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.
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.
Sellers in the Front Range housing market enjoyed a blistering spring season. Everything seemed to be breaking in favor of sellers — brisk appreciation, multiple offers, favorable terms, and generally quick sales. However, several trends are emerging that could derail (or at least diminish) a seller’s summer home sale plans. Here are three of the biggest trends likely to affect our summer market:
1. Rising Interest Rates. For the past several years, economists have been predicting that interest rates will rise from their historic lows (in the 3.5 percent range for a 30-year conventional fixed mortgage). It turns out that the eggheads finally got it right. Compared to this time two years ago, interest rates are at least a percent higher — and with the Fed raising their Funds Rate again at their last meeting (and with more raises on the horizon), it seems that even higher rates are coming. It seems now is an appropriate time to refer back to my article discussing the 1 percent Equals 10 Percent Rule, which is a rule of thumb that for each 1 percent increase in mortgage rates, your buying power decreases about 10 percent. When you consider this with the fact that average home prices in Boulder County have risen about 21 percent in the past two years, it means that the same buyers from two years ago can now afford 31 percent less than they could have back then.
If you’re thinking, “but I’m a seller, it doesn’t affect me.” Think of it in these terms: that pool of buyers who would have bought your 2,000 square-foot, three-bedroom house two years ago? They can now only afford a 1,380 square-foot, two-bedroom condo. That is, the pool of buyers for your home is significantly smaller today.
2. The market hates uncertainty. To say this has been the least conventional presidency of the modern era is an understatement. Setting aside the human side of the geopolitical uncertainty caused by the Trump administration (alienating the G7, backing out of the UN Human Rights Council, separating families at the border, etc.), the president has decided to wage trade wars on multiple fronts. And while these acts might be appeasing his base, they are starting to have a negative effect on the economy. As of mid-June, the stock market has given back all of the gains it made in 2018, due in large part to the trade wars started with China and other countries. Speaking of China, its investments in the United States have dropped 92 percent this year, and less foreign cash means less money to invest in the housing market.
The effect of this is straightforward — when people feel uncertain and less wealthy (i.e., watching their world turn topsy-turvy and stock portfolios drop), they are less willing to take risks and make changes. And while home ownership might be the best investment you’ll make, it still represents a risk, especially if you’re a first time home buyer. Thus, the uncertainties in the economy will produce fewer buyers than a steadily rising market.
3. What the frac? The fracking industry in Colorado has flourished since a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in 2016 held that state laws trumped local bans and regulations limiting fracking. In Weld County alone, there are approximately 23,000 fracking wells, and fights are currently raging over applications to drill near highly populated parts of Boulder and Broomfield counties. Wells are being placed within 1,000 feet of schools, and this encroaching boom has generated growing health and safety related concerns, from a Colorado School of Public Health study reporting that living near fracking wells may increase the risk of cancer, to a home in Firestone that literally exploded from a leaky underground pipeline.
As the concerns grow, so will buyers’ reservations about buying homes near fracking, which could slow demand in these areas. Longmont took the extraordinary step of paying two oil and gas companies $3 million to leave town and prevent future drilling. To be sure, there are competing property rights at issue, but if compromises are not reached that make people feel safe, then homeowners could see their home values fall.
In sum, our market has been red hot this spring, but there are issues on the horizon that could dampen summer sales prospects. Some of these are likely beyond our direct control, but I encourage you to make your voice heard where you feel you can make a difference. Your home’s equity (and your conscience) will thank you.
Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.