The Whipsawing of the Real Estate Market, an example in Cherry Creek North

The 200 block of Harrison Street in Cherry Creek North is an interesting block and one I have some familiarity with as I resided on it for 27.5 years. The east side abuts Colorado Blvd, the west side somewhat sheltered from the traffic. Yet old-time brokers know Jackson St and Harrison St. were always more challenging due to their proximity to Colorado Blvd. Yet in recent years developers have found opportunities on these blocks for redevelopment and advantages with the higher natural topography allowing for unobstructed mountain views.

With interest I have been watching 235 Harrison St, the south side of a duplex. Constructed during the tail end of the boom in the mid 2000’s I always appreciated the contemporary design. While most of the block is of traditional design including a bungalow, the expansive glass and landscaping truly set this duplex apart.

The unit is presently on the market and seems to have been struggling to find a buyer thus I decided to look at the history (please see inflation adjusted to 2018 dollars as noted by the *):

  • The unit came on the market on 4/26/18 for $1,100,000
  • The most recent price adjustment happened on 6/8/18 down to $950,000

Thus I decided to look back at the history a little further:

4/30/08:Comes on the market as new construction for $899,000.

*In 2018 Dollars: $1,050,500

-Of note the beginning of The Great Recession is happening.

1/13/09:Sells for $750,000

*In 2018 Dollars: $879,526

-Basically 6 months later and a $149,000 price reduction from initial asking.

2/09/12: Comes onto market at $799,900

*In 2018 Dollars: $875,540

-$49,000 above last resale 3 years earlier does not sell!

After multiple iterations on the market and price adjustments:

2/24/14: The unit sells for $764,276

*In 2018 Dollars: $812,224

Thus from January 2009 to February 2014 the unit in real dollars increased $14,000 and based on inflation has lost $60,000+.

  • 4/28/18: The unit comes on the market at $1,100,000
  • 5/16/18: Asking reduced to $1,050,000
  • 5/23/18: Asking reduced to $1,000,000
  • 6/08/18: Asking reduced to $950,000

As mentioned this is a lovely residence perfect for the buyer who wishes to own a contemporary residence with mountain views and a roof deck. However as astute buyers, sellers and investors we usually desire our real estate holdings at minimum keep up with inflation and even better exceed inflation coupled with various tax advantages (which are usually negated by maintenance and upkeep).

Thus for 235 Harrison Street the past decade has not been a wise investment. Historically buyers and sellers have come close to breaking even yet when factoring in inflation, which has been historically low over the past decade the ownership, has in fact lost money.

Most economists believe inflation will be making a comeback as we witness low unemployment, increased pricing for basic goods and services from gasoline to commodities coupled with potential trade disputes all coupled with rising mortgage interest rates and a possible recession.

What is interesting I have been watching similar designed row houses going up on Harrison Street south of First Avenue; units with a more pronounced impact from Colorado Boulevard and south of 1st Avenue. Will be interesting to see how the market reacts to those units. Granted new construction does have a premium.

Concerning 235 Harrison as a broker, unless one can get a better price on the purchase consider renting or if making an offer present the information from this blog. Good luck out there.

Advertisements

Is the Bond Market Forecasting a Recession Sooner than Later

On more than one occasion when discussing the Denver housing market I have heard “This time is different”. While we have experienced an unprecedented bull market concerning housing and equities since coming out of the Great Recession; it is never different. Unless I missed the memo, business cycles have not ended.

So why this blog today? Well a couple of reasons:

The Bond Market May Be Advising A Recession is Not Far Off:  While I am a real estate broker I do keep an eye on the bond markets as they influence mortgage interest rates. It is well-known interest rates on mortgages have been ticking upwards from historic lows and still, historically are quite attractive at sub 5%. To be honest mortgage interest rates are not what is worrying me, it is what is called The Yield Curve.

While I can probably explain The Yield Curve the following from The New York Times is an excellent simple description:

“The yield curve is basically the difference between interest rates on short-term United States government bonds, say, two-year Treasury notes, and long-term government bonds, like 10-year Treasury notes.

Typically, when an economy seems in good health, the rate on the longer-term bonds will be higher than short-term ones. The extra interest is to compensate, in part, for the risk that strong economic growth could set off a broad rise in prices, known as inflation. Lately, though, long-term bond yields have been stubbornly slow to rise — which suggests traders are concerned about long-term growth — even as the economy shows plenty of vitality.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve has been raising short-term rates, so the yield curve has been “flattening.” In other words, the gap between short-term interest rates and long-term rates is shrinking.”

What is worrisome, on the 21stof June (a few days ago) the gap between two-year and 10-year United States Treasury notes was roughly 0.34 percentage points. It was last at these levels in 2007 when the United States economy was heading into what was arguably the worst recession in almost 80 years. Of note the Yield Curve fell below zero in late 2007 and the Great Recession started soon after.

Ok, so there is a risk of a recession. A layperson may argue the Yield Curve is not accurate HOWEVER it has predicted recessions over the last 60 years as noted by research conducted by the San Francisco Federal Reserve which can be found via the following link https://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/files/el2018-07.pdf

However to be fair interest rates on long-term bonds have been somewhat manipulated downward due to worldwide central bank interventions i.e. long-term bond buying to shore up economies and keep interest rates low. Thus one could suggest and I partially buy into the idea that the flattening yield curve may be somewhat artificial and not truly representative of the economy’s future course.

Case-Shiller Housing Index: One of my favorite monthly reads and this month’s numbers are nothing new as the same cities continue to hold the top spots: Seattle, Las Vegas, and San Francisco continue to report the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In April, Seattle led the way with a 13.1% year-over-year price increase, followed by Las Vegas with a 12.7% increase and San Francisco with a 10.9% increase.

Yet what intrigues me (and I hope the readers of my blog) is the historical perspective coupled with factoring in inflation as noted from the most recent report in italics as follows:

Looking back to the peak of the boom in 2006, 10 of the 20 cities tracked by the indices are higher than their peaks; the other ten are below their high points. The National Index is also above its previous all-time high, the 20-city index slightly up versus its peak, and the 10-city is a bit below. However, if one adjusts the price movements for inflation since 2006, a very different picture emerges. Only three cities – Dallas, Denver and Seattle – are ahead in real, or inflation-adjusted, terms. The National Index is 14% below its boom-time peak and Las Vegas, the city with the longest road to a new high, is 47% below its peak when inflation is factored in.

