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 REColorado.com 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.”

Head and Shoulder Pattern in Denver Real Estate

As readers of my blog know I am somewhat a statistician as I look at various statistical measurements including the well respected Case-Shiller index concerning housing costs. Please note statistics are similar to an appraisal; they are a look back and not necessarily a look forward. I also believe history repeats itself as I have been a broker for 20+ years and have watched with interest the effects of business cycles on our real estate market.

Please note I am not advocating the following analysis concerning a Head and Shoulders pattern adopted from the stock market HOWEVER housing prices in general trend with the stock market. Thus reviewing the latest statistics and graph patterns I noticed a head and shoulders pattern-taking place in the Denver (and other) housing markets: The following is a graphic of a Head And Shoulders Bottom as related to equities:

H_and_s_bottom_new

Per Wikipedia: This formation (Head & Shoulders Bottom) is simply the inverse of a Head and Shoulders Top and often indicates a change in the trend and the sentiment. The formation is upside down in which volume pattern is different from a Head and Shoulder Top. Prices move up from first low with increase volume up to a level to complete the left shoulder formation and then falls down to a new low. It follows by a recovery move that is marked by somewhat more volume than seen before to complete the head formation. A corrective reaction on low volume occurs to start formation of the right shoulder and then a sharp move up that must be on quite heavy volume breaks though the neckline.

Another difference between the Head and Shoulders Top and Bottom is that the Top Formations are completed in a few weeks, whereas a Major Bottom (Left, right shoulder or the head) usually takes a longer, and as observed, may prolong for a period of several months or sometimes more than a year.

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 8.41.30 AM

In May 2017 according to the Case Shiller index the average home price in Denver reached $456,100 which is 41%+ higher than the previous peak experienced in Denver in August 2006 which many will remember was the pinnacle before descent into the Great Recession.

While the graph is not the easiest to comprehend yet the visual is strikingly similar to the Head and Shoulders Bottom, the following is the pricing and trend over a 17-year period, which I have mentioned in previous blog posts including the pricing history and activity of a home in Country Club.

  • 17 years: Average Annual Increase: 5.8%
  • 10 Years: Average Annual Increase: 4.6%
  • 3 Years Average Annual Increase: 10%
  • 1 Year Average Annual Increase: 7.9%

The average cost of a home in Denver throughout the past 17 years:

  • 2000: $230,000
  • 2007: $313,500
  • 2010: $290,000
  • 2014: $350,900
  • 2016: $422,800
  • 2017: $456,100

Are times and trends different from the Great Recession at present? Yes. Lending standards have tightened, sub-prime lending seems to be under control and we continue to be in a Goldilocks Interest Rate environment.

However just on a business cycle trend I have some concern and this does not include outside influences i.e. saber rattling concerning North Korea which impacted the equity markets worldwide yesterday with the largest point downtown since May 17th, 2017.

I am not a market forecaster however based on the statistics and graphs presented in this blog my level of concern for a retrenchment in prices is ratcheting upward. We are witnessing price adjustments in the upper-end of the market and if interest rates were to increase we would see affordability challenged further and average prices go down. Not necessity a negative as we continue to be in a seller’s market and average buyers are challenged concerning affordability and inventory, not a positive long-term trend for our housing market. I am not making any predictions, just showing statistics and voicing some concern.

 

 

Is A Real Estate Bubble in Colorado’s Immediate Future

Many of my real estate peers continue to bask in the glory of this continued bull market in Metro Denver. I understand this as both personally and professionally I too am frustrated with the lack of inventory; a marketplace which continues to show a demand side bias seemingly unabated.

Yes I have been accused of being a pessimist. As I advise I have been in this business for 20 plus years AND been a resident of the State of Colorado since 1984. Thus I have been through a few business cycles and was fortunate to purchase the home I just sold back in 1989 as Denver was coming out of a commodities influenced regional recession which was a catalyst for Denver’s now more diversified economy.

This morning, during my scan of the headlines a story came across the wires; this one relates to states with potential real estate bubbles. Posted on AOL Finance the article mentions 8 states in which a real estate bubble may be forming.

Per the article and quoted as follows it is important to understand “Today, most experts agree that, on a national level, we are not in a real estate bubble. The absence of nationwide or statewide housing bubbles doesn’t mean they’re not forming, however, or that they don’t already exist within some states on a more local level.”

The States mentioned in the article are California, Texas, Florida, Washington Tennessee, Colorado Oregon, and Nevada. On the national level due to changes in mortgage requirements and desires for home ownership we have witnessed income to house value ratios increase. Historically from 1950-2000, median home values have been roughly 2.2 times the median income. Today, that number is roughly 3.36 times higher, 50 percent higher than the historical average. Granted there are more choices concerning mortgage instruments and our society in general has collectively accepted the concept and use of leverage. We now know leverage and inflated valuations led to the most recent Great Recession. Unlike the Depression of the 1930’s which was particially caused by a bubble in tradable equities, The Great Recession began with a housing bubble as housing was and continues to be viewed as an investment vehicle and thus being leveraged.

Driving through Cherry Creek North and Downtown and seeing the cranes on the horizon coupled with the frenzied construction activity all along the Front Range from the Foothills to the Plains, I am starting to be concerned. A low-interest rate, high-demand environment must at some point correct, when is the question:

The following is excerpted from the AOL Finance article:

Colorado’s housing market is overvalued, according to Fitch Ratings. But why is overvaluation important to real estate bubbles?

People believe that the asset, often real estate, is going to become more and more valuable in the future. If it becomes more valuable because it produces more income, that is one thing,” said David Reiss, a real estate expert and law professor at Brooklyn Law School. But if it becomes more valuable just because people think it is going to become even more valuable, that is another. At some point, the merry go round stops and the current owners are left with an asset worth less than what they purchased it for.

