2020 was a chaotic rollercoaster for the Boulder Valley real estate market. Luckily, home values weathered the storm better than anyone could have hoped, and we are now primed for potentially the most real estate sales volume we have ever seen.
Buyer Demand. Our company has tracked buyer demand on a daily basis for many years, and it is higher than it has ever been for this time of year. This demand is especially strong for single-family homes. It appears that the trend of buyers desiring larger living spaces and more land will continue into 2021, as the pandemic lingers on and the work from home movement has finally crossed the chasm into mainstream acceptance. This latter work from home development is particularly salient for Boulder Valley, where our 300-plus days of sunshine per year and world-class quality of life are attracting those who can now work from anywhere. At each of our weekly sales meetings this year (attended by more than 100 of the best agents anywhere), we hear story after story of multiple offers on listings, prices getting bid up by tens of thousands of dollars, and buyers who are getting frustrated with all of the stiff competition. It seems that the pool of eager buyers is very deep this year.
Interest Rates. Adding fuel to the buyer demand fire is the fact that interest rates are forecast to stay at once-in-a-lifetime low rates for the foreseeable future. Our most veteran agents tell stories of helping people buy homes in the 1980s with mortgage rates above 18% — that is like financing a home purchase with a credit card. Now, buyers can expect to obtain loan rates at-or-below 3%, which is as close to free money (when average inflation is considered) as we are likely to ever see in America.
So, what could possibly derail this buyer juggernaut? Well, here are a couple of the most likely possibilities.
Lack of Inventory. In 2020, despite high buyer demand, many would-be sellers opted to stay put in their current homes. It is part of the human condition to become more conservative in the face of uncertainty, and COVID-19 presented humanity with one of the biggest uncertainties of the past 100 years. Thus, it is not surprising that we finished 2020 with only 313 single-family homes for sale in all of Boulder County, down 37% compared to the end of 2019 (498 homes). For added context, consider that at the end of 2002, we had more than 1,800 homes on the market.
It remains an open question as to whether sellers will get the message that 2021 will be an excellent time to sell a home — and an even bigger question regarding whether sellers will act on this message. If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then we really could have the highest dollar volume of home sales ever in Boulder Valley this year. This is a big “if,” however, because of…
COVID-19. At the time of this writing, more than 25 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 and more than 400,000 of them have died. This has — and will — greatly affect home sales in ways predictable and unforeseeable. Thankfully, there are multiple effective vaccines currently being distributed and administered. There remain, however, several unknowns on this front: Will too many people refuse to get vaccinated and thus thwart herd immunity? How quickly will enough of the population be vaccinated to provide such herd immunity and restore more certainty for people’s decisions? Will the current vaccines be efficacious against new (and perhaps more virulent) strains of the virus that are emerging?
A lot of things vis-à-vis COVID-19 will have to break in our favor this year to give enough sellers the confidence to move ahead with their home sale decisions, which is the only way we will even come close to meeting the apparently insatiable buyer demand. If we are lucky, this could be a year for the record books (in a good way).
Regardless of how things go with our fight against COVID-19, 2021 promises to be an excellent time to sell a home if you’re considering doing so… and a very challenging time to be a buyer.
May we all be lucky in 2021.
Jay Kalinski is the owner of ReMax of Boulder and ReMax Elevate.
The year 2019 was another very good year for residential real estate in the Boulder Valley, but unlike the previous five-plus years, it was marked by slowing appreciation, slightly rising inventory (finally), and longer average time on the market.
In Boulder County, median and average sales prices of single-family homes increased by a very modest 1 percent, while attached dwelling (condos and townhomes) appreciation was essentially flat. In the city of Boulder, the average single-family home sales price increased a modest 2.6 percent to an immodest $1,246,250, while attached dwellings increased 2.4 percent to $538,360.