Thus if you were a buyer in Denver even during the peak in 2006 and managed to hold onto your home through the Great Recession to today, you are actually ahead concerning real and inflation adjusted dollars.

However I have provided evidence of real estate purchased within the last few years when adjusted for inflation actually losing value.  Thus I decided to look at the annualized return on housing within Denver in a style similar to how mutual funds are profiled i.e. 3, 5 and 10 year annualized returns:

For Denver:

  • 3 Years: 8.17%
  • 5 Years: 9.06%
  • 10 Years: 5.20%

Based on the above-annualized return the last 3-5 years have been a great time to buy and sell. However 10 years ago when the recession started as you can see from the above the annualized return was 5.2%. Yes this beats inflation which we all desire, however when compared to the S&P 500:

S&P 500:

  • 3 Years: 7.30%
  • 5 Years: 7.07%
  • 10 Years: 6.76%

Over the longer term equities continue to beat the housing market.  My message is simple; I believe we may be in an inflated housing market in Denver. As I have provided evidence in past blogs the luxury market seems to be showing signs of resistance to upward prices as evidenced with price reductions coming on line sooner and days on market longer even in what should be peak selling season.

Even the middle and lower end of the market seems to be reacting to the interest rate environment with price increases not as dramatic as higher interest rates reduce affordability.

Between the whipsawing of economic news concerning tariffs/trade, the potential for an inverted yield curve, a slow down in the Denver housing market possibly due to interest rates or buyer fatigue due to lack of inventory based on anecdotal observations or just a bull market that is getting long in the tooth; maybe it is time to take profits and if in cash, maybe time to sit on the sidelines and chill.

 

 

 

 

Is the Market Slowdown Seasonal or an Indicator of Future Activity

As I have always advised clients one will rarely sell at the top of the market or purchase at the bottom. It happens as does winning Powerball i.e. right time, place and lot’s of luck.

Within the last month I have witnessed challenges to the market. At first I thought it was anecdotal based on eyeballing activity on the MLS, the proliferation of For Rent and For Sale signs and in discussions with peers. Yet it finally hit home on a listing I have.

Monaco Place is a popular condo complex located close to I-25 and Hampden Ave. The complex went through some rough times including the infamous shooting of a Denver Police Officer in 1997. During The Great Recession units were being foreclosed on a regular basis. The buildings also fell into disrepair related to the facades, roofs and common areas (most of the complex was built in the early to mid 1970’s). During the period from 2009-2014 one and two bedroom units were selling for under $65,000, this was not an anomaly.

Of course astute buyers saw the value in the complex including a great location, units with wood burning fireplaces (a rarity), low taxes and an HOA fee which includes heat and air-conditioning coupled with large open common areas, deeded covered parking and other positive attributes.

Earlier this year two two-bedroom units sold for new records for the complex:

In March of 2018 3307 S Monaco Parkway Unit C was asking $200K and sold for $215K after just 5 days on the market.

One month earlier in February 2018 3319 S Monaco Parkway Unit A was asking $200K and sold for $216K after just 4 days on the market. Of note, there was a $1,500 concession, thus the true sold price was $214,500.

In April of 2018 3311 S Monaco Parkway Unit C came on the market at $199,900 and closed at $209,500 after 4 days on the market.

The three sales were impressive and many brokers including myself thought those two sales would set a benchmark for the upcoming spring/summer sales season. All three were nicely updated and of similar quality. Based on averages, the three units sold for just over $213,000 with an average 4.3 days on the market before going under contract.

May 2018 saw little activity within Monaco Place, which was surprising with 2oo+/- units and a price point and location that is in high-demand including walking distance to shops, restaurants, supermarket, light-rail, two bus lines and easy access to I-25.

Fast forward to early June 2018. I am asked by a client to place his unit on the market 3351 S Monaco Parkway #F. A nice 2BD/2BA on the top floor of one of the south-central buildings adjacent to parking, steps from the indoor pool/workout facilities and the coin-op washers/dryers just steps from the entry.

The unit was renovated including new paint, flooring including wood and carpeting, replacement of the hollow core with solid doors, kitchen renovation including tile backsplash, granite counters and stainless steel appliances. The bathrooms also remodeled with granite and wood and all updated electrical. The unit, a top floor also offers vaulted ceilings and views onto the open-space surrounded by mature trees thus insuring privacy.

Based on the sales comps we wanted to be fair yet aggressive thus on June 6th we placed on the market for $209,900. The asking was based on the prior 3 sales as noted earlier in the blog.  Showings were limited and little interest. We were surprised again based on recent re-sales.

After 2 weeks we adjusted the price to $199,000 coming in just under $200 PSF. Showings have increased and multiple brokers have advised offers will be sent in the immediate future.

I am confident we will have the unit under contract before the end of the week.

My concern is as follows:

  • Were we overly aggressive pricing at $209,900? While the other three units came on at $199,900 and $200,000 they all sold for above $210,000 or more than 5% over asking. Even at $209,900 we were priced lower than at the price the past 3 re-sales closed.
  • Did the 5% price reduction open the floodgates? Again, based on past re-sales which are within the public domain one could argue instant equity even at the higher asking.
  • Did mortgage interest rates play a role? In Feb 2018 the average 30 yr. mortgage was at 4.32%. In May the rate was 4.61%. As of today (June 19th, 2018) Wells Fargo is quoting 4.75%.

Thus interest rates may be one factor i.e. higher rates increase one’s payment and subsequently can impact housing prices downward over longer periods.  Yet historically interest rates continue to be at record lows.

While the economy continues to gain steam nationally is Denver still experiencing the influx of buyers? At a recent closing in conversation with the title company closer she mentioning having two deals close earlier in the day; both sellers native to Denver moving out of state to buyers moving to the state flush with cash from their out-of-state sale. It seems the blockbuster pace in in-migration may actually be slowing and out-migration increasing as noted in the Denver Post last year: More Coloradans Moving Out….

