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.

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Does the Record Sale of Steele Creek Apartments Cherry Creek Signal a Top

I remember when Steele Creek Apartments were proposed for the Southeast corner of Steele Street and 1st Avenue, at the time occupied by a few Class C buildings and a discount dry cleaner.

With the news hitting that the building set a new record on a per-unit basis for the sale of an apartment building of $570,000 per unit does the valuation make sense even considering future equity appreciation?

Working in both New York and Denver such numbers are not surprising as in NYC such a deal would be a steal especially for a newer construction building minus any rental controls, statutory affordable housing or long-term leases. Yet Denver is not New York.

Granted we have seen other close to blockbuster deals in Central Denver concerning rental properties as excerpted below from my morning daily read BusinessDen including but not limited to:

However are these deals good money-chasing returns, which are far from guaranteed? One could argue Denver at present is in an up cycle with record high rents (even though some buildings are offering rental incentives). Yet I am concerned as follows:

The New Rental buildings are oriented to deluxe and luxury tenants offering studio to 2-bedroom configurations limiting marketability to affluent singles and couples. In New York and San Fracisco the highest prices on bith a per-unit and PSF basis are “family-oriented” apartments considering of usually 2-4 bedrooms and minimum 2 bathrooms where a family can be reside comfortably.

Is there a glut on the horizon in the marketplace? Between Lower Downtown and Cherry Creek along the Speer Boulevard/1st Ave. corridor we are witnessing new buildings sprouting up like weeds with the assumption that demand for luxury rental apartments will continue unabated.

The Millennial Generation Will Age: I am witnessing it in my real estate practice; millennial’s are pairing up, starting families and due to price pressure are looking at homes to purchase in outlying Denver and suburban neighborhoods; not much different how Brooklyn became chic when Manhattan rents became unaffordable (with some help from Michelle Williams and Maggie Gyllenhaal and for us old timers, Patty Duke lived in Brooklyn Heights).

If the Influx Slows Who Will Rent these Apartments? While certain buildings have a reputation for attracting empty nesters (25 Downing Street) and those whose change in lifestyle may necessitate move to an apartment from a home (The Seasons at Cherry Creek), while renting is an option, many opt to purchase. Again anecdotally I know two empty-nest couples who moved from Country Club to condos, one in downtown, one in Cherry Creek.

What is Trendy Today is a Maintenance Headache Tomorrow: We see this in buildings throughout Capitol Hill, the party rooms with the naugahyde chairs on brass wheels and the pool table that has seen better days or the pool which requires constant expensive maintenance and upkeep.

While I understand the attractiveness of the cost on a per unit basis when compared to other in-demand cities including San Francisco, The Northeast Corridor (from Boston to Washington DC), Los Angeles and so forth those cities have physical geographic constraints and draconian rent-control laws which circumvents true market supply and demand laws thus raising rents on the free-market inventory.

Thus I do not see how the numbers work based on existing rental rates even when factoring in equity appreciation and nominal inflation. Granted there is always the option of conversion from rental to condo. The process includes upgrading the common areas and interiors of unitsoriented to the for-sale market AND developing a legal condominium, HOA and so forth. Not unheard of in Denver i.e. The Barclay (which when first converted were offered with developer backed below-market financing), Brooks Towers and other buildings have experienced such conversion.

However at present transaction cost per unit, is there really the demand for the $600K one bedroom condominium? We have seen such sales in smaller boutique developments including 250 Columbine (which does have a Starbucks on the retail level), but it is rare and definitely a niche market.

From experience such condos sell to those looking for a pied-a-terre in which their primary residence is NOT Denver or potential investment however for a decent cash-on-cash return the rents do not justify the selling price.

In New York City developers take the opposite approach developing condos and if the plan if sales do not meet the pro-forma then re-branded as a rental with the option to sell individual units when the market strengthens.

At present looking at prices coupled with construction activity I would be “short-selling” the apartment market if such a vehicle existed. Long-term I may be proven wrong, however within the three-five year time horizon and even in the present as leasing entities/developers are offering rent concessions, I would be more concerned versus excited at the blockbuster record prices being recorded.

