Changes to Zillow/Trulia: Brokers and Lay Persons Need to be Aware

Since I am licensed in Colorado and New York I follow both markets. StreetEasy while not known in CO. is one of the de-facto multilist services in NYC used by brokers and clients alike. StreetEasy is similar to how the consumer site of  www.REColorado.com works here in Metropolitan Denver presenting listings to the general public and providing contact information for the Listing Broker.

While the following may be more oriented to brokers, the information is truly relevant to all concerning the presentation of properties and how the listing broker or those looking to build a relationship with a buyer is changing. In Colorado we have quite strict criteria developed by the Colorado Real Estate Commission concerning representation and disclosures.

StreetEasy is planning a significant, industry-wide change to their lead generation process. They are switching their focus from lead generation for exclusive selling agents (those brokers who have a contract to list the property with the seller) to a more buyer agent focused site. Since StreetEasy falls under the Zillow/Trulia umbrella, this will apply to all three sites.

Some brokerages pay the Zillow/Trulia group to keep other agents off the listing detail pages of exclusives (of note, the vast majority of listings in Colorado are exclusives i.e. represented by one agent/brokerage) on Zillow, Trulia and StreetEasy, so that all leads go directly to the listing exclusive agents. As of March 1st, 2017 this option will not be available. Instead, the sites will allow buyer agents to receive leads from all listings. Potential customers on these sites can select the exclusive agent, however, leads will default to buyer agents who pay to appear on listings within specific zip codes.

Will this muddle the information put out to the market? Depends on the level of disclosure. I understand why Zillow/Trulia is taking this action i.e. additional revenue generation. However for buyers and sellers who may be doing research on listings and/or are considering engaging in a brokerage relationship, it will become more confusing. Is the broker who contacted you the listing agent whose fiduciary duty is to the seller, or are they looking to represent you as a buyer and thus owe their fiduciary duty to you, or will they be a transaction-broker?

When I represent a buyer I desire to talk to the actual listing broker; I have access to this information from our Multilist service. For the general public brokerage relationships may become more confusing with the potential for buyer brokers to insinuate representation or insights on a listing which is not actually their exclusive. While it will be the responsibility of clients to insure their brokerage relationship is correct for their needs and their broker, regardless of the relationship is treating them in a professional and ethical manner my concern; the listing of brokers and lead generation will add to confusion on behalf of the general public.

I believe in Colorado we have multiple layers of protection and disclosure forms to insure proper representation and fiduciary duties associated with specific brokerage relationships. However in this day and age of Internet marketing and information  sound-bites there is a good chance there will be confusion. Stay tuned as if we see an uptick of complaints filed with the Real Estate Commission concerning representation, more clarity and disclosure requirements may come down the pipeline to catch up with technology.

Is the Spring Selling Season a Bygone Memory

Historically the selling season for residential real estate in the United States was the start of Spring usually mid to late March. The timing was traditionally due to various factors including:

  • Post Spring Vacations (usually associated with families with school aged children).
  • Gardens awakening from the winter doldrums.
  • The opportunity to move and be settled prior to the school term starting in August and September.

The traditional selling season started to erode a few years ago with some markets moving to a year-round staggered school calendar, the desire of buyers to view inventory before others pounce and of course economics i.e. the most recent and severe recession forced sales regardless of season.

However it appears The Internet has upended another tradition (as it has with bricks and mortar department stores, travel agencies and others). Offering marketing and exposure 24/7 from the comfort of one’s own home; seasonal factors have suddenly become moot. Even the New York Times opined on the trend: The Right Time to Sell is Anytime.

In Denver I too have noticed this trend. One of my listings had been withdrawn from the market (and REColorado) due to the December holidays and the historical pattern of home buyers not wanting to tread through the cold and snow to look at homes.

During the holiday season and into early January I have received multiple inquiries to view the listing (of note, some sites never adjusted the asking price which was reduced). One was from a broker; their client had viewed previously. The other inquiries were what we term “buyer-direct”; prospective buyers who viewed the listing on one of various channels dedicated to real estate sales i.e. Zillow, Redfin, Movoto and others which link distribution to the REColorado service. Of interest, while the listing was technically withdrawn the distribution channels continued to promote (of note the listing is coming back on the market officially in a few days).