I have provided statistical evidence in previous blogs concerning the slowdown on the upper-tier of the market. While the sale of $1M+ homes may have set records on a pure transaction basis, the reality is prices on the upper-end are stagnating and adjusting downward as days on market are increasing. And while the overall market set records for average and median home prices during the beginning of the 2ndquarter was that the top?

Monaco Place by most measures is an affordable opportunity where one can purchase with a monthly payment that is less than comparable rent.  Yet to generate activity my seller had to reduce his asking by 5% now at 7.5% less than comparable sales in the 1stand beginning of the 2ndquarter.

Is this a seasonal shift i.e. summer vacations or a signal that the market is plotting a new course? Only time will tell. However while the spring season used to be known for sizzling activity so far this season like the weather has been cool and mild.

Will keep you posted when the listing closes and what the final sales price will be.

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

 

 

Does the New York City Luxury Market Foretell the Denver Luxury Market and Beyond

Yes I am well aware Denver is not New York City even if we do have Rosenberg’s Bagels and The New York Deli News; literally a slice of the Big Apple on Hampden Avenue. However the old adage goes when New York sneezes the rest of the country catches a cold. The reference is to the stock market; I am more concerned about the real estate market.

As some of my readers know I hold real estate licenses in both Colorado and New York and I work in both markets. Most recently the statistics concerning New York City real estate is concerning:

  • Real estate sales in the first quarter of 2018 posted their largest drop in nearly a decade and reached their lowest level in more than six years.
  • The high end of the market is getting hit the hardest, partly because of asking prices.
  • Many sellers have yet to lower their prices in keeping with tax law changes and a general slowdown since 2014.

The big headline in Manhattan was the 25% reduction is sales in the first quarter of 2018 when compared with the prior year. While the number in itself raised a few eyebrows more shocking was the drop, the largest in a decade meaning since the day when Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns basically imploded and some argue the catalyst of The Great Recession.

The high end of the market is getting hit the hardest, since it’s the most discretionary segment. Prices for luxury apartments in Manhattan fell 15 percent and sales were down 24 percent in the quarter from 2017.

In Denver the luxury market seems to be on fire with sales including the highest number of over $1M homes selling in 2017 and a few blockbuster listings already in 2018. New York City went through the same cycle a few years back including the record setting $100M condo sale at 157 W 57thStreet.

For now Denver seems immune as the luxury sales have been associated with truly unique and rare properties in Denver’s toniest neighborhoods including Country Club, Cherry Creek North, Polo Club and in the suburbs including Cherry Hills Village. My question is anyone concerned about the number of condos coming online and developed in Cherry Creek North, many asking over $1M. Or the potential glut of luxury rentals on the market and those in the pipeline in Cherry Creek and along the Speer Corridor.

The luxury housing market I have suggested is similar to the stock market; it in general looks forward and sets the trends for the overall market. Well let’s look at the overall Manhattan market…..

The average sales price in Manhattan dropped 8 percent when compared to one-year prior. 8% may not sound like much however let’s assume you purchased a home in Metro Denver in 2017 for the average price of $480,140. How would you feel if suddenly $38,000 of your value suddenly disappeared and your home was now worth $442,140?

The money you invested in the conventional down-payment has basically disappeared yet your mortgage is the same, your PITI will probably increase due to property taxes and thinking about refinancing, interest rates are trending up not down.

While many believe the Federal Tax Law changes concerning deductibility of real estate taxes being capped at $10,000 mostly affects the Northeast and California, guess again….many of the luxury homes selling in the Denver metro area have tax bills in excess of $10,000 annually. The next assessment coupled with the gains over the past few years will increase valuations even further.

Let’s assume tax law changes are inconsequential; let’s consider other factors, which are challenging the Manhattan market:

Glut of Luxury Properties: In Manhattan due to land and construction costs luxury is what has to be constructed to justify investment costs. The same is being said in Cherry Creek North and in areas of gentrification i.e. LoHi and RiNo. Yet the luxury market is not infinite i.e. the higher the price point the less demand, as the potential pool of buyers is smaller and honestly more fickle.

Out-migration: While I continually hear about the continued in-migration leading to challenges concerning livability the reality is according to the state demographer, we are experiencing increased out-migration.

Cost Of Living: Denver is and has been for a few years the most expensive city not located on a coastline. While we believe we can rest on our laurels concerning the Colorado Lifestyle and the hipness of Denver, Salt Lake City is nipping at our spurs. We also forget such cities as Minneapolis, Dallas and others are actively courting tech businesses and capturing new residents due to their reasonable cost of living.

Do I see the market changing radically in the next few months? Not necessarily however the headwinds are there i.e. interest rate hikes, a bull market that seems to be losing steam, housing costs that are increasing faster than average wages and over-priced listings sitting on the market the light of rationality.

While we may wish to emulate Seattle, Portland and San Francisco we should be careful what we wish for.

 

 

If at First You do not Succeed Re-list

While I do not necessarily believe the following quote is attributable to Einstein in the context of this blog I find it most appropriate:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I use the above quote concerning the some aspects of the real estate market in Metro Denver that I am witnessing. To distill the niche of the market for which this quote is appropriate are the select listings which come on the market, do not sell, are withdrawn or expired and come back on the market at the same or higher price.

Here are just a few select examples:

100 Lafayette Street: A sprawling 2-story post-war suburban style home in the desirable Country Club neighborhood on an expansive lot.

  • 4/2/16           Listed at $1,350,000 – subsequently withdrawn or expired
  • 3/9/17           Listed at $1,300,000 – subsequently withdrawn or expired
  • 5/18/17        Listed at $1,300,000
  • 6/6/17           Price Adjustment to $1,280,000
  • 7/18/17        Price Adjustment to $1,250,000 – subsequently withdrawn or expired
  • 3/18./18        Listed at $1,250,000

As of today this residence will have been on and off the market for two calendar years. During that time, while there has been a $100,000 price reduction or approx. 8% the residence continues to search for a buyer. Yet the pricing over the past year has remained static. Yes, one may argue inventory for the neighborhood continues to be challenged and just waiting for the correct purchaser i.e. one who desires a larger home at a below comparable PSF pricing. I will continue to watch as while the residence has many positives i.e. finished square feet and larger lot. However being adjacent to 1st Avenue, even with a sound/privacy wall will be a challenge for many prospective buyers (I know the challenges;  I have transacted residences along the 200 Block of Colorado Boulevard).

