Primarily, we care about property rights because they are inextricably linked to increasing our collective prosperity.  “On average, GDP per capita, measured in

Blue and Gray Concrete House With Attic during Twilightterms of purchasing power parity, is twice as high in nations with the strongest protection of property than in those providing only fairly good protection,” according to a study of property rights published by the Heritage Foundation.  The reason this is so is because people are more willing to improve their property to its highest and best use when they know their rights are protected.

Conversely, when people do not feel secure in their property rights, when they feel the government can change or remove their rights without due process and fairness, people are not as willing to make improvements to their property and collective prosperity falls.

Good governance

From the above, we see that good governance is critical to protecting property rights and improving collective prosperity, but what is good governance made of?  According to the United Nations, the characteristics of good governance include participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, and accountability, among others. Standing in opposition to good governance are arbitrariness and capriciousness.

Let’s look at the definitions of these words and consider which terms most aptly describe the City Council’s recent actions.

Arbitrary:

• Definition:  based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system; (of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority.

• The term arbitrary describes a course of action or a decision that is not based on reason or judgment but on personal will or discretion without regard to rules or standards. An arbitrary decision is one made without regard for the facts and circumstances presented, and it connotes a disregard of the evidence.

• Antonym: democratic

Capricious:

• Definition: given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior; unpredictable and subject to whim.

• Antonym: consistent

A summary of the facts

On Oct. 15, Councilwoman Lisa Morzel requested that the council consider the following day an “emergency” temporary ordinance to stop the city from processing permits for homes over 3,500 square feet on lots 10,000 square feet or larger (clearly, a “McMansion” is much smaller than an actual mansion).  At the time, Morzel declined to articulate the cause of the emergency; nevertheless, the council added it to their agenda for the following day.  On Oct. 16, the City Council considered the motion and heard from 22 people, almost all of whom spoke in opposition to the motion.  Apparently because Councilwoman Cindy Carlisle was absent and an emergency motion requires a two-thirds majority to pass, council declined to vote on the measure, but noted that the issue may be considered again in December.

Evaluating the City Council’s actions

It does not appear to me that the above actions were consistent with the good governance principles.  One day’s notice did not allow all interested stakeholders to participate, lacked transparency because no reason for emergency action was articulated, and appears to have been taken in an attempt to avoid accountability.

Instead, the City Council’s apparent ambush-style attack on property rights appears to meet the very definitions of arbitrary and capricious — two terms that most governing bodies would not seek to embody.  First, rather than having an articulated reason that the issue of “McMansions” is suddenly an emergency, the decision to consider the issue on one-day’s notice appears to be based on a “personal whim, rather than any reason,” perhaps better explained by a “sudden and unaccountable change of mood.” Second, applying the moratorium only to homes over 3,500 square feet on lots 10,000 square feet or larger seems arbitrary (disregarding the facts and circumstances) when one considers that a person owning a 9,999 square foot lot could still build a 4,100 square foot home.

An appeal for good governance

Reducing the potential value of people’s property (likely their most valuable asset) is a serious diminution of their rights, and while the City Council likely has the authority to do so, such action should only be taken, if at all, after a process conducted in accordance with the principles of good governance.

 

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

Posted on October 31, 2018 at 3:00 pm
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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 valley real estate: Parsing fact from ‘fake news’

Boulder County Single-Family Listings 2012-2018

In this day and age, one could be forgiven for wondering if facts no longer matter or actions no longer have consequences. Whether one watches the national news or a local city council study session where members declare that they want fewer visitors (both tourists and locals from neighboring cities), it is clear we are living in strange times.

Despite all of the uncertainty, there are still a few facts left out there (at least where real estate is concerned), and from them we can draw some reasonable inferences.

The Facts:

1. Home prices throughout Boulder Valley are reaching all-time highs.

At the top of the list, the average single family home in:

  • Boulder now costs over $1,250,000
  • The suburban plains now costs almost $850,000
  • Louisville and the suburban mountains now cost over $750,000
  • Boulder County now costs $767,000

Likewise, the average attached home in:

  • Boulder now costs over $540,000
  • Louisville now costs over $400,000
  • Longmont now costs over $350,000
  • There are no places left in Boulder County or Broomfield where the average condo is less than $340,000.

2. Local housing inventory is at historic lows

The inventory of homes throughout Boulder County is at or near historic lows..

At the end of June, there were 858 single family homes on the market in Boulder County.  To add some perspective, the inventory of homes on the market at the end of June 2006 was 2,763, more than three times as many homes as there are now.  There are many reasons for this, including the fact that people are choosing to stay in place longer, increasing prices/lack of affordable places to move to, strong anti-growth policies, etc. Looking at the economic, political and structural factors at play, it appears that this scarce inventory is going to be the new normal. 

3. Despite the high prices and low inventory, demand remains high

We gauge the strength of demand for homes using several indicators, including months’ of inventory, the average time a home spends on the market, and the number of expired listings (homes that failed to sell on the market). 

Economists say that a balanced housing market has about six months’ of inventory, with more inventory being a buyer’s market and less being a seller’s market.  At the end of June, Boulder County had about 3.3 months’ of inventory, compared to 3.8 at this time last year. In the first half of 2016, the average home spent 65 days on the market (from listing to closing).  So far this year, that average is 57 days, 12.3 percent faster. Last year at this time, there were 33 expired listings, compared to only 26 this year, which is a drop of 21 percent.

Taken together, these factors demonstrate that demand is getting stronger, even in the face of rising prices and declining choices. And when you consider net migration to our area and plentiful jobs, it also appears that demand will keep increasing and homes will continue to appreciate until . . . when?

What is it that will cool our market and when will it happen?

There are several issues that have the potential to slow our market.  First, interest rates continue to rise and as they do they will drain buyers’ purchasing power.  Second, as prices have risen faster than wages over the last decade, there may come a point where home prices have to stall in order to allow buyers’ savings to catch up.  Third, a macro-level event, such as a recession, international war, etc., could cool the entire economy and affect our market.

The set of variables is too complex to predict accurately what the precise cause(s) will be or when it will come, but it will come.  The good news (if you own real estate here) is that there is no better place to invest in real estate than here — even in a downturn.

 

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

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

Posted on July 1, 2018 at 12:02 pm
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