For buyers there may be an advantage including less competition concerning viewings and easier showing schedules. For sellers, the advantage is simply less inventory on the market. Granted the properties that will sell are those that are priced correctly for the market, show well and so forth. Thus some traditions do not change.

However if you are considering buying or selling, sooner than later may be prudent; as the saying goes “The early bird gets the worm” and avoids additional interest rate hikes.

 

 

Interest Rates Begin to Rise as Expected

For the past months I have been advising/forecasting the potential rise in mortgage interest rates. Based on the activity of the markets coupled with the Federal Reserve mandate most agreed Federal Reserve interest rates would in fact rise by December 2016 and thus impact mortgages.

Well, what a difference an election can make!

Posted on #Bloomberg News a few hours ago there has been a spike in mortgage rates: Spike in Mortgage Rates Throws Wrench into US Housing Market

We have all witnessed the increase in investment interest rates tied to the 10-Year Treasury Notes. While not getting too technical usually mortgage interest rates follow in tandem. In addition bonds from Germany, Japan and Switzerland which were in negative interest rate yields have since gone positive signaling the possibility of inflation on the horizon.

As an experienced real estate broker and one who has witnessed such cycles, now is not the time to panic or worse make a short-sighted decision; sellers and buyers have to keep the following in mind:

Rates Still At Historic Lows: even at 4 to 5% interest rates are still at historic lows. Some would argue including myself the record in home resale prices in the Denver metro area can be somewhat attributed to the low cost of borrowing also known as buy a payment regardless of the underlying value.

Some Inflation is Positive: The Federal Reserve desires a 2% inflation rate. While inflation can be a frightening term it is preferable to deflation/stagnation and recession which continues to be an issue in Japan and parts of Europe.

Time-Frame: If you plan to hold your purchase for 3-5 years and beyond with a fixed mortgage most likely interest rates will be of limited effect especially if within a conforming loan which is Denver is presently at $468,000.

Higher interest rates do in fact reduce affordability i.e. higher cost of borrowing/debt service.

Yet during periods of interest rate hikes, housing prices may remain stable or trend downward to compensate for the increased cost of borrowing.

The reality is we have been in a low-interest rate environment for way too long and some inflation may be expected and desired to balance growth and avoid another speculative bubble or similar.

My prediction is housing demand in metro Denver will slowly cool off. I believe in the upper-end of the market the pinnacle was reached during the early Spring of 2016 and since prices and demand have fallen off. I believe the rest of the market will begin to adjust to the reality of potentially higher rates and seasonal slowdown. At present the average annual income in Denver is already stretched concerning average sales price.

What will be interesting is Spring 2017. No one knows where interest rates or the economy will be. We have been in a long expansion coming from the depths of a serious recession. A cooling off is not to be unexpected and I believe welcoming as we do not wish for a repeat of the early 2000’s i.e. speculation, sub-prime mortgages and low down-payment products.

We have witnessed rental rates slowly drop due to increased supply and reduced demand. On the upper-end of the sales market prices seem to have leveled coupled with longer days on market and price reductions. Construction costs once rising seem to be leveling off as well.

Interest rates are just one indicator of the economy. It is important to look at the bigger picture, longer-term horizon and assessing the various scenarios concerning housing over the next few quarters. Historically housing matched inflation; only within the last generation have we witnessed housing as an investment vehicle and one that has outpaced inflation. Assuming business cycles have not ended, nothing to fear, just plan accordingly.

 

 

 

Is NYC Real Estate a Predictor for Denver

Early this morning the 3rd Q 2016 real estate market update for New York City provided by Douglas Elliman (and old line firm in conjunction with Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers) and the news is somewhat sobering.

The report noted in 2015 there were bidding wars concerning Manhattan real estate, recently the trend seems to have reversed. According to the report during the same period in 2015, 31% of listings sold for above the asking price, in 2016 the percentage has dropped to 17.4%. Yet more insightful is the listing discounts rising from 2.2% of listings during the 3rdQ of 2015 to 2.9% during Q3 of 2016. Add to this an 8.2% increase in inventory.