 

 

 

 

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.

Opportunity Knocks in Cherry Creek North

Even in an overheated market opportunity knocks.

Every day I scan www.REColorado.com which is the MLS for Denver metro concerning potential opportunities including new listings, price adjustments and days of market. If the property is priced correctly and within a desirable area it will usually go under contract within days if not hours due to pent up demand and limited supply.

As many of my readers know I too am in the market as I sold my primary residence a few months back. However unlike many I have the luxury of living in what I hope is a temporary situation with below market rent thus I am willing to wait out the market. And while I may be incorrect; I believe the market will continue to slow in the middle to upper price ranges. While I am not suggesting a hard fall; existential issues may happen i.e. world events, interest rates and a getting long in the tooth bull market in equities…..my personal view business cycles have not ended and memories are short.

Yet for those looking long term I wanted to provide some real examples of properties presently for sale that have languished on the market yet may provide a good opportunity for someone looking longer term.

Cherry Creek North (1st Ave to 6th Ave, University Blvd to Colorado Blvd): Arguably one of the most in-demand neighborhoods in Denver with asking prices to match. Between the shopping district, The Cherry Creek Shopping Center coupled with easy access to Safeway,  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and a diversity of housing styles all within close proximity of downtown, its true location, location, location.

I pulled some statistics as follows:

Sold over the last 6 months:

Average Sales Price: $941,000

Per Sq. Ft. Above Grade: $447.73

Total Per Sq. Ft. i.e. including basement/unfinished: $340.39

On Market at Present:

Average Asking Price: $1,085.000

Per Sq. Ft. Above Grade: $484.83

Total Per Sq. Ft. i.e. including basement/unfinished: $394.84

Granted the numbers above may be skewed due to larger homes, new construction and of course location, location, location. However there are a few bargains available. Please note I have provided “my prediction” concerning closing sale price. This is just my personal forecast as I have no relationship with the sellers or the brokers listing the units and thus have no idea concerning motivations. Thus consider my predictions based on if I was representing a buyer and they asked me what they should offer and eventually close at.

525 Jackson Street: Located in the eastern part of the neighborhood 525 Jackson Street is a smaller 28 unit condo building on the NWC of 5th Avenue and Jackson Street, a pretty tree-lined quiet block. Built in the 1940’s the building is basic with some art moderne elements i.e. glass blocks illuminate the stairs (it is a 3-story walk up). The condos have nice expansive layouts, many closets and off-street parking, individual storage units plus a laundry/bike room.

At present there are two units for sale. Of note some of the challenges for some include no rentals allowed i.e. investors need not look. Per the bylaws there are various restrictions concerning air conditioners. There are no amenities beyond off-street parking, individual storage units and the laundry/bike room. Yet the building (new windows) and grounds (professionally maintained) fit right in with Cherry Creek’s streetscape.

525 Jackson Street #102: This is a smaller 2BD/1BA with 814 SF. The unit has been renovated including granite countertops, a designer bathroom and a unique tin ceiling in the master bedroom. Hardwood floors and ample east sun filtered through mature landscaping. This is a charming unit with an easy layout. Some may object to the 1st floor location and the smaller size, however at $350 PSF with an asking of $285,000 one can afford the Cherry Creek lifestyle for an entry-level price. My prediction concerning closing sale price: $250-$265.

525 Jackson Street #209: This is a larger 2BD/1BA with 917 SF. The unit has been partially renovated with a nice open kitchen. The bathroom is closer to original. It is a corner unit thus nice cross ventilation as it faces north and east. Windows have custom shutters, there are ample closets including 2 walk-ins and 3 hallway and off-street deeded parking. Asking is $299,000 or $326 PSF. My prediction for closing sale price: $270-$285.

Of note the last resale was unit #306, top floor (a walk-up building), nicely renovated including interior swamp cooler vent from the building common area system. An expansive 600 SF one bedroom which was asking $250K and sold for $255K in June 2017. The interior design and finishes were truly top-notch.