600 High Street: A sprawling large brick potential duplex configuration situated on a coveted 100’ x 125’ lot. Personally I have had my eye on this one for potential redevelopment HOWEVER I too cannot make the numbers work (due to pricing, location adjacent to 6th Avenue and Historic District inclusion) yet its pricing history continues to baffle me:

  • 8/26/14:       Listed at $1,495,000
  • 8/26/15:       Price Adjustment to $1,445,000
  • 11/20/15:     Price Adjustment to $1,395,000
  • 1/9/16:          Price Adjustment to $1,345,000 – under contract and active again
  • 4/8/16:          Relisted at $1,150,000
  • 10/8/17:       Price Adjustment to $1,250,000 (yes adjusted upward)
  • 10/27/17:     Price Adjustment to $1,150,000 (1.5 years to get back to that price)
  •                       -Status to under contract multiple times and falls through
  • 12/11/17:     Price Adjustment to $999,000 (under contract and falls through)
  • 3/23/18:       Relisted at $999,000

At present this residence has been on and off market for 3.5 years. While there had been a substantial price reduction from the original $1,495,000 to a more realistic $999,000 the home has still not sold. I will not get into the details of Time Value of Money and Inflation. Yet I will suggest the history of this house seems to repeat itself, look at the sales history:

  • 7/13/1995:   Sold for $670,000
  • 2/20/1997:   Sold for $670,000
  • 6/15/2002:   Sold for $625,000

Thus between 1995 and 2002 the home actually lost $45,000 (more if factoring in inflation) and now with 3.5 years on the market continues to look for a buyer. While there may be a buyer willing to pay $999,000, when considering in inflation and rising interest rates is it worth the wait coupled with maintenance and carrying costs including real estate taxes.

140 S Claremont Street: This is a home I have watched as I walk by weekly when looking at opportunities in Hilltop. With its coveted location within 2 blocks of Graland as well as Cranmer Park coupled with great curb appeal I have literally watched this home bounce around concerning pricing as follows:

  • 6/15/16:       Listed at $2,375,000
  • 8/30/17:       Price Adjustment to $2,275,000 – Subsequently withdrawn
  • 1/12/17:       Listed at $2,275,000
  • 4/10/17:       Price Adjustment to $2,175,000
  • 6/14/17:       Price Adjustment to $2,075,000 – Subsequently withdrawn
  • 8/7/17:          Price Adjustment to $1,999,000
  • 10/4/17:       Price Adjustment to $1,900,000 – Subsequently withdrawn
  • 4/1/18:          Relisted at $1,950,000

During its almost two years on the market there were multiple price adjustments coming down to $1,900,000 in October 2017 only to be placed back on the market in April 2018 at $50,000 more. Again, I understand spring selling season yet I guarantee you any good broker representing a buyer will review the history of the listing and share with their client before making an offer.

Back to the definition of insanity. While I am not suggesting the above examples are insane. I believe it is more a function of the market or the PERCEPTION of the market i.e. unabated demand, low supply and continued low interest rates. Yet the markets are a changing i.e. interest rates are ticking up, inflation is on the horizon and the equity markets are buoyant yet the charts are showing a downward trend from their peak i.e. 10% off the high of 3 months ago.

I do not fault the brokers or their clients i.e. the sellers…..this has happened to yours truly!

My awakening began in 2012; the market has just experienced the Great Recession and was beginning to show signs of activity. I will not disclose the address of the residence as it has since been sold and closed, however the neighborhood is the NW quadrant of Cory-Merrill.

The house a pop-top (first and to this day the largest on the block) sold after renovation in October 2005 for $810,000. While 1-2 years before the peak of the market the buyers in retrospect over-paid for the residence based on the opinion of myself and other brokers. In addition to purchasing the house for $810,000 the buyers added an additional $40K in interior cosmetic upgrades while neglecting the rear-yard (usually a strong selling feature for most buyers), thus in their house for $850,000 in 2005 Dollars.

I was contacted in early 2012 about listing the residence. The sellers planned on retiring and relocating beyond Denver. I visit the residence with a peer broker armed with comparable sales data. My co-broker and I confer and suggested based on empirical data i.e. sales comps an asking of $715,000. Now the saga begins; per the seller’s request the house is listed in April 2012 for $819,000! Yes, $819K or $100K+ over what we suggested.

  • 4/25/12:       Listed at $819,000
  •                      -3 weeks, one showing off an open-house.
  • 5/15/12:       Price Adjustment to $739,000
    • -Seller still believes this is the eventual selling price dismissing our $715 suggestion based on verifiable comparable’s one month earlier.
  • 9/30/12:      A mutual termination concerning the listing and I am thankful as endured  50+ showings and not one single offer.
  • 10/4/12:       Relisted with another broker for $739,000
  • 11/2/12:       Price Adjustment to $725,000
  • 12/14/12:     Sold for $710,000

In addition to the $100K loss i.e. $810,000 paid in 10/2005 to the $710 paid in December 2012 over the 7 years, during my 10 months as broker the seller’s paid in excess of $40,000 in mortgage and carrying costs only to sell the residence for what my peer and I suggested 10 months earlier.

On a more technical basis, here are the inflation adjusted #’s: The $710,000 in 2005 was actually $834,673 in 2012 Dollars, thus their real dollar loss was closer to $225,000.

The lessons are simple:

  • For sellers, even in a hot sellers market be realistic.
  • For brokers, while a listing may look attractive, if it does not sell, it is a challenge both financially and psychologically for all parties.
  • For buyers, trees do not grow in the sky, they need soil and moisture.

Finally from Wall Street: “Do not fight the tape”…..the DJI is off 10% from its high of 26,616, trading at 24,037 as of this posting, interest rates are going up per the Federal Reserve Minutes, inflation is an actual concern on the horizon and wages while ticking up are still considered stagnant.

My humble suggestion, price correctly and sell immediately, the market conditions known as Goldilocks can change to Papa Bear in a moment’s notice.