I am the first to advise (and being licensed in NY and CO) NYC is a unique market and much of the excess inventory is segregated in the high-end of the market with new construction, a general reluctance on the part of foreign buyers concerned about the world economy and new federal rules concerning disclosure and tracking of funds concerning purchases over $3M.

While the mean price of an apartment in Manhattan is $1M+ which would buy a very nice residence in Denver, we may be seeing trends in the Denver market a few months behind New York.

Listings above $468K in the Denver market seem to be sitting on the market for longer periods. Of note $468K is the conforming loan limit in Metro Denver. For sale signs in the tony neighborhoods of County Club, Cherry Creek and Washington Park seem to be growing exponentially coupled with continued new construction as cranes dominate the skyline in Cherry Creek North. While new listings continue to come on the market with what some consider inflated prices, older listings continue to see downward price adjustments especially pronounced in the Highlands where there has been a glut of upscale luxury developments and the absorption rate seems to have slowed.

A trend we are witnessing in NYC and I believe in Denver as well is movement to the suburbs and within Denver proper to the outlying neighborhoods away from the central business district. While one may suggest in Metro Denver the expansion of rail is partially the catalyst the reality is affordability. The NYC suburbs continue to boom as buyers who have been priced out of the city look to the suburbs for affordable options. A similar pattern is taking hold in Denver.

While I am not clairvoyant I am concerned about the activity in central Denver. While we may be heading into  seasonal slowing; with continued low interest rates sales should be continuing unabated.

Historically when interest rates rise, prices for houses falls inversely i.e. less affordability. Denver at present is at record highs concerning pricing (beyond the highs reached in 2007 even factoring in inflation). While an immediate rate hike may in fact spur transaction activity, the longer term trend may be more troubling i.e. if interest rates continue to rise to combat future inflation, houses prices may rise to match inflation however will probably not exceed and underlying affordability will be challenged in the higher interest rate environment.

 

 

A Burnham Hoyt designed residence comes on the market

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While not a household name in Denver, Burnham Hoyt is one of the more influential architects during Denver’s mid 20th century. His most visible projects include Red Rocks Amphitheater and  the original north-wing/rotunda of the Central Denver Public Library set the foundation in my opinion for the Michael Graves addition.

Hoyt was known for his residences which combined the traditional conservative designs favored by the wealthy yet bringing in a modern aesthetic known as The International Style. While some of his homes are classified as mid-century modern, they are truly International Style as his practice shut down in 1955 and he passed in 1960.

While many of his private residences have been altered beyond recognition and a few gems including The Botcher School (1900 Downing) have been completely razed, a few commercial and residential building remain not significantly altered. His primary home at 3130 E. Exposition Ave from 1945 to 1960 remains intact. Another gem at 545 Circle Drivehas been lovingly restored by SempleBrown.

Within the last week another home attributed to Hoyt came on the market at 2125 E. Hawthorne Pl in the Denver Country Club neighborhood. A quiet street within the larger neighborhood, Hawthorne Place, like Circle and Westwood Drives are considered the pinnacle of addresses in the neighborhood.

2125 E. Hawthorne Pl while not as dramatic and bold as 545 Circle Dr is still a testament to the design tastes of Denver’s elite during the mid 20th-century. While many mansions were built in the neighborhood, the Hoyt design captures and flow and size of the neighboring mansions yet encapsulated in a more international style design yet softened by cornices and other exterior features. With its side entry and mature landscaping the house is not as visible from the street as 545 Circle.

The interior is typical Hoyt with square and rectangular functional rooms perfect for entertaining yet also for daily living. Even through multiple owners various interior elements literally bring the viewer back to the 1950’s (constructed in 1954)from the stair railings to the heating elements. The way the home integrates with the surrounding lot is a Hoyt signature understanding the mild climate and designing for our 300 days of sunshine/year.

If the house is ever available to view on an open-house be sure to visit. While we are blessed to have neighborhoods including Krisana Park known for its mid-century moderns, if you wish to see the foundation for such design in Denver, visit a few Burnham Hoyt structures, you will be amazed.

 

Metro Denver still in top cities for real estate appreciation

The newest Case-Shiller figures were released and as expected the year-over-year pace of home-resale price gains still led most others for percentage price gains. In real numbers, prices in April 2016 rose 9.5% from one year prior.  If you follow my blog you know 10% has been the average gain over the last few months when compared to one year prior.

