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 (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.


What a Hole in the Ground May Indicate About the Health of the Real Estate Market

I have lived in the Cherry Creek North neighborhood long enough to watch our neighbors to the south i.e. Cherry Creek East blossom into a diverse neighborhood from rental and condo high-rises to townhomes, mid-height rentals, an assisted living facility and oh so many townhomes built usually as rows versus the duplexes you see north of 1t Avenue (as most of Cherry Creek East is zoned Planned Unit Development).

On my walk this afternoon I was stopped in my tracks at The Cassidy (basically S. Harrison Street between Cedar and Bayaud Avenues). I had watched over the past weeks as the earthmovers excavated for the foundation with the assumption of full ceiling height basements. The units directly to the south seem to have sold and thus now a larger lot with plans for 37 units and a well-known broker who represents many new developments in the area as listing broker and sales point person.

What stopped me in my tracks was not the glossy marketing sign; it was what someone attached to it. Someone had cut out and highlighted the foreclosure notice on the property dated 9/28/17 from The Denver Post. Yes, the foreclosure notice.

The Cassidy Foreclosure Notice
Someone posted the foreclosure notice as published in The Denver Post (9/28/17) on the marketing sign.

While foreclosures were front and center during the Great Recession of a few years back, lately all we see are cranes on the horizon and continue talk about growth and the desire for Amazon to locate HQ2 to Denver.

Yet maybe it is irrational exuberance rearing its ugly head or our desire not to confront reality. I have been forecasting a downturn documented in this blog for months. Even the Wall Street Journal mentions rent-concessions and other activities, which may suggest not only is the boom loosing steam but also we may be moving into an overbuilt scenario.

Yes record prices were recently paid for the Steele Creek Apartments in Cherry Creek (of note the original developer Eric H. Bush who assembled the land on which Steele Creek was developed recently committed suicide). While I am not suggesting any nexus, I would just be concerned when we have record sale prices and 7 blocks east a foreclosure on massive lot on which 37 for-sale units were proposed.

Just food for thought.

Why Continued Positive Comments About the Housing Market Scare Me

As a broker I make my living assisting clients purchasing and divesting of their real estate holdings. In this market of ever seemingly positive news I should be thrilled. Yet as a 20+-year broker licensed in two states I have some serious concerns on the macro level, which truly reverberates beyond home sale statistics.

At present the Denver market as well as the US market looks very healthy. Demand is high, employment and wages are growing, and mortgage rates are low.

However based on reports out this past week, if one reads between the numbers and taking into account history and growth trends, the market is quite challenged. Not at present but longer term we may be setting ourselves up for a dramatic shift in the economy and wealth accumulation.

There is continued strength in the overall national housing market with prices 6% higher than the same period one year ago. Some local markets continue to show double-digit growth in prices. Metro Denver’s year over year was 7.9%. Such numbers are driven by the simple law of supply and demand and specifically the limited supply at the lower end of the market. Thus lower end homes are witnessing significant price appreciation due to more competition while higher end listings are languishing or having price reductions (see my last blog).

While I have mixed feelings on Zillow and similar sites, their insights and digesting of data is always an interesting read: “It sets up a situation in which the housing market looks largely healthy from a 50,000-foot view, but on the ground, the situation is much different, especially for younger, first-time buyers and/or buyers of more modest means,” wrote Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow in a response to the latest home-price data. “Supply is low in general, but half of what is available to buy is priced in the top one-third of the market.”

So why is the inventory and supply on the lower end of the market so challenged? A few reasons and many can be seen in your local neighborhood:

Conversion of Inventory from Home Ownership to Rental: During the Great Recession which many of us brokers also call “a housing crash”, investors from large hedge funds to Ma and Pa purchased 100’s of thousands of foreclosed properties. While some were fix and flips, the vast majority became income-producing rentals. At present according to the U.S. Census there are 8 million more renter-occupied homes than there were in 2007.

Granted some renters may be scared off from purchasing and while the investors could cash out and after paying simple capital gains have a nice windfall, at present the cash-flow on rentals is one of the most attractive investments in the market coupled with the underlying equity appreciation of the real estate; thus the motivation to sell is limited. In turn lower end and moderate homes are not coming on the market in meaningful volume.

New Home Sales are Down: In August 2017 there was a 3.4% monthly drop concerning new home sales. If demand is so strong shouldn’t new home sales be booming? Well, it is again simple economics and in this case pricing.

In August just 2 percent of newly built homes sold were priced under $150,000, and just 14 percent priced under $200,000.