264 Harrison Street: A fourplex row house this complex is unique as it is a row house thus no common HOA fees; each unit is fee-simple and sits on its own tax lot. 264 Harrison has been through multiple and dramatic price adjustments. This is not a row house for everyone. The positives are the 2-car attached garage, modern, timeless design by a well-respected firm, Arquitectonica and a unique multi-split level design with the 2 bedrooms, one located on the 1st level, the master on the 3rd level and the middle level constituting the entertaining areas. There is a small private backyard and a balcony off the kitchen. The challenge with this unit is its location; the rear is adjacent to Colorado Boulevard (yet there is a 6′ brick sound wall  coupled with mature landscaping). The interior is dated including the appliances and cabinetry original 1984 with an interior palette of colors more associated with Santa Fe versus Denver. At present asking $474,950 or $287.85 down from $549,900. The value play, the neighboring unit 266 Harrison sold for $535,000 in April 2017. Granted it was completely renovated including updated interior including granite kitchen and Kitchen-Aid appliances, mechanicals, new windows, gas fireplace, built-in surround sound system, rear landscaping and so forth. However if one is willing to invest some dollars into renovation the value is there. Also sans HOA fees additional affordability and no restrictions concerning rentals. Please note I am in total disagreement with Zillow’s valuation of $501K which I assume is based on the sale of neighboring 266 Harrison. My prediction for closing sale price: $415-$440.

149 Harrison Street: Located on the west-side of Harrison Street i.e. not on Colorado Boulevard, a true single-family home for under $1,000,000 in Cherry Creek North. Originally a duplex and part of a larger 4-plex development the two units were combined and the lot separated allowing for a true single-family home on a standard 50’ x 125’ lot back in 2012. This home is not for everyone as 1) it is a ranch thus no basement or 2nd level. While offering 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms it is within a tight 1,826 SF. The yard is fenced in; there is a 2-car garage. However for comparable pricing of townhomes on the 100 block of Harrison Street one can own a single-family and the lot value (closer to the main business district similar lots are asking $900K). Yes there is a discount for being on Harrison Street across from Colorado Blvd and the eastern part of the neighborhood. However for a true SF home, renovated, newer mechanicals and materials all for $764,900 or $419 PSF down from $795,000, may be a good option for the buyer who desires a true unattached residence and possible future equity appreciation due to the lot with its G-RH3 zoning. My prediction for closing sale price: $725-$740.

Happy Hunting

April 2017 Statistics Are in the Books

While the news on the housing front continues to paint a rosy picture as we continue to be in a sellers market; statistically we may be entering a phase of normalicy concerning market conditions. While prices remain elevated and there is continued concern that average metro Denver incomes cannot keep up with the inflated housing market we are seeing signs of slowdowns concerning price appreciation and possibly an uptick in inventory coming to market.

Personally I enjoy looking at statistics. When combined with historical personal perspective i.e. lived through it there are insights and trends one may be able to extrapolate.

I was reviewing April 2017 market conditions:

In April 2017, there were 5,361 Active Listings in the metro area.

(Of note, the historical average # of listings in April is 15,710 based on statistics gathered between 1985 and 2016 also related usually the start of the Spring sales season).

Thus our average # of listings continues to be constrained especially when considering the increase of housing stock which has come on-line since the end of the great recession coupled with our population increase

Concerning sales prices:

The year-to-date average sales prices in April 2016 increased 6.05%.

In April 2015 that same statistic was 9.53%.

In April 2014 that same statistic was 12.9% (of note coming out of the recession).

Thus we are witnessing a slowdown in price appreciation (a good thing), slight increase in inventory (a good thing) and overall a potential plateau in the market.

Yes sales prices are stabilizing and getting closer to matching inflation and inventory is beginning to loosen HOWEVER couple this with the stock market at record highs, unemployment at record lows and no appreciable inflation or major interest rate hikes; we may be seeing signs of a housing slowdown in the metro area.

On the luxury side of the market while there have been some blockbuster sales of late, homes priced at $1M and over seem to be languishing on the market for longer periods coupled with price reductions. Granted some inventory came on market overpriced to start however price reductions are happening sooner and price cuts is more severe.