Two cities surpassed Denver’s gain by small increments, Portland and Seattle. Of the 20 cities tracked the average gain year-over-year was 5.4%. What si more impressive and yet also possibly troubling is Denver is one of 7 cities with resale prices at an all-time high. The other cities are Dallas, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Charlotte and Boston.

 

As an active broker and in discussion with peers we have become a little bit concerned (and it may be a seasonal issue) of the following:

-Homes on the upper-end of the market i.e. above the FHA conventional loan amount (for Denver) of $458,850 seem to be lingering on the market for longer periods of time.

-We brokers are witnessing across the board price reductions in a few specific neighborhoods where inventory has increased exponentially versus true demand. Most of this inventory is oriented towards the luxury market.

-Potential over supply of deluxe and luxury rentals in hot neighborhoods including Cherry Creek and Downtown as well as select suburban communities which assumes the continued influx of residents proceeds unabated.

-Record low interest rates yet buyers still on the sidelines.

As a broker for 25+ years I have been though such cycles prior. We are in a goldilocks period of low inflation, low interest rates and increased supply. Yet there still seems to be a slow down in the upper segments of the market which may eventually trickle down to the larger overall market.

Metro Denver has a history of developing excess inventory during up-cycles. Coupled with the City and County of Denver desiring to increase density in established older neighborhoods there are concerns regarding quality-of-life, congestion and affordability.

With today’s news advising the Federal Reserve may begin to increase interest rates by year’s end we should see fence-sitters locking in historically low interest rates before the election. If interest rates do rise and buyers continue to sit on the side-lines we may have larger issues going into 2017.

A Mansion from Denver’s Bygone Era Enters the Market

With few exceptions mansions from Denver’s bygone era of the original Gold Coast i.e. south of the State Capitol have been razed or otherwise altered into office, apartments and other uses. For an intact mansion to come on the market in turnkey condition is quite rare. For the first time in 22 years, 1350 Logan Street AKA The Cuthbert-Dines-Starkey Mansion is entering the marketplace.

Only only its 3rd owner is offering the 12,000+ SF Mansion for sale since construction in 1901. Mrs. Mary Starkey has operated The Starkey International Institute for Household Management within the mansion since her purchase from one of the members of the Dines family. The Mansion in its current iteration can be considered one large, multi-level immersive classroom experience. As The Starkey International Institute for Household Management teaches and trains those in the deluxe and luxury household and hospitality service sector, the Mansion has offered the perfect “hands-on” learning tool.

During Mrs. Starkey’s stewardship of the mansion she has not only respected and enhanced the historical elements of this rare building, she has also incorporated today’s technology concerning comfort and communication while staying true to the mansion’s design. Such upgrades include a central air-conditioning system similar to the design used in the Colorado Governor’s Mansion. The mansion’s 3rd floor once used as bedrooms for household staff is now offices including a server and high-speed communication used by The Starkey International Institute for Household Management.

The stately exterior remains true to its design; the interior offers formal proportions yet at the same time a sense of intimacy. The first level includes a traditional entry foyer, a formal living room, library, dining room (all three with fireplaces), a sunroom, a butler’s pantry, and a chef’s kitchen with breakfast eating area and caretakers office.

The 2nd level of the Mansion encompasses 5+ bedrooms including 4 en-suite baths and wood-burning fireplaces, two with attached summer sleeping rooms and all with expansive walk-in closets.

The top level once housed bedrooms for the household staff. At present those rooms have been converted to office use. Can easily be reconfigured to be bedrooms again and there are two additional bathrooms on this level.

The lowest level includes the former billiards room including the copper mantled fireplace, an additional family room (both now used as classrooms), a temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar, a commercial laundry room and various storage and mechanical rooms. There is a 3-car garage and auto court with additional parking. The rear and side yards are professionally landscaped and secured offering privacy and serenity within the heart of the city.

The marketing of the mansion is a unique proposition for the two brokers, Joseph Sobin of Engel and Volkers Vail and Jeffrey Hirschfeld of Antonoff & Co. Brokerage Inc. Joseph is handling the residential side, Jeffrey the commercial side. The mansion has an attractive C-MX-8 zoning.

