At the start of the year, I read an article about the 10 biggest threats to the global economy in 2020, written by a prestigious international organization. “Global pandemic” did not make the list, which goes to show how generally lousy we humans are at accurately predicting the future. As such, any predictions that I (or anyone else) could give you about how this pandemic will unfold, in terms of its impact on the local real estate market, would likely fare no better than random chance. Similarly, with the situation evolving so rapidly, any advice or best practices I could offer today may become obsolete in short order.
So, rather than peddle advice and predictions, let’s pause and take stock.
Back in 2008, the financial crisis was sparked in the real estate sector and led to a crisis that nearly collapsed the banking system. We see from history that recessions that begin in the housing sector tend to be worse and last longer than recessions ignited by other factors. Today, the recession we are likely heading into has a very different background — our economy and housing market were far stronger and more resilient, thanks in part to the measures put in place after that recession (tighter lending restrictions, more stringent liquidity requirements for banks, etc.). In fact, we were enjoying the longest economic expansion since WWII.
According to National Association of Realtors chief economist Dr. Lawrence Yun, “Conditions today are very different than the last boom/bust cycle. In 2004, we had a huge oversupply of new homes. In 2019, we still had a huge undersupply of new homes. In fact, we haven’t been building enough new homes to keep up with demand in over a decade. During the last downturn, there was the subprime factor and the variable interest rate. Now there are fewer variable rate mortgages and virtually no sub-prime mortgages.”
Colorado is well-positioned as a top economy nationally. Real GDP growth in Colorado ranked seventh in the nation year-over-year, and the state’s five-year average ranks fifth, according to economist Rich Wobbekind with CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business. Wobbekind says that Boulder County’s economy has been outgrowing the state economy, and is uniquely able to weather a recession. Boulder County’s economic vitality is fueled by a highly educated workforce and diverse ecosystem of industries including government research facilities, aerospace, biotechnology, cleantech, and information technology — industries that endure in the long term.
Boulder ranks number one in the nation for home value stability and growth for the fifth consecutive year, according to SmartAsset. As discussed in our recently published real estate report, based on our extensive data and market analysis, we have had a healthy housing market through 2019. Even through the grim days of the Great Recession, home prices in Boulder County declined only by 5 percent and recovered quickly post-recession. If you held onto your home for at least six years, there is no period when you would have lost money on your investment here.
While past performance is no guarantee of future results, the real estate market in our area has a history of weathering recent recessions better than other places and recovering more quickly after the storm has passed. Given everything that is going on, I still believe that owning property in Boulder Valley is and will continue to be an excellent investment.
Be well and do what you can to flatten the curve. Stay home.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
2018 was another strong year for residential real estate in Colorado in general and Boulder Valley in particular, but what’s in store for 2019?
First, a look back at 2018. Nationally, Colorado jumped from 10th to fifth among all states for one-year appreciation, with a 9.16 percent increase in home values. Boulder County improved from 57th in 2017 to 41st in 2018, with over 9.5 percent price appreciation. Below are the 10 “Vital Statistics” for Boulder Valley we track to gauge the health of the real estate market from year to year.
As you can see, most of the indicators point toward an appreciating market, though increasing interest rates and a drop in the percentage of homes under contract indicate potential signs of weakness emerging.
In the city of Boulder, the average price of a single-family home topped $1,215,000, which was up 11 percent from 2017. However, Boulder also saw almost 50 fewer home sales than last year, which highlights our continued shortage of inventory. The most affordable city in Boulder County continues to be Longmont, but even there, the average price of a single-family home is now over $460,000 and may reach $500,000 if its appreciation trend continues.
One statistic that gets very little attention is that we often see home prices dip slightly in the second half of the year as compared to the first. As the chart below shows, we generally see appreciation through June or July, and then values trail off slightly. What this chart means is that, if you’re a seller your best bet is to sell in the spring, and if you’re a buyer, try to buy in the fall when home prices are stagnant or dropping.
2018 was quite strong — will 2019 be similar?
Locally, conditions in our area generally support continued appreciation in residential real estate. The total number of active listings available is still less than half of what it was before the Great Recession, which is likely to keep home prices growing, especially as our economy remains strong (very low unemployment) and we continue to see net migration into our area.
There are, however, several trends that could derail continued growth in our market. First, interest rates are almost a full point higher than they were in 2017, and I’ve discussed before how a one point increase in interest rates can reduce purchasing power by 10 percent. The Fed had indicated its intent to continue to raise rates in 2019, however, the news from the Fed’s most recent meeting in January suggested that they may hold off until at least June.
Second, the potential for a recession in the next year or two could begin dragging on home sales. One indicator is that the yield curve (which compares rates for short-term vs. long-term Treasury notes) has been getting flatter. When the yield curve inverts (that’s when rates for 10-year notes dip below rates for 2-year notes), it is very often followed by a recession.
Finally, local no-growth and anti-growth policies, regulations, and mindsets are making it increasingly difficult to add inventory to our region. The dearth of homes to sell could negatively impact our market — and it is the only factor here that we as citizens have a measure of control over.
2019 has the potential to be another great year for residential real estate in Boulder Valley, but we need to be mindful of the potential derailers mentioned above.
Originally posted on BizWest. Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.