Sell like its 2016 not 2005.

Another Luxury Listing Shows Stress on the Upper End of Market

OK, I am the first to admit on occasion I drive down 7th Avenue from Cherry Creek to Corona Street so I can access the Safeway at 6th Avenue and Corona Street easily (yes I am still mourning the loss of my neighborhood Safeway). I drive at a leisurely pace taking in the majesty and prestige of one of Denver’s finest parkways. West of Williams Street when the Avenue becomes a standard width roadway the houses still continue to impress.

That is why I have been intrigued with 1433 East 7th Avenue. A home, which exudes gravitas. A nice corner lot, raised from the sidewalk coupled with mature landscaping can easily be at home in a many pre-war cities in the Northeast of for those who have relocated from the Bay Area, think Pacific Heights lite or if from Los Angeles, Beverly Grove.

With just shy of 6,000 SF finished including the basement and a manageable 7,250 SF lot (honestly I have mixed opinions concerning corners) larger than what I was and continue to search for but as mentioned from the exterior, gravitas. The stately yet manageable interior is perfect for many prospective buyers in this broker’s opinion from the center-hall plan to the upscale kitchen to the preservation of design details including wood beams and so forth. Updated yet respectful of its history.

I have kept my eye on this house since I first watched it come on the market in April 2011 as the Denver market was finally awakening from the reckoning of the Great Recession. At the time up-market listings continued to struggle to find a buyer however if priced correctly, they sold and some very astute buyers have probably done quite well on paper to date.

  • In April 2011 the home sold for $1,655,450 off an asking of $1,750,000.
  • In 2018 Dollars: $1,824,189

 

  • In August 2015 the home sold for $2,195,000, its asking price after being on the market for approximately two weeks and no seller concession! Many would argue that summer was the beginning of the major ascent of the market from realistic pricing to exuberant listing prices.
  • In 2018 Dollars: $2,295,481

Thus in a span of 4 years the sellers pre-commission made $539,550 not accounting for inflation. Even considering broker commissions (assume $130,000 at 6%), the sellers most likely netted approximately $400,000 of $100,000/yr concerning their residence.

I do not know if the sellers renovated or did other improvements, as I have not toured the home in years. However based on images and broker comments I am assuming any updates made were minimal.

Let’s fast forward to May 2017, just shy of 2 years later the home reappears on the market asking $2,500,000. Of note the home was purchased for $2,195,000 two years prior or asking for a $300,000 gain in 2 years of $150,000/year. In August the home is re-priced at $2,395,000 and the listing eventually expired.

As of January 2018 the house is back on the market with a revised asking price of $2,299,000, $96,000 less than the previous ask.

Let’s assume the seller does indeed get $2,299,000 for the sale price. When factoring a 6% commission ($137,940), their net is approximately $2,161,060.

 In my analysis a few issues arise as follows:

Seller paid $2,195,000 in August 2015. Assuming it sells for asking (doubtful as already 52 days on market), after commission their net is below their purchase price 2.5 years prior; a recap:

  • August 2015: Paid $2,195,000
  • January 2018: Asking $2,299,000
  • Commission 6% ($137,940)
  • Net at Asking: $2,161,060
  • Thus seller would walk away with a $34,000 Gain!

 Yet the gain of $34,000 assumes an at asking closing price. Again after almost two months on the market, doubtful but it could happen.

Now two additional issues:

Inflation: When purchased on 2015 for $2,195,000 based on 2018 Dollars that would translate to $2,295,481, thus based on inflation, already a real-dollar value loss even if sold at asking.

Real Estate Taxes: When the home first came on the market in 2011 the taxes on the house were listed at $8,127 or $677/month. At present the taxes in the house are listed at $13,779 or $1,148.25/month, a difference of $471.25/month. Granted at this price-point should not be an issue for the buyer (except the issue concerning tax deductibility of real estate taxes but will not go there in this blog post).

One of my friends from the East Coast is a stock trader and refuses to purchase a home in his suburban New York City community. His rationale; he can earn more money in the market versus his primary residence which he views as a money-losing proposition or at best matching inflation over the long-term and coupled with exorbant real estates taxes,he prefers to rent. So I asked him the following:

If one bought $2,195,000 of the Dow Jones ETF (basically a vehicle that tracks the DOW which I understand is not the best gauge of the stock market but is one of the most recognized) in August 2015 what would it be worth today?

  • In August 2015 the DJ ETF was trading at $166.35 / 13,195 Shares
  • On February 27th, 2018 the DJ ETF was trading at $255.33
  • The 13,195 Shares today would be worth $3,369,097
  • Total Gain: $1,174,097 or close to $42,000/average per month increase. Yes we are all aware of the gains over the past 12 months skewing the valuations.

My analysis tells me the follows:

  • The upper-end of the market is showing weakness and fatigue and thus slowing.
  • The belief that housing values can only increase is a fallacy as the upper-end is usually the first market segment to show signs of impending weakness.
  • The pinnacle of housing market values is behind us.

Now for my peer brokers who will advise but one needs a residence to live in; I cannot agree more both as a broker and one who is actively looking for a residence to purchase HOWEVER, let’s do the math:

The gain of $42,000 month is commendable yet most likely an anomaly as many argue the market is overheated and a respected wealth manager I know advises: “Trees do not grow in the sky” thus such oversized gains should be viewed within context.

However, that $42,000/monthly gain if generating 4.5% would equate to approximately $1,900 month. While one could not rent 1433 East 7th Avenue for $1,900/month. Yet when generating $42,000/month in gains, I assume one could dip into the monthly for a similar home in the $5,000-$7,500/month range and still have a nice return on investment.

Please know I am NOT a pessimist. However I have personally been through three (3) business cycles during my time in Denver and have watched real estate values rise and fall. While I do not except an across the board dramatic downtown of valuations; with the potential for rising interest rates for both mortgages and bonds, realignment of equity valuations to more traditional patterns, potential inflation and out-migration of population from Colorado, a 10%-20% downward valuation concerning housing valuations may not be out of the norm, it has happened before and history can repeat itself. Again, just one humble brokers opinion.