In my local Cherry Creek neighborhood which I admit is far from a barometer for the metro area the inventory of listings seems to be increasing and sales transactions are taking longer to close and usually after a price correction. Granted there has been a uptick in inventory south of 1st Avenue and much of the for sale inventory north of 1st Ave is east of Steele St. which some buyers consider less desirable yet the number of active listings continues to increase. As of this writing there were 41 active listings ranging from $215,000 to over $10M (of note both the lowest and highest price listings are condominiums).

Having been in the real estate brokerage business for a few decades now I am used to witnessing Metro Denver go through 5-7 year cycles concerning increased demand and then stability. While I do not believe we are in for a major correction, I do believe we will continue to see additional inventory come on-line and price appreciation slow to the inflation rate or a few ticks above which is the historic norm.

In the luxury market, which I track, I would be a little more concerned regarding price stability.

In the starter and move-up market baring a serious interest rate hike I am not concerned as demand will continue to outstrip supply. I would be hesitant concerning starter inventory in the exurbs as those markets are dependent on low fuel prices.

As I am advising clients at present:

Sellers: Consider putting on the market now as its low inventory and attractive interest rates.

Buyers: While rates are low, a good opportunity to lock in a fixed mortgage HOWEVER should consider waiting a few months to a year or two as inventory will continue to increase and while interest rates may tick up prices usually do the inverse.

Renters: Rents seem to be stabilizing and with the introduction of additional luxury inventory do not be surprised to see landlord concessions. Thus if in a rental consider resigning for another 6 months with an escape clause and if looking to rent, shop around and look for incentives to bring your net effective rent down.

 

 

To Buy or Rent that is the Dilemma

As a practicing real estate broker you would assume I would be an evangelical advocate for purchase. In general I am HOWEVER as a seasoned real estate broker I am a bit concerned about the existing market conditions in the Denver Metro area. In some neighborhoods I have witnessed prices and sales volume up 50% in 3 years and some 100% gains since the depths of the Great Recession. Of note Denver was NOT as hard hit as Las Vegas and Phoenix where such gains after an over-sold condition may be warranted.

Thus the following are the 5 questions I usually ask of prospective buyers and not only 1st time buyers. Of note I personally am going through a similar exercise as I am under contract to sell my residence, which I have called home for 28+ years. Due to the inflated (in my humble opinion) market and lack of inventory; the 5 questions are hitting me personally. Here you go and I must advise please be honest as the questions are also a self-assessment of sorts:

How long are you planning to stay in the Home/Neighborhood/Area?

The reality; it is unlikely we will witness the gains we have had during the past three years. Simple economics would argue median incomes cannot match the gain in housing prices especially in the upper-tier of the market. Thus I advise clients unless they plan to stay in their residence a minimum 3-5 years (assuming this is not a fix and flip situation), may wish to reassess purchases.

The purchase and selling of a residence is not only time consuming, it is also capital intensive. Costs usually associated on both sides include brokers fees (usually paid by the seller in Denver), mortgage applications/origination, appraisals, title insurance (usually paid by seller) and so forth.

In general the longer you retain your residence the more time you have to recoup costs and based on dollar cost averaging (yes values can decrease), the more opportunity you have to enjoy an overall increase in value. Of note for those who retain a house for less than two years and if there is an increase in value, must factor in capital gains taxes (sometimes can be offset by expenses incurred concerning the divesting of the residence).

In the question I mention neighborhood and area. Do you have young children or planning on having children? School districts are a major motivator concerning one’s residential address. When childless; the gentrifying neighborhood may be the hip choice yet when the children come into the picture and Kindergarten is around the corner all of a sudden the school district and distance to school is of paramount concern.

My opinion, if planning to stay 3 years or less, consider renting.

House Prices Always Go Up, Right?

How we have short memories. While the market slide beginning in 2007 may be recent memory and quite severe, it was not an anomaly. When I purchased in 1989, the seller had purchased the home in 1984. Five years later he sold it for 30% less than the purchase price 60 months earlier (not accounting for inflation). The seller brought cash to the closing table to satisfy the mortgage and compensate the brokers. This was an era before the term short sale and “jingle-mail” entered the popular lexicon.