From a residential perspective, few mansions of this caliber and condition exist within the city center of Denver. The location is attractive to those who may desire a mansion from the bygone era coupled with a city-centric location allowing an easy walk to the Capitol, the CBD, Broadway corridor and Capitol Hill. With the emergence of the CBD being a viable and desirable area for residences, the mansion offers the opportunity to own a 12,000+ SF residence few can compare.

On the commercial side many opportunities exist from corporate headquarters to office use to NGO’s and potential for consulate/embassy. In addition because of its design can easily be a live/work building with the public rooms on the 1st and lower levels and private residential space on 2nd and 3rd floors.

The mansion has a Denver Landmarks designation, the rear and side yards offers additional redevelopment opportunities which can leave the mansion alone or incorporate including potential for a new rental/condo building adjacent to or attached to the mansion coupled with below-grade parking.

The listing can be viewed at REColorado.com, MLS #3063126

Full disclosure, I am one of the brokers of record on the Mansion.

Row House that Set the Tone for Modernism in Cherry Creek Hitting the Market

In the early 1980’s Denver was going through a similar boom cycle as we are witnessing at present. The driver, oil and natural resources. At the time 17th Street downtown was called “The Wall Street of the West” and Denver, Houston and Calgary were considered energy oriented cities.

In 1983 Sandy Treat of Summit Habitats took a risk and decided to build on speculation four(4) row houses on the 200 block of Harrison Street in Cherry Creek North. Multiple challenges were presented to the developer including a building lot that narrower than the standard 125′ depth, the east-side abutts Colorado Boulevard which is technically a Denver Parkway requiring an increased set-back, mature trees to be preserve and no alley access. However Sandy enlisted a fledging firm out of Miami, Arquitectonia to design the homes and secured then local architect John Carney as Colorado based licensed supervisor.

Arquitectonia was gaining prominence in the Miami area for their daring designs. Within the opening credits of Miami Vice, the condominium building with the cut-out square and spiral stairs (The Atlantis Condominiums) is one of their signature designs. Many of the fabulous homes in the series were designed by Arquitectonia bringing the design vernacular of Miami’s art-deco/moderne South Beach District to the mainstream. All of a sudden glass block, seafoam green and spiral stairs became all the rage in design circles.

Sandy knowing the principles of Arquitectonia desired their design skills for his initial project in Cherry Creek North. A project that to the present day still inspires architecture and design students to visit unannounced to see these homes up close and personal.

#266 Harrison is coming on the market for the first time since 1989 and only the second owner. Designed for the unique constraits of the urban in-fill lot, the structure enhances the site with large windows, over-height ceilings and an overall whimsical design not found in today’s cookie-cutter spec homes.

The residence has undergone a renovation by Bear Creek Design Group which retained the theme of the architecture yet enhanced the design for today’s desires including but not limited to removal of all brass, rebuilding window frames to withstand the harsh Colorado climate, new paint, carpeting, wood floors and other tasks to allow the next steward of the residence to enjoy for generations to come.

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The residence is still unabashedly modern in tone from the glass block elements (a design element from South Beach) to the off-center fireplace (modernized with natural gas yet retaining the maroon chimney and gloss yellow tile log storage) to the replacement of the original Pozzi bay windows with a modern design respecting Colorado’s climate. The kitchen was redesigned removing the formica counters and laminate cabinets, replacing with slab granite, wood cabinets and stainless-steel Kitchen-Aid appliances. With 4 zones of hot water heat and a separate Central Air Conditioning system coupled with R-33 walls and R-36 ceilings, utility bills even during the coldest winters rarely exceeds $100.

The residence is for those who do NOT desire the conventional. It is perfect for entertaining yet also for everyday living as the private residence rooms  (1st and 3rd floors) are separated from the public rooms. The present seller is an art collector; the home has been a showcase for artists including the late Mark Travis, Gary Sweeney (the artist responsible for America, Why I Love Her at Denver International AirportMatt O’Neill and others. Those who desire an attached garage are in luck as the residence offers a just shy of 400 SF 2-car garage with additional driveway parking, a rarity in the neighborhood.