 

 

 

 

Is it Just Me or are the Optimistic Headlines Pointing to Concerns

Ok, I am a pessimist! Well not really but I have been accused of being too conservative concerning finance and investment. Granted most recently some of my portfolio was stopped out during the flash crash only to come roaring back within two weeks. And yes housing in Denver is still in-demand with limited supply and it seems overly eager buyers. However today’s headlines concerned me as follows:

US housing starts total 1.326 million in Jan, vs 1.234 million starts expected

  • New home construction increased to more than a one-year high in January.
  • The market was boosted by a rebound in the construction of single-family housing units.
  • Building permits soared to their highest level since 2007.

On the surface I should be thrilled as housing starts are beginning to mirror our economy which continues to defy conventional cycles and this expansion looks never-ending HOWEVER review last line of the bullet points:

Building permits soared to their highest levels since 2007” Yet just around the corner in 2009 we were in the depths of The Great Recession teetering on the edge of a Depression.

Concerning housing, most would agree our low-interest rate environment has been somewhat responsible for consumer demand i.e. many purchasing based on the amount of their monthly payment versus equity basis. If planning for the long-term hold this is not necessarily an issue as housing usually exceeds inflation. Granted the buyers from 2004-2006 who sold between 2009 and 2011 may have a different opinion. Yet, what happens if interest rates rise another 65 basis point to 5% which is still a low mortgage rate when looking at a historical chart.

According to Redfin: A 5 percent rate would cause more than a quarter of today’s homebuyers to slow their plans and housing affordability is starting to take a hit. The report goes on to advise buyers will still be house hunting however if one’s PITI increases will wages match? At present we have the signs of inflation yet wages remain stagnant.

Concerning employment and wages the good news is we are at a 17-year low concerning unemployment. The bad news the unemployment rate before the great recession was only 0.5% higher than it is today.

January 2018:          Unemployment Rate at 4.1%

January 2007:           Unemployment Rate at 4.6%

Of note the Recession officially started in December 2007 with unemployment rising to 5% that month and at its worst during The Great Recession, unemployment was at 9.5%

On to consumer sentiment i.e. how the average consumer feels about the economy:

January 2018:           Consumer Sentiment 95.7

January 2007:           Consumer Sentiment 96.9

For the remainder of 2007 the Consumer Sentiment stayed relatively strong hovering in the 80’s and 90’s yet by November and December of that year the Sentiment Index dropped into the mid 70’s as the recession began.

And finally an interesting article quoting an apartment developer:

Major apartment developer: ‘There is an acute crisis headed our way’

  • The luxury market is largely overbuilt, while there is a shortage of affordable rental housing.
  • Lower and middle-income households are spending proportionally more on their rent, says apartment developer Toby Bozzuto.
  • Nearly half of all renter households pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

As you have probably noticed in downtown and Cherry Creek the crane has again become the “official bird” of the Front Range. Yet many experts are cautioning the cranes are associated with the building of luxury apartments. Of note, multifamily construction is now at a 40-year high; the trouble is, developers are putting up the wrong kinds of buildings. The luxury market is largely overbuilt, while there is a shortage of affordable rental housing, and developers are hamstrung by the now record-high cost of construction.

The statistics are suggesting a potential for an overbuilt/supply coming soon as apartment completions in the 150 largest U.S. cities jumped to 395,775 units in 2017, beating 2016 production by a staggering 46 percent and more than doubling the long-term average, according to RealPage, an apartment management software and data company. Luxury, upscale buildings accounted for between 75 and 80 percent of the new supply in the current cycle.

I am not necessarily sounding the alarm but as a real estate broker with a few decades under my belt AND one who has a good memory of business cycles I remain concerned. My gut feeling is we will begin to encounter inflation which while necessary I believe will exceed the Federal Reserves 2%. Couple this with rising interest rates yet wage increases being stagnant we can run into serious complications leading to a recession. If it is a soft landing or a violent correction, that remains to be seen.

Again based on a traffic signal my light is Yellow and the countdown to Red is fast approaching, thus speed up and if conservative brake now and wait for the light to change and maybe avoid a potential collison.

 

 

Gyrations can Happen in the Housing Market as Well

The whipsawing of the equities market over the past few days has been challenging for many with the assumption the market will continue to rise. When the equity markets settle the forensics will probably blame a combination of leverage and obscure volatility index trades as the culprit.

Yet what about our Denver housing market?

Earlier this week I posted an article from CNBC concerning a home in Denver listed at $500K, which generated 100+ showings over the weekend. The issue haunted me as 1) at $500K still above the average cost of a home in the metro area, 2) with such interest are prospective buyers chasing a commodity versus a home i.e. low inventory, high-demand and 3) hindsight can be most appreciated.

Concerning hindsight; I take evening walks. Lately I have been keeping an eye on a home close to my residence. In the interest of privacy I will not disclose the address however I will share the following:

Neighborhood: Strong, desirable for families within the City and Country of Denver, well-respected public elementary and middle schools as well as a popular private school.

Street: Literally on the border of the neighborhood, on a minor arterial i.e. two-way, but one-lane in each direction. The street dead-ends about a mile north so not a major arterial mostly neighborhood oriented traffic. Within two blocks of a neighborhood oriented commercial low-scale retail development and within 4 blocks of a neighborhood park, all amenities.

The Residence (From Public Remarks): Amazing home in _________ under $600K!! Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to live in desirable ________. This beautiful brick bungalow has an updated kitchen with breakfast bar, seating area, and stainless steel appliances. Bright living room with wood burning fireplace and coved ceilings on the main floor and another large family room in the basement. Home has fabulous refinished hardwoods and a large master bedroom. Large backyard with deck and covered front porch. Ample amounts of storage in the laundry area as well as the garage and attached shed. Walking distance to great restaurants, amazing parks, and one of the top-rated elementary schools in Denver. 4th Bedroom in basement is non-conforming.

Style: Bungalow, pre-WWII Construction

Size: Approx 1,100+ SF Main Level, 1,100+ SF Fully Finished Basement

Configuration: 4 Bedrooms/2 Bathrooms

Garage: 2-Car

Lot: 6,750 SF

Now the Pricing History: Please note I am just using month and year to retain some privacy. Of note during its history dating to July 2012 from the images associated with the listing there was no major exterior or interior renovation that I could ascertain.