More recently, the median home price in the United States dropped nearly 13% between 2007 and 2009, falling from $247,900 to $216,700. In some overheated markets, such as Las Vegas prices declined as much as 62% from their peak.

Before buying a home, consider how your personal finances would fare if your house’s value increased slowly or not at all. With 3% annual price appreciation, a $250,000 (considered a starter in Metro Denver) house would be worth more than $337,000 in 10 years. With a 1% annual price increase, the same house’s value would grow to just $276,000 over the same time period. Barring a recession, nominal inflation of 2% would keep up however due to the added expenses concerning home ownership; one could envision a scenario of flat and potential decrease of value. For my economic pundit peers, yes during inflationary times, houses in general increase in value HOWEVER with high interest rates associated with the taming of inflation, transactions become muted as affordability becomes more challenging).

I provide the above scenario as I have witnessed some buyers placing all their eggs in the housing basket assuming the gains will outpace other investments. Trust me I am the first to argue a home is a place to sleep at night; the brokerage firm holding your stocks or the bank holding your CD’s are not leaving the light on for your arrival to bed down for the night.

Shelter is needed I agree. However one should not look at their house as their sole investment or worse an ATM i.e. Home Equity Lines of Credit. I view a residence as shelter and if there is an increase in value an added bonus.

If I Rent I am 1) Throwing Away Money and 2) Making my Landlord Rich?

On the surface such an argument does have some merit. Also I will avoid getting into the issues concerning home ownership restricting mobility concerning employment opportunities. I understand the line of most brokers i.e. owners are building equity in a valuable asset that can boost their long-term net worth whereas renting is spending not saving.

Home ownership has additional costs beyond the Principal and Interest on a loan.

Taxes: While metro Denver has in general low property taxes, it is still a recurring monthly expense. In the upper-tier of the market i.e. $500K and above, one can easily allocate $500/month just on real estate taxes.

Insurance: Home Owners Insurance in Colorado can be costly due to our climate i.e. hail, wind, heavy snow and other perils. While we do not have to worry about earthquakes; insurance rates in Colorado continue to escalate due to weather, cost of labor, materials and related factors; such rates rarely go down over time.

Basic Maintenance: I tell my clients to consider budgeting at minimum 1%-2% of their homes value towards maintenance and upkeep. This does not necessarily factor in unforeseen costs i.e. new hot water heater, roof repairs, HVAC and so forth. Condo owners you are not exempt, this is what monthly HOA fees are for.

In a rental such costs are borne by the landlord. However I will advise if renting do consider “Renters Insurance”, usually inexpensive and offers piece of mind. While you may have budgeted for your Principal, Interest, Taxes and Insurance, there are always other costs that can be budgeted for as well as surprises.

If I rent am I missing out on the tax benefits?

To be honest many homeowners do not realize the mortgage interest deduction is oriented towards larger mortgages and financial outlays. First as a homeowner you must itemize your deductions when claiming the mortgage interest deduction.

With the existing low-interest rate environment (and yes rates are still at historic lows) your itemized deductions should exceed the $12,600 standard deduction for married couples? This is OK if you have an upper-tier house with a large mortgage. Yet the reality is each year that goes by your deduction decreases as a larger portion of your monthly payment is allocated towards principal. Thus the deduction over time will decrease. (Of note, there are interest only mortgage instruments, unless truly financially savvy or blessed by your CFP or similar, I suggest avoiding).

When Does Buying Truly Makes Sense?

I always look at a rent versus buy scenario and run numbers accordingly usually in conjunction with a client’s financial and/or tax advisor. Yet sometimes I take the simple approach, which is basically, is it cheaper to purchase than to rent?

Beyond the down-payment (and please note I am not trivializing this, however when loans are available with 5% or less down, saving for a down payment is not as onerous as when I purchased my primary residence in 1989 and had to come up with 20%+) I look at basic monthly outlay after answering the prior questions.

Let us assume in metro Denver you are interested in a home that after the down payment the monthly PITI/Mortgage is $3,200. Now what if you could rent a similar property, apples to apples for $2,850/month?