Single-family listing inventory in Boulder County reached a peak of 1,058 homes and attached dwellings topped out at 370 units on the market, both reaching their peak in June, and both above the peak inventory of the last several years. To put this in perspective, however, the inventory of single-family homes in 2006 (just before the Great Recession) reached a peak of 2,763, more than two-and-one-half times the peak of 2019. That is, we still have far less inventory available than we used to.
The average number of days homes stayed on the market before closing reached 61 days, an increase over last year by 5.2 percent for single-family homes and 15.1 percent for attached units. The average months of inventory (the time it would take for all existing homes to sell if no additional homes came on the market) rose to 1.8 months, an increase of 6 percent for single-family homes and 28.6 percent for attached units. By traditional standards, this would still qualify as a seller’s market (when months’ of inventory is in the 5-6 percent range, it is considered a balanced market, and we are still a long way from that). Charts on top show a snapshot of the Boulder County 10 vital statistics we track to gauge the market.
So, what is going on? Why do the months’ of inventory indicate that we’re in a strong seller’s market when many of the other metrics are pointing toward a more balanced market? And what can this tell us about 2020?
Explaining the months of inventory question
There appear to be a couple of key factors keeping our months of inventory much lower than historically. First, the nation as a whole — and Boulder County especially — have been building far fewer new homes that we were building pre-Great Recession. This graph from census.gov illustrates the situation well:
In Boulder County, we are getting close to full buildout under our current zoning and land use regulations, meaning that unless they are amended, we will run out of available lots on which to build new housing. (In practicality, this means that neighboring counties will become our bedroom communities, as Boulder still has the lion’s share of jobs in our area and people will be forced to commute farther and farther.)
Thus, with people continuing to move into the area at a strong pace while building is lagging behind, demand will structurally continue to outpace supply.
Second, people are staying in their homes longer than they used to. In 2010, homeowners nationwide stayed in their homes an average of eight years before selling. By 2019, that figure had increased to 13 years. With people selling less frequently, inventory goes down and, with strong demand like we have in Boulder, months of inventory stays low, too.
In Boulder, this issue is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of our homeowners are older (the National Association of Realtors reports that homeowners 73 years and older stay in their homes for an average of 17 years) and many of these Boulderites want to continue to age in place. Moreover, the Boulder Valley does not have a lot of options for the elderly looking to downsize and stay in their current community.
Accordingly, housing turnover is lower than it used to be, and this trend is likely to be even stronger in Boulder, further suppressing inventory.
For 2020, it appears that our available housing inventory will continue to be reined in by the structural impediments of inability to build sufficient new housing and current homeowners staying in place. That will put upward pressure on prices. Continued migration into our area fueled by our (currently) robust economy will keep demand high and put additional upward pressure on prices. Additionally, our return to very low interest rates will allow more potential buyers to qualify for our expensive property than would have otherwise been the case.
On the other side of the equation, home prices have risen so high (especially in the city of Boulder) that, even with low interest rates, the pool of buyers able to buy in our area will be relatively small. Moreover, the political uncertainty of election years can cause people to take fewer risks (such as buying a home). The fact that this promises to be an especially colorful election cycle will likely be a drag on demand as we get closer to November.
Based on the foregoing, if I had to make a prediction, I would suspect that the first part of the year will have very strong activity, with prices rising and multiple offer situations being not uncommon. Then, I suspect that the market may cool as we get closer to the election, which may be an especially good time to buy for those with intestinal fortitude.
Originally posted by Jay Kalinski
By Jay Kalinski —
That’s right, based on the latest available data from the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, the average net worth of a homeowner is $231,000, a whopping 44 times greater than the average renter’s $5,200 net worth. What makes the situation more dire is the fact that the gap is widening. From 2013 to 2016, the average net worth of homeowners increased 15 percent while the average net worth of renters decreased by 5 percent. The situation for renters is bad and getting worse.
More than any other factor I could identify, homeownership best explains the gap between the haves and have nots. People seem to understand this fact, as a Gallup poll showed that Americans chose real estate as the best long-term investment for the fourth year in a row. So, why aren’t more renters buying homes?
