ArticlesBizWest February 3, 2021

Boulder Valley primed for its biggest real estate year ever

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.

ArticlesBizWest November 4, 2020

Winter is coming, and impact on real estate uncertain

Winter is coming and, much like the Game of Thrones series, no one can predict exactly what will happen with the Boulder Valley real estate market, but you can be sure that there are going to be some crazy plot twists — and we can hope that the forces of good will win out in the end.  So, rather than make bold predictions, this article will look back at the first three quarters of 2020 and identify a couple of trends that are likely to affect Boulder Valley real estate into 2021.

Looking Back at 2020

2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year in real estate.  The second quarter of the year was by far the most volatile, with a large dip due to the initial COVID-19 surge and accompanying lockdown, and then a burgeoning resurgence as the situation improved.  By the close of the third quarter, you could look at some of our statistics and think that we have had a pretty typical, even robust, year in real estate.

Trend 1: Growing buyer preference for detached homes

While the foregoing statistics indicate an overall strong market, other statistics point toward the first trend we are observing, the change in buyer sentiment in favor of single-family homes over attached dwellings.

As you can see, the inventory of single-family homes available for sale has dropped significantly (to the lowest amount on record) while the percentage of these homes already under contract has gone up tremendously, indicating a very strong demand for these homes.  On the other hand, the number of available attached units has actually increased over last year and the percent under contract has only risen modestly.  The most compelling explanation for this phenomenon is that, due largely to COVID-19, buyers (and their families) are anticipating working and schooling from home for many months to come and are, therefore, seeking larger homes with at least some separation from their neighbors.  I would anticipate this trend to continue well into 2021.

Trend 2: COVID-19 impacts

It appears that COVID-19 will continue to significantly impact people’s lives — and the economy — for months (possibly years) to come.  We discussed its ability to affect buyer preferences above, but COVID-19 may likely have a more direct effect on the real estate market in several ways.  First, if COVID-19 cases continue trending upward and cause local or state officials to issue another full lockdown (i.e., a stay at home order), it could freeze the market again and have devastating consequences that could take even longer to bounce back from than last time. Second, as COVID-19 continues to be a drag on the economy, the more would-be buyers will lose their jobs and with them the ability to purchase homes.  Thus, the longer COVID-19 persists, the more it is likely to erode buyer demand, even with mortgage rates at historic lows.

What can we do?

Looking at the numbers and likely trends, it appears that there are a couple of things we can do to improve the situation going forward.  First, it is imperative to drive the COVID-19 numbers back down, which means practicing social distancing, wearing masks, etc.  Second, if you own a single-family home and are considering selling, this winter will be an unusually favorable time to sell, given the strong demand and paucity of inventory.  If, on the other hand, you own an attached home, you might consider holding off on selling until conditions are more favorable (if you are able to do so).  Finally, if you are a buyer, you should carefully evaluate your financial situation before deciding whether to move forward.  If you decide to do so, expect stiff competition for single-family homes but also know that you could find some potential deals if you are looking to buy a condo or townhome.

Keep in mind that owning a home Boulder Valley has been one of the best investments you could make over the past 30 years and that trend is likely to continue after COVID-19 is just a terrible memory.  Take care of yourselves and each other and we will make it through this better than before.

Originally published by Jay Kalinski, 2020 chair of the Boulder Area Realtor Association and owner of ReMax of Boulder and ReMax Elevate.

BizWest January 15, 2020

Kalinski: How buying and selling a home will change in the Roaring 20s

As we enter a new decade, the massive wave of technological advancements fueled by entrepreneurial tech companies has reshaped consumers’ expectations.  Companies such as  Uber and Amazon have both dramatically shortened the time that people expect to wait for gratification and raised consumers’ expectations with regard to the ease and smoothness of the experience.  That is, consumers now expect to press a button and have whatever it is that they want delivered to them in a matter of a couple days (Amazon shipments), hours, or even minutes (Uber rides); moreover, they want to be able to track their shipment’s progress through a simple, pleasing interface on their phones.

While consumers now expect smooth, pleasant and near instant gratification in most aspects of their lives, the real estate home sale process still typically takes 30 to 45 days and — due to its complexity, legal ramifications, and the fact that it is an ongoing negotiation between multiple parties — it is usually neither frictionless nor “fun.”  This growing friction between consumers’ expectations and the longer duration and complexity of completing a real estate transaction has made the industry ripe for innovation.  What follows are the likely developments that will make real estate transactions faster and easier over the coming decade.

1.  The home search-to-closing customer journey.  The days of agents-as-gatekeepers of real estate listings are gone.  These days, most buyers start their search online and look at up to hundreds of homes to educate themselves.  When they get serious, though, about 90 percent of buyers (and sellers) choose to use an agent to help them with the home buying/selling process. 