Builders advise they desire to build more affordable homes yet profit margins or the lack of is causing constraints. Builders blame the higher costs of land (exurbs with lower cost land is falling out of favor with 1st time home buyers who desire to be closer to urban centers), labor, materials and regulatory compliance i.e. building and zoning codes (and this is before the hurricanes decimated Houston, southern Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands which will demand laborers and materials to rebuild leading to eventual inflation in those industries and supply chains.

One could argue that market forces will eventually realign the housing market. Yet when this will happen is anyone’s guess. Considering we are still in a “Goldilocks economy for housing i.e. jobs and income continue to grow, interest rates remain at historically low levels, financing rules have become more flexible and inflation remains tame at below 2% annually. So what is the problem?

At present our inventory of new and existing homes is static with numbers similar to those found in the mid 1990’s a full 20+ years ago HOWEVER during those 20+ years the country’s population has expanded by 60M. Couple this with a mismatched market as home prices will not come down as long as there are buyers out there willing and able to spend more and more money for less and less house as we have witnessed in hot markets i.e. San Francisco Bay Area, The Northeast and other markets.

Longer term is my concern. We have witnessed locally in Denver our market moving from purchasers to renters. Good for investors not so good for individuals concerning personal wealth. Homeowners are known for making big-ticket purchases i.e. appliances and upkeep and maintenance sustains the construction sector i.e. additions, roofing and so forth.

If we move towards a renter oriented housing market fewer Americas will be able to save and grow their money associated with the ownership and upkeep of a personal owner-occupied residence. Due to demand rents may continue to rise (as less inventory on the market) and thus renters will have less disposable income to spend which will ripple through the economy beyond housing.

Yet Denver may be the litmus test for the national economy as follows:

Upper-End of the Market: is slowing dramatically as prices rose to fast and thus not sustainable. Upper-end buyers are usually market savvy and thus will be more cautious entering the market. Even in the Country Club neighborhood I have witnessed price-drops and re-listings at lower prices all in an effort to generate activity; would have been rare one year ago

Lower-End of the Market: Supply is outstripping demand with the average home in Metro Denver over $410K; yet incomes/wages have not kept up as the average worker is slowly being shut out of the market and thus will be a perpetual renter,

Rentals: The vast majority of new rental buildings are priced at luxury levels (just look at the cranes in Cherry Creek North). Yet that market is slowing and many of the existing buildings are struggling to attract tenants and now offering rental incentives. Yet additional buildings continue to come out of the ground.

Zoning and Entitlements: In Denver while zoning has allowed additional density and not without controversy i.e. slot homes in Cherry Creek, while beneficial to rental development, most rentals are oriented to single and couple households, with few exceptions most new multi-family buildings are not designed for families or larger households.

The above is just some food for thought. Add an existential crisis and this housing “House of Cards” may come to an ugly resolution. While I am not predicting another housing crash, the off-balance market is not sustainable and the overall repercussions to the overall economy have not been considered, quite dangerous.

As a Buyer What Your Broker Wants You to Know

As the real estate market in Metro Denver slows or as many of us believe moves towards a more balanced market between sellers and buyers, choices and opportunities will expand for all in the marketplace. In discussing market conditions with peer brokers we began to discuss what we desire the buyers we represent to know before and during their house hunt.

Knowing One’s Budget and Realistic Expectations: One of the issues related to historically low interest/borrowing rates is buyers are looking at a monthly payment versus actual valuations. Coupled with low down payments in an up valuation market this is not an issue. However in a traditional market when a 2% appreciation may be considered healthy i.e. matching inflation such a pro-forma can be an issue when one believes homes should rise 10%, 15% or 20% per year as the norm and may be projecting such a forecast into their future planning.

What most brokers (including me) suggest is to immediately us a home affordability calculator. While not perfect this tool will allow prospective buyers to have a general baseline concerning affordability i.e. a budget and price range. The second step we suggest is to secure a mortgage pre-approval letter; a process involves a lender reviewing a client’s finances and determining how much it’s willing to loan for a home. No matter the market listing brokers and their clients i.e. sellers understand a pre-approval (not to be confused with a pre-qualified) letter shows intent and seriousness. Finally we look at smaller yet potential challenges i.e. real estate taxes, upkeep/maintenance costs and lifestyle i.e. condo, single-family residence and other factors which may not be part of the initial calculus concerning home ownership.

Do Not Contact the Listing Agent: As brokers we know with the Internet and other marketing tools information about a listing is ubiquitous. And yes the Listing Agent would probably be the most knowledgeable about the residence he/she is selling. Of note, the information provided on the web through various distribution channels is only as accurate as the original input.