With two(2) bedrooms and two(2) bathrooms within 1,780 SF the perfect condo alternative and no HOA dues. As a row house each unit also has an individual lot ownership. For more information visit: www.266HarrisonSt.info.

Full disclosure, I am the owner and seller of the residence.

 

 

Luxury Housing Market Worldwide Losing Steam

A few days ago I opined on my concern about the Denver luxury housing market. Granted my observations are anecdotal i.e. speaking with peers, eyeballing http://www.REColorado.com and looking at statistics including new listings versus those under contract and closed.

Well it seems the issues are worldwide. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal there was an article about luxury home sellers dropping their asking prices. Granted, Denver does not have many listings in the $5M and up range, however our high-end market is witnessing an increase of listings.

The City of London, one of the most sought after markets of investors worldwide looking to shelter their Yuan, Ruble

s, Rand, Rupee’s and other currencies is also witnessing a slump in the upper echelons of the market. The following article from Bloomberg illustrates this as developers are offering 20% discounts for bulk purchases.

I also work in the New York City marketplace and I have noticed the upper-end of the market senses nervousness. Granted with the average sale in Manhattan hitting $1.7M, the upper-end is truly upper however most new developments are courting the deluxe and luxury buyer yet inventory seems to be providing a glut in the market as demand softens.

Denver is a unique market. We are NOT a world capital city. Our housing market usually does not gyrate the way some similar post-war city markets have including Las Vegas and Phoenix. We have a very stable employment base, a diversified economy and an enviable lifestyle. However we cannot assume events in other markets will not impact our local and regional marketplace.

Again time will tell and I am not suggesting we need to buckle up as the downturn is coming. Instead I hope some rationality comes back to the market and we avoid the snowball effect of increased inventory leading to a glut along all price-points.

Is there a Glut in the Denver Metro Luxury Housing Market

While stories abound concerning newer deluxe and luxury rentals starting to offer incentives to fill their units, little has been mentioned about the ownership market.

If you have driven through Cherry Creek, Washington Park East, Hilltop or Country Club you may have noticed the proliferation of real estate brokerage signs advising homes for sale. Granted we are entering the Spring season which is always a period of increased listings. However for fun I ran some statistical analysis based on our multi-list system.

At present in the Metro Area as of April 8th, 2016 there is 10,934 homes on the market. Breaking down the market by deluxe and luxury price segments for the metro area and separately the City and County of Denver:

$1,000,000+ = 1,400 Homes of which 221 are located within City of Denver

$750,000+ = 2,424 Homes of which 366 are located within City of Denver

$500,000+ = 4,651 Homes of which 740 are located within the City of Denver

Based on the above the luxury market is truly spread across the metro area with the City and County of Denver accounting for approx. 16% of the deluxe and luxury inventory on the market (a percentage I would assumed was higher as the Central City is generally the most expensive PSF real estate however the C&C of Denver does include outlying suburban markets including Green Valley Ranch and Bear Valley).

My concern is approx. 44% of the inventory on the market at present is asking over $500,000. While this number would be considered low for coastal markets, I am concerned as the average income in Metro Denver would translate to a home affordability in the mid $300’s.

Having been through multiple housing cycles during my 30+ years as a resident in Denver historically the deluxe and luxury market is the first to show signs of fatigue, a potential over-bought market, signs of weakness ahead i.e. an increase in inventory and days on the market.

While I am not expecting a serious downturn or correction I believe the deluxe and luxury market is advising us the rampant run-up in prices may be receding. I personally am seeing more listings in Cherry Creek North that last year at this time would have come on the market at $1M+ being presented at more realistic pricing. I am also witnessing a glut of larger homes in Denver’s Hilltop, Washington Park East and Country Club neighborhoods hitting the market.

Yet macro market fundamentals have not changed i.e. the stock market while running sideways seems stable, interest rates continue at historic lows and unemployment rates continue to drop. On a macro level Denver now has the lowest office vacancy rate since 1990 and our unemployment rate is the envy of may rust-belt cities.

Thus something is happening in the market and only time will tell. However if a client asks me to predict the next few months, my advice would be unless you truly love the residence, plan to reside in it for a minimum 3-5 years or its just so attractively priced, my view is sit on the sidelines if you are able.

I will be interested to look at this post one year from today.