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
A 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?
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.
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.
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.
The highly anticipated Boulder Valley Real Estate Conference will be here soon! It will be held on Thursday, November 15, featuring an outstanding line-up of speakers and panelists who will discuss the latest issues and trends in local real estate from our tech economy, Bitcoin, and development projects along the Front Range to housing policy, housing stock, and insights into commercial real estate. RE/MAX of Boulder is proud to be the presenting sponsor. Our Broker/Owner Jay Kalinski and Realtor Duane Duggan speak with conference organizer Chris Wood from BizWest to give you the details. Click below to see the video.
Let’s face it, what happens in Boulder affects the rest of Boulder Valley in terms of housing, transportation, economics and myriad other dimensions. If you want to know where your neighborhood is headed, it’s informative to know what Boulder is doing, even if you live in say, Erie. And, if you even casually follow Boulder politics these days, you might be perplexed and concerned by the (seemingly) increasingly bizarre actions coming from Boulder’s City Council.
For a council that purports to support the environment, public safety, and inclusivity, its recent actions don’t seem to match its rhetoric. In my opinion, however, its actions make sense when you understand the true underlying motivations and desires — and to do that, you have to understand Boulder’s CAVE people.
Who are Boulder’s CAVE people and what do they want?
Simply put, I call these people “Citizens Against Virtually Everything” (CAVE), and they seem to have the ear of the majority of the current council. It appears that the plurality of Boulder’s CAVE people arrived in Boulder in the 1960s and ‘70s as students, hippies, ski bums, etc. They decided to stay, bought homes here, and have become relatively well off as Boulder’s home price appreciation outstripped virtually everywhere else in the country. At the same time, they seem not to like the multiple dimensions of growth Boulder has enjoyed over the last several decades; indeed, their strongest desire is apparently to see Boulder return to as it was “back then,” with fewer people, fewer businesses, less crowding, etc. Their apparent goals, then, are to slow, stop, or reverse growth of all kinds in Boulder. Their tactics appear to be to (disingenuously?) cloak themselves in the rhetoric of environmentalism, populism, and liberalism in order to achieve these goals.
Recent examples of CAVE people tactics and their effects:
1. South Boulder Flood Mitigation Plan. The 2013 flood brought the issue of flood mitigation to the front of everyone’s minds in Boulder Valley, but the study of how to best deal with this issue in South Boulder goes back well before then. After nearly a decade of study, and more than $2 million in fees and environmental studies, and extensive public engagement, the City Council had a few feasible flood mitigation plans, one of which (500-Year Variant 2), had the support of the University of Colorado (the property owner), the city’s Water Resources Advisory Board, and general public. One would think, then, that it would be an easy decision for the City Council to support. One, however, would be wrong.
Recently, the Boulder City Council voted to proceed with a different flood mitigation plan, one that is opposed by CU, disregards expert testimony, the preferences of the city’s Water Resources Advisory Board, and general public sentiment.
Why would the council disregard science, experts, reason, common sense and nearby residents? Using the lens of CAVE people logic, it may be because they believe that taking a position in opposition to all of these things will greatly slow the process of CU developing that land, which fits the goals of “slow, stop, reverse.”
2. Sales Tax Revenue. Cities like Boulder depend on sales tax revenue as an important component of their budgets. Earlier this year, Boulder reported a $4 million budget shortfall, attributable primarily to flattening sales tax in the city — at a time when nearby cities are enjoying double digit growth in their sales tax revenues. Members of the City Council held a study session on the topic on July 10 in which some members declared that they apparently want fewer visitors to Boulder (both tourists and locals from neighboring cities). They expressed these opinions even with the knowledge that locals already visit downtown Boulder an average of seven times per month, but tourists spend several times what locals do per visit.
Why, in a city that prides itself on being welcoming and at a time when sales tax revenues are falling, would members of council declare an apparent desire for fewer tourist (and accompanying tax dollars)?
3. Increased housing density. Council members often voice their support for efforts to provide inclusive housing, reduce Boulder’s carbon footprint, and improve our city’s environmental sustainability; however, when it comes to increased density — the thing that would arguably go the farthest toward achieving those aspirations — the council’s words do not match their deeds. Boulder’s draconian housing restrictions, including the 1 percent cap on annual residential growth (which we’ve never actually hit), blanket height restrictions, severe occupancy limits, among other measures, has forced our workforce to largely live outside the city. This, in turn, causes the more than 60,000 daily commutes into and out of Boulder. By simply ameliorating some of these harsh policies, and allowing a modicum of sustainable and smart development, Boulder could include more of its workforce within city limits and could considerably lessen its environmental impact.
Why, then, has the city actively resisted efforts that would address these critical housing and environmental issues? One possibility — CAVE people logic: if it is extremely difficult to add housing density, not only will it slow population growth, it will force workers into longer commutes and growing frustration. Over time, businesses will relocate to areas more accessible to their workforce, and there will be fewer people, fewer jobs, less congestion… like it was “back then.”
What’s to come?
