The end may be here (but don’t panic)

At this time last year, our market was experiencing all-time highs for average home prices and all-time lows for housing inventory.  Many of the market indicators we track were pointing to continued strong demand and price appreciation, especially with the continued influx of people into Boulder and Broomfield counties.  And yet, with home price appreciation outstripping wage gains for the better part of a decade, in the back of everyone’s minds was the question: “How long can this go on?”  We may now be starting to get our answer.

The big picture

In 2018 last summer, the Federal Housing Finance Agency measured the average appreciation nationally at 6.89 percent which slowed this year to 5.05 percent.  Then, FHFA ranked Colorado as having the fourth-highest one-year appreciation in the country, at 10.63 percent.  Boulder County ranked 68th among metropolitan areas in the country with 8.25 percent appreciation.  This year, Colorado has dropped to 28th, with 4.78 percent appreciation, while Boulder fell to number 91 with 6.14 percent appreciation  So, Colorado and Boulder County are cooling compared to the rest of the country, but, as a bright spot, Boulder County’s appreciation since 1991 still leads the entire nation at 417.28 percent.

There are 10 statistics we track to gauge the state of the residential real estate market, and studying the movement of these indicators can give you a good sense of the direction of the market.  For most of this decade, those indicators have generally pointed toward a rising market, marked by tight inventory, brisk appreciation, quick sales, and low months of inventory (the time it would take to sell all existing homes if no new homes entered the market).  At the close of the second quarter of 2019, we are seeing a strong shift for both the single-family homes and attached dwellings (see charts).

As you can see, nearly every indicator we track is pointing to a softening, shifting market, aside from interest rates.  And while Months of Inventory still indicates a seller’s market, the trajectory is moving toward a balanced market (between five and seven months of inventory).

And now for the good news

If you are an aspiring buyer in Boulder County, your timing is excellent: inventory is up, so you have more homes to choose from; prices are flat or falling, so you may be able to get a (relative) bargain; and interest rates have dropped once again, so you can get more house for the money.

If you are a homeowner or thinking of selling, the news is not all bad: you’ve rode an impressive wave of appreciation for the better part of a decade; and even when Boulder’s market stalls, it typically does not lose much value (even in the great recession, home prices only dropped about 5 percent).

Remember, don’t panic.  Boulder is still the best place in the country to invest in real estate.

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

Posted on August 1, 2019 at 1:00 pm
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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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Be mindful of warning signs in housing market

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.

Posted on February 6, 2019 at 3:00 pm
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