  • Jul. 2012:       Placed on market for $450,000 / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 3.55%
  • Sep. 2012:      Price reduction $450,000 – $425,000 / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 3.5%
  • Dec. 2012:      Expired, taken off market NO SALE

——————————————————–

  • Jun. 2015:      Placed on market for $492,000 / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 4.05%
  • Jun. 2015:      Taken off market NO SALE

———————————————————-

  • Jul. 2015:       Placed on market $519,000 / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 4.05%
  • Aug. 2015:     Price reduction $519,000 – $498,000 / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 3.91%
  • Sep. 2015:      Price reduction $498,000 – $475,000 / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 3.89%
  • Jan. 2016:      Sold and Closed: $445,000 / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 3.88%

__________________________________________

  • Jan. 2018:      Placed on market for $600,000
  • Jan. 2018:      Price reduction $600,000 – $585,000
  • Jan. 2018:      Price reduction $585,000 – $575,000
  • Feb. 2018:      Price reduction $575,000 – $565,000 / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 4.38%
  • Feb. 2018:      Goes Under Contract

In the above example between 2012 and 2016 one could argue the value did not change. While our collective memories can be subjective; in 2012 we were finally seeing viable sprouts post Great Recession yet it was not until 3.5 years later that the original asking price of $450,000 ($483.182 in 2018) from July 2012 was realized i.e. sold and closed Jan 2016 for $445,000 ($457,000 in 2018).

Now the home is back on the market. From Jan 2016 when the house sold for $445,000 and was placed back on the market last month for $600,000 or basically a 35% gain in two (2) years.

Now granted at the last asking i.e. $565,000 the potential gain is 22%. Yet from July 2012 to January 2016 one could argue there was no gain or most likely the market gained yet the listing was overpriced to when listed in 2012.

Now for some history. Going back to the days before the great recession:

  • 6/1993:         Closed for $120,000 ($204,725 in 2018) / 30-Yr Interest Rate: 7.21%
  • 10/1995:       Closed for $156,000 ($252,347 in 2018) /30-Yr Interest Rate: 7.64%

In the two year period noted above the house appreciated by 30%

The sellers of the house I believe desire to repeat history i.e. within a 2 year period asking for a 22% gain.

The following is added on Feb 7, 2018: In reviewing MLS this morning a classic Mid-Century Modern listing expired. Asking is $1.5M. A beautiful renovation/update as I remember viewing the residence when it was for sale in 2009 sold for $610,000 ($700,949 in 2018). Even more to my surprised I pulled the Chain of Title, the same home sold in 2004 for $629,000 ($820,876 in 2018). Thus in 9 years the home lost $19,000  (during which time  the local economy went from exuberance to recession). That same house was most recently listed at $1.5M. Considering the renovation and factoring for inflation $1.5M while high is not necessarily irrational yet the market has spoken i.e. 85 days on market and no sale. The prior sale in 2009 the home was on the market for 562 days or over 1.5 years! As a wise professor once said off the cuff “History does repeat itself

The question is are such gains sustainable or are we on the verge of irrational exuberance concerning housing prices?

The average price of a single-family home sold in 2017 reached $480,140, an increase of 8.7 percent from 2016. The median sold price, the point where half the homes sell for more and half for less, was $410,000, an increase of 7.9 percent.

Condo prices rose even more on a year-to-date basis, hitting an average sales price of $318,904 in 2017, up 10 percent from 2016, with a median sales price of $270,000, up 12.15 percent from 2016. This is not to be unexpected i.e. affordability both in sales price and overall upkeep.

Yet concerning incomes, the average salary in Denver, Colorado is $60,370. As of Q4 2017, the trend in wages is down 0.3 percent. The cost of living in Denver is 12.1% higher than the national average.

And why am I concerned?

  • Average salaries are not keeping up with housing costs.
  • Building permit activity has been most active in rental housing a market many believe had peaked in 2017 and with new construction continuing a potential glut coupled with lessening demand.
  • Lower interest rates may be permitting more leveraging. Yes borrowing standards have tightened YET there are still loans with just 3% to 5% down. Thus if the housing market cools there is the possibility of residences with negative equity.
  • Real Estate Taxes may increase. As assessor data is complied every two years the increase in underlying valuations will translate to higher tax bills.
  • The Goldilocks Economy: We came out of a deep recession with some caution, which seems to have dissipated as the economy continues to expand. Yet with expansion comes higher interest rates (as the Federal Reserve hopes to keep inflation in check) and partially what spooked the equity markets.

Equities are liquid and thus volatility with such liquidity can be expected. 5% moves in the Dow Average were not uncommon over the past 20 years. While housing values in general do not fluctuate I would argue the uptrend is flattening and to proceed with caution.

As the example above illustrates timing can be important. If one is purchasing today for the long term i.e. 5-7 plus years or longer I would not necessarily be concerned especially if able to lock in an attractive interest rate.

However if one assumes the market will only continue to go up, continue to exceed inflation and generate oversized returns year after year…..just remember negative equity, short sales and foreclosures are in the rear-view mirror and could be accelerating.

Remember Goldilocks needed a nap as well.

Home Prices in Metro Denver Continue to Rise but…..

As a real estate broker and subscriber to our local Multilist service in Denver known as www.REColorado.com (and the site with the most accurate and up-to-date real-estate information) I am provided with information and overviews of the markets on a monthly and annual basis. Thus a year in review and a look back.

In 2017 the average home price in the 12-county metro area rose to $433,000.

For comparison, the average home price in the same area in 2015 was $362,000 and in 2016 was $400,000 or $61,000 and $33,000 gains respectively. Considering inflation has been marginal and barely measurable i.e. below the Federal Reserves target of 2%, the real-dollar gains continue to impress.

Home Sales Volumes: 2017 witnessed the highest number of actual home sales totaling 53,739 totaling $23.3B. In 2016 sales totaled 51,617 units at $20.6B and in 2015 51,510 units sold at $18.6B. Thus a small year over year increase coupled with limited new construction the trend could be considered steady with underlying values exceeding inflation. Of note historically until this past generation home prices nationally usually mirrored inflation with obvious regional anomalies.