Yet the Listing Agent is the advocate for the seller. As a buyer it is important to communicate through your buyer-broker whose fiduciary interest is to you. By allowing us, your buyer broker to interface with the selling broker we are showing A) you are represented by a knowledgeable and competent professional and B) We have a strong working relationship. When one contacts the listing broker directly this can undermine the working relationship AND place a buyer in a secondary position with the Listing Broker whose fiduciary duty is to their seller (unless one becomes a Transaction Broker which is rare).

 Silence is Golden: On the rare occasions I host an open house I am always amused at the conversations I overhear. It is similar to the home-flipping shows in which a hidden camera and microphone are set up to capture before and after comments (I will not opine on the ethics of such actions). Yes as brokers we ask probing questions i.e. are you working with a broker? How many houses have your looked at? Any general impressions you would like to share and so forth. If I am listing the house I am representing the seller and the questions I am asking will facilitate my marketing efforts. However the answers may provide insight concerning the prospective buyer; information you may not wish to share except with your buyer broker i.e. motivations, budget, timing and so forth. This is truly proprietary and should only be shared with your buyer broker.

Thus (and a lot of brokers will be angry with me), when attending an Open House please keep your comments beyond ear shot at a minimum. In WWII there was a quote “loose lips sink ships”; while not as dire, go against human nature and discuss the home outside or be sure you are out of hearing range of the broker or their confederates. Even better see if your buyer broker is available to attend with you or set a private showing with your broker so you can discuss the home sans others overhearing.

Trust Your Broker; The Internet is Not Truly WYSIWYG: I actually enjoy when my client’s forward listings they have found on the Internet and I am one of the few. Their actions suggest to me they are serious and doing research. Yet I also understand the frustration of brokers. Many clients will send every listing within a 50 mile radius or similar. A few tips:

  • WYSIWYG: Known as What You See Is What You Get is not necessarily true. Listings on the Internet like most marketing channels are promoting the finest attributes of the property. Do you really believe the listing broker is going to post a picture of the freeway adjacent to the home or the junkyard across the alley? Of course not! Tip: if there are a limited number of pictures or pictures of the neighborhood dominate I would be more skeptical. Even the smallest of residences have a wealth of images available. The reality is your broker probably knows the neighborhood, possibly the residence and has access to information from title companies, assessors records and other sources to provide a truly balanced picture of the residence on the market.


  • Billboarding: It is amazing when you input an address of a home for sale and the results include every broker in the market showing the listing. With today’s technology when a listing is loaded into the local multilist service with few exceptions the information is distributed to multiple channels. Thus the information is now in the public domain. Of note my firm is even more proactive as we have a company intranet, which promotes our our listings to our offices worldwide if we wish. The issue is the information presented in the public domain may be inaccurate.

For example my personal residence, which I sold and closed in April 2017 continues showing as “For Sale” on multiple sites including one of the most popular valuation sites 5 months after closing. I once had a listing which was presented on a “Owner Will Carry” site sans my permission; all the calls I received were from prospective buyers looking for a specific product i.e. an owner will carry option, unfortunately a financing method my client would not entertain. The service billboarding the listing was doing a disservice to their clients many who paid for access to this supposed proprietary list of residences available with a seller who is willing to carry a mortgage.

  • Your Broker is In the Know: Your broker will have access to the most up-to-date information and as mentioned prior is your advocate and communication channel with the listing broker and their seller client. Even if a property is Under Contract your broker can inquire if the seller is entertaining back-ups, if the existing contract may fall through and so forth. Thus use your broker and their experience and expertise to your fullest advantage.

Fear of Commitment: I am probably one of the rare brokers who has not continually bought and sold during their career for their own account. Readers of my blog know I was in my previous residence for 27.5 year! This has to do more with not a big fan of change and it was and still is a great residence yet my lifestyle changed. I do, as most brokers do understand the purchasing of a house is a big commitment and not one to be taken lightly.

Buying a house, especially one’s first residence is a big step and commitment. As part of our client review and why we request pre-approval letters and so forth is a sense of commitment from our clients as in general brokers are not compensated unless a transaction closes. We also understand life presents us all challenges as no one’s employment is ironclad and other issues can question one’s commitment concerning home purchase into doubt. Yet with careful planning and foresight coupled with communication, commitment phobia can be curtailed.

As I advise clients a residence is not necessarily a ball and chain (and trust me there is the same look every one has when they review the mortgage repayment schedule at closing, I call it the Ball and Chain look). There are always options from resale to rental to refinancing and so forth.

An acquaintance I met while walking in my neighborhood one day mentioned a unique situation; she is single, a senior citizen with a larger home yet straddled with a sub-prime mortgage and job loss. If she sold her home; even with a strong market the proceeds would just cover the outstanding mortgage and penalties accrued over the past 6 months. Thus her credit report would be healthier yet she would be homeless.