Why is that?  It’s because Realtors realized that they needed to change their value proposition to buyers and sellers in order to stay relevant and, well, valuable.  One of the challenges for buyers and sellers is that, with the exponential growth of information available on the internet, the amount of “noise” has grown exponentially as well, but the valuable information (the “signal”) has become harder to find.  Today’s Realtors have things that are in short supply online: hyperlocal and market knowledge, a network of trusted vendors and professionals, expert negotiation skills, a refined process to make the home buying/selling experience less painful, etc.  These skilled Realtors who have adapted to consumers’ shifting expectations provide their clients with better technology, a smoother process, and expert advice.  Those agents who fail to adapt will eventually exit the business.

Other innovators, such as so-called iBuyers, will make you an offer, often within a day, to buy your home for cash quickly.  This convenience, however, comes at a cost, as many iBuyers will likely cost you two-to-five times more out-of-your-pocket than using a Realtor would.

2.  The loan experience.  Typically, the longest (and perhaps most annoying) part of a real estate transaction is the loan process.  Many lenders can take 30 days or more to complete their due diligence, including their assessment of your loan-worthiness and an appraisal of the home, before approving a home purchase loan.  Anyone who has been through this process knows how frustrating and slow it can be.

Fortunately, at least for many people, this process may get a lot shorter and easier.  Lenders are using artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct automated appraisals on properties and help with assessing buyer’s applications.  For “in the box” situations, with well-qualified “W2 employees” buying homes that the AI algorithms can value with a high degree of confidence, the underwriting process can be dramatically shortened without the need for a physical appraisal.  This is already a reality — last fall, we represented buyer clients whose lender did not require an appraisal on the home they were buying and gave them very fast loan approval.

3.  The title and closing process.  Almost everything can seemingly be accomplished these days online from the comfort of your home.  However, at least in Colorado, you still need to physically go to the title company and hand-sign a stack of documents in front of its notary public (how barbaric, right?).  Well, this isn’t actually the title company’s fault, as many lenders — and state law — still require physical notarization of certain documents.

The good news is that this may change in 2020, if the Colorado legislature passes a bill similar to Senate Bill 18-109, which would allow optional remote notarization of documents.  If such a bill were to become law, then notarizations could be done using audio-video recording of the document signing (kind of like signing over Skype or FaceTime, but with more layers of security).  Thus, you would be able to close on the purchase/sale of your home from anywhere in the world, so long as you have a good internet connection.

Conclusion.  The players in the real estate industry have (finally) recognized that consumers’ expectations and demands have shifted and are innovating quickly to make the home buying and selling process faster, easier, and more enjoyable (or, at least, less painful).  Within the next few years, many people will be able to buy/sell a home in half the time or less than it takes on average today, and with a lot less disruption to their lives.

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

ArticlesBizWest July 2, 2019

Where have all the buyers gone?

well-functioning market consists of two sides: suppliers who offer a particular good for sale and consumers who purchase those goods.  In the Boulder Valley residential real estate market since 2012, there have been more consumers looking to buy homes than there were sellers offering homes for sale, which has led to a long appreciation period for homes.  Now, however, it appears that the number of buyers is dropping as is their willingness to pay ever-increasing prices.

Spotting the trend

First, how do we know that there are fewer buyers in the market?  The most direct measure of buyer activity that my company tracks (courtesy of Broker Associate Mike Malec) is the number of showings per available listing.  From examining the data, it is fairly easy to see that this year’s showing activity is markedly below the recent boom years, but is still above the levels present during the recession.

Second, to further substantiate this decline in buyer activity, we can look at more indirect measures, such as average sales prices, available inventory of homes on the market, and average time a home will be on the market before sale.  Each of these markers indicates a decline in buyer activity.  Through May of this year, the average price of a single-family home in Boulder has fallen 0.6 percent, while the average attached unit has fallen 4 percent, compared to the same timeframe last year.  This indicates that there are fewer buyers competing for available homes to the point where home appreciation rates have stalled.  At the same time, the amount of homes available on the market has increased nearly 20 percent for single-family homes and almost 50 percent for attached ones, while the average time on the market for single family homes has gone up 5 percent and nearly 20 percent for attached ones.  These statistics indicate that those buyers in the market are becoming choosier and are able to take their time making decisions.

Based on the above discussion, it seems that there are fewer buyers in the market and that those who are in the market are more cautious, but why? 

Economic Conditions?

It does not appear that our local economic conditions explain the drop in buyer activity.  According to the State Demographer’s office, people are continuing to move into Boulder and Broomfield counties, albeit at a slower rate than previous years (though the city of Boulder has seen its population declining in the last two years).  And local unemployment levels continue to be historically low. 

Economic conditions at the national level are softening, to the point where the Fed is discussing interest rate cuts, so these conditions may play some role.  But, interest rates are actually about half a percent lower than they were at this time last year, which would appear to weaken that argument.

Could it be the weather?

Another possible explanation I’ve heard is that our unusually cold and snow winter could have suppressed buyer demand as people were less willing to trudge through the snow to go see houses.  While this is plausible, all else being equal, we would have expected to see that pent up demand being released as the weather improves, but we just have not seen that play out in the data yet.