One could argue for $350/month extra or $4,200/year you can have the security (and expenses) associated with home ownership.

Yet one could also argue that $4,200/yr. can be invested after taxes into a Roth IRA or similar instrument. For the uber conservative that person could buy bonds and secure a safe 2% return. For the more aggressive; there is the potential to be investing with returns of 5% or higher annually over a longer period; not unheard of (coupled with dollar cost averaging) and with a Roth monies going in post tax, comes out tax free. There are also options to use the monies for a down payment, however there are some tax implications, which are best, discussed with a tax advisor.

I also advise clients at the beginning of their home search consider using a price-to-rent ratio calculation. Price-to-rent ratio is calculated by dividing the home value by the annual rent amount. Generally speaking, if the price-to- rent ratio is less than 20, buying might be a better option. However, if the ratio is greater than 20, renting might be better. Needless to say, any ratio or comparison is meaningful only if you are comparing similar properties.

In closing I am just throwing our scenarios and “food for thought”. I am in a similar situation. As mentioned I am in the process of selling the residence I have been in for 28+ years and have enjoyed immensely. However due to the physical design and other factors it is time to move on. Assuming I close, I will be, guess what living in a rental! Yes I will be paying rent.

My personal view at present; I am more comfortable having the proceeds from the sale liquid and when the correct residence comes available for purchase at a price I feel is appropriate, I can proceed sans the restraints of trying to sell my residence and/or using a contingency clause which is never popular. In the interim, the money from the sale of my residence post taxes will be invested in short-term bonds throwing off income while retaining a margin of safety of the underlying principal.

Rental Concessions Price Drops Incentives Oh My

Should we be concerned about the health of the real estate market?

Anyone who follows my blog knows I have been “concerned” for a while. Of note I have been in the business for over two decades thus I have been through multiple market cycles.

Concerning the Rental Market it is no surprise we are beginning to see rental concessions i.e. free rent, lease signing bonuses, additional amenities and so forth. These concessions have been segregated to the deluxe and luxury segment of rental market, a segment that has witnessed a significant increase concerning inventory throughout the metro area. While concessions benefit the high-end renter in the short-term, the middle and lower-end of the market continue to experience demand far outstripping supply.

In addition I am witnessing a newer trend in the upper-end of the market. Those who may have considered placing their home on the market are now considering placing their home on the rental market, either long or short-term. The upper-end of the market i.e. over $500K is experiencing some fatigue as supply has increased and demand has decreased. Thus some sellers are reassessing their plans to sell and are considering renting their residences with the belief the market will again begin to increase at a later period.In the Cherry Creek North residential area adjacent to the Business Improvement District“For Rent” signs are sprouting up and beginning to crowd out or being placed adjacent to”For Sale” signs.

While the market may begin to uptick in the months to come I tend to be slightly pessimistic. Metro Denver has enjoyed an upswing for multiple years now. Over time markets do eventually correct. Historically housing prices matched the rate of inflation over the long-term. Since we have climbed out of the Great Recession our market has been expanding beyond national averages. Yes we are a pseudo sun-belt growth state with a continual influx of population however market forces eventually lead to corrections.

There is a fine line between demand and cost-of-living. While Metro Denver has enjoyed net migration since the oil bust of the last 1980’s, much of the attraction to Denver was affordable housing. Yes naysayers will advise the average home in Metro Denver is running about $330K in-line with average incomes yet most new inventory throughout the metro area is coming on line at much higher costs. The reasons are complex and varied, yet the end result is product becoming unaffordable to the average buyer.

Am I sounding an alarm? No. However I am advising clients to be cautious. I am finally seeing rationality return to the marketplace i.e. purchasing based on value versus a monthly payment and the realization that over the next 3-5 years equity appreciation may not be guaranteed as past performance is not necessarily indicative of future returns.

However I must advise, if priced correctly no matter what tier of the market, residences are in fact selling. Yet I am advising sellers to consider looking at prices from one year ago versus the last six months. While spring is usually a period of increased sales and activity, having witnessed longer days on market especially at the upper-end of the market, usually a harbinger of trends to come, thus tread carefully and with proper guidance.