As a broker based in Denver’s Cherry Creek Neighborhood and educated as an Urban Planner (graduate of CU Denver) I view the market activity within the City and County of Denver as the overall indicator of the metro area market as the City is the center of commerce, the largest most dense in the metro area, limited land for additional sprawl/growth and other factors.

Interestingly sales volume in Denver did not follow the trend of the overall metro area.

  • In 2017 13,043 homes sold in Denver for $6B. (- over previous two years)
  • In 2016, 13,265 homes sold for $5.6B (+ over previous year)
  • In 2015, 13,053 homes sold for $5.1B

While one may view the reduction in home sales year over year as troubling, I would suggest looking a little deeper. First statistically the actual physical number of homes sales year over year has been steady with almost no statistical variation. During the 3 years the amount of closed volume based on dollars went from $5.1B to $6B this is a major increase in both real dollars and by percentage.

Or in more simplistic terms, the number of homes sold in 2015 and 2017 was about even, a difference of 10 homes less in 2017 versus 2015 HOWEVER the difference in sales dollars during the two-year period went from $5.1B to $6B, a difference of $900M.

Thus, one could surmise values within the City and County of Denver continue to outpace the metro area and demand is outstripping supply. Yet there is an additional variable; Denver in general has more percentage of sales from non-traditional single-family homes i.e. condos and townhomes. Through November of 2017 within Denver 12,168 residential properties sold with 7,602 of transactions recorded in MLS as single-family homes and 4,566 belonging to condos or townhomes.

Over 1/3 of properties sold were in the multifamily space usually a less costly product versus the single-family home (and yes I am aware of multimillion dollar condos in downtown and Cherry Creek yet their volume is somewhat insignificant against the overall sales volume i.e. limited impact on actual sales dollar numbers).

The question or the BUT… in the title is? Can the City and County of Denver sustain this valuation increase or are we looking at a market that may in fact be over-heated and not-sustainable? I do not know the answer as only future activity can answer this question.

HOWEVER 1) If I were considering selling a residence, I would place it on the market sooner than later. 2) Interest rates are forecast to increase due to the stronger national economy thus placing potential pressure on sale prices and 3) reports of decreased in-migration and increased outmigration are troubling yet not surprising as the State has witnessed this in past business cycles i.e. late 1980’s energy bust, mid 1990’s expansion, late 1990’s plateau, mid 2000’s boom and later 2000’s Great Recession.

While I do not believe we are headed into a recession anytime in the immediate future, the growth in real-dollar values coupled with low-inflation is just not sustainable within traditional economic theory (coupled we have very short memories). While some suggest low interest rates have fueled the housing market as it has the equity market; unlike stocks, housing is not liquid. My advice and the future may prove me incorrect however I would suggest a “Yellow Light” proceed with caution and keep looking ahead for potential issues.

 

Listing in Winter – What Is Going to Maximize the Value

While most homeowners are preparing for the holiday season, those astute owners who are contemplating placing their residence on the market have already contacted brokers with the question “What is going to maximize the value of my sale?”

This is a truly diverse question as each and every home in unique. Yes some would suggest curb appeal (I completely agree however if placing a home on the market in winter before inventory rises, curb appeal especially in snowy climates may be moot). Others mention paint/ carpet and so forth. Yes however exterior no, too cold for paint to adhere and interior great idea but again if north of the Mason-Dixon line, do you really want to air-out the house with sub-freezing temperatures outside?

The following are a few tips I suggest to homeowners contemplating selling sooner than later i.e. placing their homes on the market before the traditional spring rush. Coupled with potential changes in tax laws concerning deductibility and other revisions, this could be a unique selling season coupled being in the 8th year of an expansion which some argue is getting long in the tooth.

As a homeowner, sometimes the work it takes to keep your house in order seems endless. But what if you knew all your improvements were ultimately increasing the value of your property? Read on for a few tips that can help make your home an even better investment.

Opt for replacing instead of remodeling — On average, replacing items in your home yields a better return on investment (ROI) than remodeling projects. Rather than completely redesigning the layout of your living room, consider installing new soundproof windows or switching out your front door. The lead-time can be shorter this time of year as contractors and suppliers are looking for work in tis traditionally slower time of the year for such work.

Keep it simple — Generally, the simpler and cheaper the task, the more likely it is to have a higher ROI. Extravagant jobs such as installing smart appliances in your kitchen or putting in a high-tech security system may not be worth it in the end. Instead, scale back a bit and opt for painting your walls a fresh new color, deep clean your home or add some crown molding. Remember the more particular the taste and wow factor you may be alienating potential buyers. We have a saying in our broker meetings K,I,S,S = Keep It Simple Stupid. While tongue in cheek remember you are the seller, let the next buyer improve or revise to their unique tastes.

Don’t forget the exterior — Curb appeal projects also tend to have a bigger impact. Once again, a little goes a long way, so consider a few strategically placed planters (let the prospective buyer imagine spring flowers or even better illuminated planters, switch out the front door knob/lock-set and replace outdoor lights concerning both design and energy efficiency (LED bulbs have longevity as a benefit). As mentioned above these tasks can be completed during the winter months without too much hassle.

Follow the rules — Before you start making any major changes, be sure to check that you’re abiding by your homeowners association rules and regulations as well as city codes and ordinances. All counties and cities are different, so the best way to find out if you need a permit is to contact your local planning and zoning office. While in a covenant controlled subdivision this is a given even in cities there may be overlay Historic Districts or demand to bring improvements to existing code versus being grandfathered in. My advice, keep all correspondence and permits visible and when the Home Inspector arrives keep copies of all paperwork visible.

Pre-Sale Inspection: I actually did this for my personal resale in the Spring of 2017. I had embarked on a cosmetic renovation as the home was pushing 30+ years old. While still contemporary in design the reality is the laminate counters needed to go, as did the Miami Vice inspired plastic towel bars and so forth. The inspection came out fine however unbeknownst to us the electrical panel we had for the home had been “recalled” in 1990. We purchased the residence in 1989. Long story short we replaced the panel, which would have been flagged by any qualified inspector and thus removed a potential major inspection issue.