The takeaway

Whatever the cause of the decline in buyer activity may be, local real estate legend Larry Kendall of the Group Inc. Real Estate in Fort Collins always says that buyers are the smartest people in the market, so they may be acting as the proverbial canary in a coal mine, meaning that they could be a leading indicator that our market is shifting from a seller’s market to either a balanced or buyer’s market.  If you are a seller, be wary of pricing above the market in these shifting conditions.

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

ArticlesBizWest March 5, 2019

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.

ArticlesRE/MAX of Boulder August 28, 2018

Boulder Valley housing holds strong amidst July pullback

Boulder-area housing continues to reach new heights, shrugging off a pullback in July sales.

“Prices in Boulder Valley are at an all-time high in both single-family and attached homes. Also inventory challenges are ongoing. Despite both of those realities, housing demand is absolutely holding,” says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area REALTOR® Association.

The City of Boulder July average sales price reached more than $1.3 million – a 15.4 percent increase for the year. Median price hit $984,648. While Boulder’s prices are the highest, every area in Boulder County saw an increase in average sales price ranging from 3.5 percent in Superior to 17.7 percent in Niwot year-to-date.

However, July sales slowed from the previous month, following the typical late summer pattern of a month-over-month slowdown. Sales declined for single-family and attached homes in July compared to June, 2018. Single-family home sales in the Boulder-area markets dropped 16 percent—418 vs. 498 units—while condominium and townhome sales fell 32.8 percent—127 units vs. 189.

Hotard says this year’s July slowdown is a little more pronounced than last year.

Even so, year-to-date single-family home sales were virtually unchanged with a 1.0 percent increase compared to the prior year with 2,666 homes sold compared to 2,639. Attached home sales over the same period improved 5.8 percent; 914 vs. 864 units sold.

Inventory held its own. There was essentially no change in single-family home inventory levels, which rose .8 percent across Boulder County in July compared to June, 2018 with 1,013 vs. 1,004 homes available for sale. Condo/townhome inventory grew 1.3 percent in July compared to the previous month with 241 units for sale vs. 238.

Hotard notes there is potentially downward pressure on the market with interest rates trending upward and prices rising faster than wages in the area.

“But with demand as it is, we’re just going to keep moving forward,” he says.

Hotard adds that real estate is a “dynamic industry and Realtors are responding to the challenges by continuing to advise their clients on successful strategies for selling and purchasing homes.”

 

Originally posted here by Tom Kalinski Founder RE/MAX of Boulder on Monday, August 27th, 2018 at 2:45pm.

 

ArticlesBizWest May 3, 2018

Boulder’s average single-family home price surpasses $1.2M

This 4,987-square-foot home on Boulder Creek was featured in Bizwest’s Distinctive Homes of the Boulder Valley in April 2016. According to Zillow.com it sold in May 2017 for $3,495,000.

 

At the close of 2017, many were speculating that Boulder had finally reached a price ceiling at the limits of people’s purchasing power. The speculation continued that prices in Boulder would level off for some significant period of time as the city waited for buyers to accumulate more savings, wages to rise, etc. After all, approximately 40 percent of the homes sold in Boulder were over $1 million last year, so surely the pool of buyers able to buy a million dollar home must be depleted, right? The first quarter of 2018 has largely disproven that theory.

The average single family home price in Boulder reached $1,207,403 by the end of March, which represents a whopping 21 percent increase over the same period last year. Anecdotally in my real estate sales practice this year, I have seen multiple homes listed over $1.3 million ultimately sell for at least $200,000 over asking price. On the seller side, it is a cause for celebration, as the next chapter of their lives will be unexpectedly more comfortable. On the buyer side, it can be incredibly frustrating and demoralizing to save for a major purchase, believe you are well-positioned to make your dream come true, only to have the finish line moved forward on you. When you include the fact that about one quarter of the city’s recent home purchases have been cash transactions — and mortgage interest rates are a full point higher than last year — you begin to understand the size of the challenge facing buyers.

Looking back to 2008, you can see that home prices have almost doubled in the last 10 years (see City of Boulder chart).

Looking back even further to 1978 (see Appreciation chart), one can see that this appreciation trend is not an anomaly in Boulder. In fact, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Boulder County has appreciated more than anywhere else in the country going back to 1991.

I have used earlier versions of the chart [to the right] in previous articles to try to assess when our current appreciation cycle would level off. Back then, I noted that the pattern going back to 1978 would have predicted that our appreciation cycle would have ended in mid-2017. I further stated, however, that there were factors present today that were not issues previously, the most prominent of which being that Boulder has almost reached full build-out under current zoning regulations.  That is, we are much closer to running out of land now, which will continue to put upward pressure on existing homes.

 

What does all of this mean?

Crossing the $1.2 million threshold means that Boulder is becoming disconnected from the surrounding cities. Some call it becoming a “resort market” like Aspen, others compare it to Silicon Valley (Nerdwallet published a study in support of this assertion, wherein in Boulder was listed in the top five least affordable housing markets, along with San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Honolulu and San Diego). However you characterize the situation, it is becoming clear that this is not an aberration and the challenges facing buyers will likely continue to mount as summer approaches.

 

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

Originally posted by BizWest on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018. Original found here.