As an acquaintance and not a broker we discussed and I suggested checking out the following blog on Seniorly concerning programs for seniors looking for roommates or housing. The upside for the owner of the home, the opportunity to collect some income, dig herself out of the financial hole and have a peer in residence. While not for everyone a viable alternative to selling and having no equity to fall back on or worse, foreclosure and being forced from the house.

As Brokers we are truly your advocates. As there some bad apples out there? Of course just as in any profession. However the vast majority of brokers I know and trust are those who truly look out for their client’s best interest and desire to build long-term relationships and a referral network based on honest quality service.

Happy House Hunting.

Is Irrational Exuberance Giving Way to Rational Behavior

I recently enjoyed a conversation with a friend who is about to list their residence in one of Denver’s most affluent neighborhoods (of note I was NOT in the competition for the listing). He mentioned what they plan to list the home at. I asked if they were planning to use the broker whom they have a personal relationship with and they advised no as what they wish to list the home at, the broker would not take the listing feeling the asking price was overly aggressive. Another broker has since been retained to market and sell the home.

Full disclosure, the home is spectacular from a conservative design perspective including solid pre-war construction, beautiful curb appeal, and a park-like oversized lot professionally landscaped and so forth. Of course there are some minor deficiencies yet nothing insurmountable. However when I was advised of the asking price my immediate reaction based on my experience in the present market was “Good Luck”.

I personally went through a similar situation with clients in 2011. Due to a change in employment status and other factors including owning the largest home on the block purchased at an inflated 2006 price, a challenging layout  and across the alley from a primary school  the sellers and this home had multiple challenges. At the Listing Presentation with a peer broker in attendance we advised the seller the asking price should be between $710,000-$720,000. The seller requested I place the house on the market for $839,000 (their purchase price was over $800K plus interior upgrades leading to a cost-basis in excess of $840,000). As a friend first and broker second (and I have since learned my lesson) I did as requested. After one month, multiple open-houses and two formal showings the sellers agreed to lower the price. The new asking $739,000, still above what was advised the prior month. Fifty yes 50 showings later and 9 months on the market not one offer! We decided to part ways. The seller hired another broker, within one week did a price reduction and subsequently sold the residence for $715,000.

It took the seller ten(10) months to sell for $715,000 which I had advised, from day one AND at $4,000/month mortgage, do the math, $40,000 before interest deduction, not exactly the most brilliant strategy.

Thus based on the above examples and seeing signs of a slowing market and for my own edification I decided to look at market activity both present and looking back at Sold Activity over the past 6 months.

Let’s start with Country Club (the borders are from Downing St. to west-side of University Blvd, 1st Avenue to 6th Avenue).

Sales Activity over the last 6 Months Country Club Neighborhood of Denver:

  • # Of homes sold: 7
  • Avg. Finished SF: 3,510 SF
  • Avg. Total SF: 4,482 SF
  • Average Sold PSF Finished: $568.38
  • Average Sold PSF Total: $445.01
  • Average Days on Market: 24 Days

On the Market at Present:

  •  # Of homes on the market: 8
  • Avg. Finished SF: 3,186 SF
  • Avg. Total SF: 4,419 SF
  • Average Sold PSF Finished: $557.31
  • Average Sold PSF Total: $424.36
  • Average Days on Market: 68 Days and counting

Based on size the differences between the Sold’s and on market is marginal and same concerning the Price per Square Foot however what is telling is Days on Market (DOM). The Sold’s over the last 6 months on average sold in 24 days. Yet those on the market today is average 68 days and counting. The difference, over one month, almost a month and a half.

I admit one could argue the homes on the market at present may have challenges from location to upkeep however as asking prices based on a Per Square Foot basis stayed relatively the same, the issue is the longer on market time. Number of days on market has more than doubled. Yes there are seasonal factors however many pundits argue the selling season is now year round.

My personal view is market demand is softening and asking prices are yet to adjust to the new market realities.

Of note, Country Club is a small, insular neighborhood with limited inventory and limited turnover. Thus I also looked at Cherry Creek North (1st Avenue to 6th Avenue, University Blvd to Colorado Blvd) to provide a more balanced view, granted however balanced one of the metro’ area’s most affluent neighborhoods can be. However with the diverse housing stock and density, a clearer picture may emerge.