It could be that renters do not want to own homes. Anecdotally, we hear stories about how Millennials prefer to rent to give them a more flexible lifestyle, but the research tells a different story. In fact, Millennials represent the largest share of homebuyers today and only 7 percent of respondents to an NAR survey said that they did not want the responsibility of owning. More generally, 82 percent of renters expressed a desire in the fourth quarter of 2017 to be homeowners and about the same percentage said that homeownership is part of the American Dream.
What is driving this desire for renters to become owners? According to a recent survey, the main reasons renters would want to buy a home are: a change in lifestyle such as getting married, starting a family or retiring; an improved financial situation; and a desire to settle down in one location.
Renters seem to know that owning a home is a great investment, and they overwhelmingly express a desire to do so, and yet something is preventing many of them:
Based on a recent NAR survey, it appears that ability (perceived or actual) is the biggest obstacle to homeownership. In fact, 66 percent of renters reported that it would be somewhat or very difficult to save for a downpayment on a home. Only 16 percent said that it would not be difficult at all. Of those who said saving for a downpayment was difficult, 49 percent identified student loans, 42 percent cited credit card debt, and 37 percent cited car loans.
The above, however, only focuses on one aspect of home affordability. Another side is home price appreciation. That is, if homes were more affordable, it would be easier to save for a downpayment. Unfortunately for local renters, Boulder County has appreciated more since 1991 than any other area in the country — more than 380 percent! The average single family Boulder County home topped $708,000 in February 2018, which is almost 20 percent higher than two years ago.
In addition, interest rates are on the rise in 2018, and we’ve already covered how a 1 percent increase in interest rates can reduce your purchasing power by 10 percent.
There are two takeaways from this. First, for renters, you may be familiar with the adage “The best time to buy a home was 30 years ago. The second best time is now.” That is true now more than ever. If you have been considering making the jump to homeownership, now is the time. At this point, each day delayed likely equals less home for the money.
Second, for local government officials, if you truly support the idea of affordable (market rate) workforce housing, you have the power to encourage it. Without you, the affordability situation will only continue to deteriorate.
Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.
Early in 2018 the real estate outlook for Boulder County looks strong, even while sailing into the same headwinds that prevailed last year: low inventory and rising prices.
But this year promises additional gusts in the form of rising interest rates.
“None of the fundamentals in the market have changed, except a small rise in interest rates and the anticipation of additional increases,” says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor® Association.
“January data shows year over year single-family home sales are about the same as last year, and condos and townhomes are up significantly.”
Single-family home sales for Boulder County are down a single unit or .05 percent with 220 units sold in January 2018 compared with 221 in January 2017. Month-over-month, January sales dropped 39 percent for the first month of 2018 compared to December’s 363 units sold.
In condominium/townhomes, 88 units sold in January 2018, a 44.3 percent improvement compared with 61 units sold a year ago, but a 26.7 percent drop compared with the 120 units sold in December.
“December finished strong and the totals for 2017 pushed over and above 2016 slightly, which makes having a strong January challenging,” says Hotard.
Inventory continued its persistent decline. Single-family homes for sale in the Boulder-area declined 1.3 percent in January 2018 compared to December 2017 – 550 units vs. 557.
Meanwhile, condominium and townhome inventory improved 8.3 percent in January compared to December – 130 units versus 120.
Hotard notes that rising mortgage rates is a new factor for real estate markets that have seen a long run of low interest rates. He says the question is whether rising rates, while still historically low, will have a dampening effect on pricing or sales.
“Affordability is already an issue in Boulder, Louisville and Niwot. If interest rates go up people may have greater difficulty affording higher priced homes,” he adds. For 2017, Boulder’s median sales price came in over $800,000, Niwot’s roughly $750,000 and Louisville’s nearing $575,000.
With minimal data to consider this early in the year, Hotard is reluctant to predict this year’s market.
“For now, the data is over a small number of sales, so it’s difficult to identify trends. But this market has been strong for years and it is likely to continue to be strong.”