Rather than building a bridge to the future, Boulder’s CAVE people seem intent on digging a trench to the past. In fact, their efforts seem to be achieving results — not only did Boulder run a budget deficit, but its population actually decreased between 2016 and 2017. There is no stasis for cities — they are either growing or dying. It seems the CAVE people are succeeding at pushing their agenda of “slow, stop, reverse,” through council. And if they win, all of us who are truly for the environment, public safety, and inclusivity will lose.
Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.
Spring selling season in Boulder County continues to soar with April’s residential sales keeping pace with last month’s rocketing sales as well as outperforming April last year.
“Demand remains strong and inventory tight, keeping upward pressure on pricing,” says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for Boulder Area Realtor® Association.
The 345 single-family homes that sold in April 2018 topped March’s rising sales by one unit or .3 percent; and the 126 condominiums and townhomes sold in April represented an additional 4 sold or 3.3 percent over last month.
Year-over-year Boulder-area single-family home sales climbed 5.4 percent through April 2018 – 1,198 homes sold vs. 1,137 – and condo/townhomes sales increased 5.9 percent with 447 units sold compared to 422.
Inventory also grew, which has proven to be a key factor in maintaining sales.
“While inventory showed solid increases in both single-family and condo/townhomes, we could use three-to-four times that amount to meet demand,” says Hotard.
Countywide single-family inventory increased 18.2 percent in April over March with 770 homes for sale vs. 651. Condo/townhome inventory improved 16.4 percent over the same period – 163 units vs. 140.
Hotard says evidence shows prices may have not yet reached a peak. “This is the first time I recall median prices over $1 million. It’s clear that with the city of Boulder built out on single-family housing stock, it’s putting pressure on prices.”
He notes that many dynamics shape the market. “Clearly affordability is a big issue – it influences who can live here, whether purchasing or renting. As more people can’t afford to live here, it’s a big loss because we are losing high quality people and the marketplace is becoming more exclusionary.”
Noting that buyers are coming from many places including California, Chicago, Texas and Nebraska, Hotard says people look to Colorado because of the entrepreneurial spirit and low unemployment.
Hotard summarizes, “As Boulder is to Colorado, Colorado is to the rest of the country.”
It’s the same old story, but one we love to hear. Boulder County home sales closed 2017 with yet another increase over the previous year, despite ongoing low inventory, according to Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor® Association.
“All in all, the year was positive. Sales increased moderately over 2016 in both single-family and attached residential housing,” says Hotard.
That’s saying a lot, since sales have increased in Boulder County for several years in a row and prices have increased significantly, while inventory levels never cease to become more challenging.
“The past several years have a pattern of similarity. It’s a sure sign that the demand for a home in Boulder County is strong and undeterred,” he says.
In fact, year-over-year increases in sales were only about 1 percent apart in each market category. Condominiums and townhomes lead with a 5.6 percent rise through December 2017 – 1508 homes sold vs. 1,428 through 2016 – while sales of single-family homes improved 4.4 percent for the year with 4,612 homes sold vs. 4,419.
Month-to-month sales of single-family homes were virtually unchanged, increasing .1 percent in December 2017 compared to November 2017 – 363 vs. 359 units. In the same period, sales of attached dwellings dropped 2.4 percent compared to the previous month – 120 units vs. 123.
Hotard says lack of inventory is a problem plaguing Boulder County that shows little sign of change in the near future.
Inventory of single-family homes dropped 28.3 percent in December compared to November—declining to 557 units from 777, while multi-family unit inventory decreased 5.5 percent—138 units versus 146—over the same period.
Adding to the inventory crunch, demographers say age is starting to catch up with Boulder County. State demographics show the size of the retired Baby Boomer age group will reach unprecedented levels in the coming years.
Experts say older people tend to move less and age in place. Hotard cautions the aging population could make the already tight housing inventory even tighter over the next decade.
Where might inventory easing come from? Hotard notes that Boulder city leaders are looking at land use policies that may bring some limited relief by making it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units or Occupant Accessory Units. And there’s consideration being given to a targeted zoning change that would allow two homes to be built on larger lots where only one home currently stands.
None of these changes, though, will have the impact needed soon enough or large enough to negate the fact that many people who work in the city of Boulder will likely live somewhere else. Hotard believes that improved public regional transportation will be a needed component of our housing picture.
“We’re in the midst of a big shift,” says Hotard. “Boulder Valley used to be 25 square miles surrounded by reality. Now it’s 25 square miles surrounded by competition. That competition is in shopping, locations for businesses, housing and jobs.”
Housing start statistics show that building has increased in Eerie and the tri-towns of Dacono, Frederick and Firestone north of Boulder.
“Increasing inventory in these towns is helping to keep pricing in check in Boulder,” Hotard says of the competition. “Moderating prices is probably a good thing.”
But he remains confident that Boulder County holds strong as a place that people want to live. He expects 2018 to be another positive year in the area’s residential real estate, beginning with a strong first quarter. With interest rates expected to slowly rise, buyers will be motivated to move earlier in the year rather than later.
“As long as we have the beauty and quality of life Boulder County offers, people will want to live here.” And that means our real estate market will be rock solid.