Sales Activity over the last 6 Months Cherry Creek North Neighborhood of Denver:

  •  # Of homes sold: 53
  • Avg. Finished SF: 2,396 SF
  • Avg. Total SF: 3,335 SF
  • Average Sold PSF Finished: $436.10
  • Average Sold PSF Total: $332.28
  • Average Days on Market: 53 Days

On the Market at Present:

  •  # Of homes on the market: 94
  • Avg. Finished SF: 2,393 SF
  • Avg. Total SF: 3,416 SF
  • Average Sold PSF Finished: $595.36
  • Average Sold PSF Total: $412.07
  • Average Days on Market: 95 Days and counting

Again as with Country Club based on size the differences between the Sold’s and on market is marginal and same concerning the Price per Square Foot however what is telling again is Days on Market (DOM). The Sold’s over the last 6 months on average sold in 53 days. Yet those on the market today is average 95 days and counting. As with Country Club the difference is almost a month and a half.

Conclusion: In both neighborhoods asking and closed prices have stayed somewhat status quo. However in a hot housing market the number of days on market is telling. Granted one could use the seasonal differential argument. Maybe; however in both neighborhoods we are seeing the Days of Market mirror each other i.e. almost a month and a half difference.

I may be incorrect and I admit when I am however I believe the market is definitely showing signs of slowing based on Days on Market coupled with levels of inventory. Yes the two markets are considered luxury markets yet what happens at the upper-end of the market historically trickles down to other market segments. What will be interesting is when we will begin witnessing price adjustments.

It seems the pinnacle of the market may have been 6-12 months prior and the market is now possibly taking a well-deserved breather or maybe showing signs of a changing business cycle.

Considering interest rates have remained stable; actually still close to historic lows, the stock market continues to flirt with record highs and the recent issues with N. Korea are too recent to influence the housing market.

I believe the optimists will advise it is a natural seasonal shift, me being the conservative pessimist would advise, hang tight if you can it may be a bumpy ride ahead.






July 2017 Statistics Show The Denver Real Estate Market Is Cooling

And this is not necessarily negative. Recently I have been blogging both statistical and anecdotal information about the Metro Denver housing market. I have predicted a slow down as I noticed activity in the upper-end luxury tier of market i.e. $1M and up was softening. From experience this segment of the market is usually first to show signs of the direction of future trends as it is the segment of the market that is least dependent on external influences including mortgage rates, liquidity, household income, employment levels and inventory issues.

In addition there haven been signs of a possible formation of a bubble concerning real estate in metro Denver including continued rising prices and a wider divergence concerning affordability and inventory.

One of my first reads each morning is the site  (an excellent source the most accurate information for both consumers and brokers) which is the Multilist service and keeper of statistics for Metro Denver Real Estate. The following is copied from their site in “italicized quotes“:

The latest data from REcolorado shows the eleven-county Denver metro real estate market experienced a summer cooldown across most major housing indicators.”

Granted a summer cool down is relative as while average prices dropped one(1%) percent from the prior month Metro Denver prices are still 10% higher year over year. And while inventory expanded (6 weeks of inventory, up one week) it is still at close to historic lows and we are witnessing more activity in the upper end of the market with homes at $700K+ accounting for 9% of the market (which in turn skews the average sales price which would be lower if upper-end sales were less of a factor concerning volume). While one month does not make a viable trend line the signs of movement towards a flattening or potential adjustment of the overall residential real estate  to the downside are not deniable.

Home prices in the greater Denver Metro area decreased for the first time since February. In July, the average sold price of a single-family home was $444,108, one percent lower than last month. Average home sale prices are still 10 percent higher than this time last year. As compared to last month, the average price of a single family detached home remained relatively unchanged, while the average price for a condo/townhome decreased by nearly three percent.

In July, we saw a seasonal decrease in sales, which is typically brought on by the July 4th holiday and summer vacations. Throughout the month, 4,697 homes sold, down 20 percent as compared to last month and 11 percent lower than this time last year.

Home sales were strongest in the $300,00 to $500,000 price range, where nearly half of all July home sales took place. Sales of higher-priced homes are becoming more common across the greater Denver Metro area. In July, sales of homes priced $700,000 and above comprised nine percent of all sales.

Inventory levels remain tight, as new listings of homes for sale fell 15 percent from June and were down four percent from a year ago. Still, the number of available homes for sale is maintaining at levels we saw earlier this year. July ended with 6,450 active listings of homes for sale, seven percent lower than the 2017 peak, which was reached in June.

At the current sales rate, there is six weeks of inventory, up one week as compared to June.

Homes continue to move quickly, especially in the counties with average home prices in the $300,000 to $400,000 price range. In July, homes spent an average of 22 days on the market, two days more than last month. In Adams and Arapahoe Counties, homes were on the market an average of just 17 days. Broomfield County saw the lowest days on market, at 15 days.”