In Colorado, home prices in major markets like Fort Collins and Boulder are not just overvalued, they’re more overvalued than they had been at their peak during the 2005-2006 housing bubble, hardly an encouraging sign. Making matters worse, incomes are failing to keep up with rising price.

Several Colorado metro areas are seeing price-to-income ratios above both the national level and their historic averages. The median home price in Denver and Fort Collins are roughly five-times the median income. In Boulder, the home price-to-income ratio is even higher at 6.6 and is more than 100 percent higher than the historic average.

To be clear, high home prices don’t necessarily equate to a bubble, said Jeff Shaffer of McKinley Partners, a real estate private equity firm. “A typical bubble starts with high prices causing capital to start flowing quickly into that space because of attractive returns. So high housing prices may spur a bubble down the road, especially in markets like Denver, where you see a lot of new home development in the pipeline to open up,” he said.

According to RealtyTrac, a real estate information company and an online marketplace for foreclosed and defaulted properties, Denver County has the nation’s lowest affordability index as of second quarter 2017, meaning it has the least affordable prices compared to historical averages. Adams County and Arapahoe County, both in the Denver metro area, also rank among the worst for housing affordability.

Personally I am more concerned about the Front Range versus the State of Colorado. Yes our resort communities are very dependent on real estate transactions for transfer taxes and so forth. However I am not seeing the frenzied activity west of the Continental Divide that I see on the Front Range. Thus if a bubble is forming, I believe it may be Front Range specific and while impacting the whole state if it bursts, the damage I believe will be most acute along the I-25 corridor from the Wyoming border to Pueblo.

Denver Now 3rd for Year over Year Price Appreciation. Sustainable?

The most recent Case-Shiller Index for Metro Denver shows continued strength in our market which is now at #3 behind Seattle and Portland for price appreciation. Within the last year the price appreciation for Denver has been 7.9%, which is very, very healthy (nationally the increase was 5.6%). Even more interesting is the following statistic from the report: “Denver’s Case-Shiller home price index in May rose to a new record of 198.32. That means that local home resale prices averaged 98.32 percent higher than they were in the benchmark month of January 2000, based on non-seasonally-adjusted data.”

Yes as a broker I should be celebrating. However I have been curious about business and real estate cycles as I have learned over the year’s lessons from history should be respected.

Case in point a charming house on a nice corner lot in one of Central Denver’s most desirable neighborhoods recently came in the market. The house is of a desirable size with 2,000 SF above grade and a fully finished basement with 1,300 SF. In addition the home is located within a most in-demand public elementary school which is within walking distance.

I decided to do a title search to see the activity on this house as it relates to the Case-Shiller index. Fortunately I could go as far back as 1992. Here is the history based on public records, please note the information reads as follows

Transaction/Date/ Price/Gain/Loss over Prior Transaction in $/%/ From 1992/ % Int. Rate:

  • Sold June 1992 – $225,000 Average 30 Yr. Mortgage Rate = 8.51%
  • Sold Nov 1993 – $238,500 + $13,500 or +6% gain/ 30 Yr. = 7.16%
  • Sold Aug 1999 – $480,000 + 241,500 or +101% / 113% gain from 1992/ 30 Yr. 7.94%
  • Sold Oct 2003 – $690,000 + $200,000 or +43% / 206% gain from 1992/ 30 yr. 5.95%
  • Sold Sep 2007 – $825,000 + $135,000 or +20%/ 260% gain from 1992 / 30 yr. 6.38%
  • Foreclosed Nov 2010/ 30yr. 4.3%
  • Sold Aug 2011 for $625,000 (- $200,000) or (-24%)/ 170% gain from 1992/30 yr. 4.27%

Placed on market July 2017 for $1,950,000/ 30 Yr. 3.88%

Assuming a sale for $1,900,000 + $1,275,000 or 204% Gain/ 740% gain from 2002

Thus from 1992 to 2007 which many consider the pinnacle of the last market upturn before the Great Recession, the gain over the 15 years equaled $600,000 or 73%.

In the three years from the pinnacle of the market to subsequent foreclosure in 2010 and sale the following year in 2011 the home lost $200,000 or 24% in value in 4 years. Yet from 1992 the increase still equals $400,000 or a 200%+ gain over 19 years.

If this home sells for close to asking in the 6 years of most recent ownership, looking at a $1,275,000 gain or $204% over their purchase and 700+% over the 1992 sales price.

Again I assume there have been renovations. Of note I am not factoring inflation as the $225,000 in June 1992 would equate to $393,000 in 2017.

However if one were to graph the history of this home it is unique as it shows true cycles in the market. In 1994 Denver and all of Colorado was experiencing a similar economic boom as we are enjoying at present. Granted the present expansion cycle is exacerbated coming off the Great Recession however I continue to argue fundamental business cycles have not ended.

Yes we are in a Goldilocks fiscal environment with historically low interest rates. I purposely included the average interest rates at the time of each transaction based on the 30 yr. fixed rate. Also with unemployment at record lows eventually we should see inflation tick up. During times of inflation housing generally increases in value HOWEVER when mortgage interest rates increase there is historically an inverse relationship i.e. rates go up on mortgages prices can come down concerning housing as more of the monthly is debt service.

Thus one may conclude the phenomenal increases in values may be attributable to the influx of capital and population to Denver, attractive pricing when compared to coastal cities and all coupled with cheap borrowing costs. However is this growth sustainable?

Ask me in the next 12-18 months.

Personally I would be a seller at present and only a buyer assuming a longer-term hold i.e. over 3-5 years at minimum while locking in the low-interest rates. Just my humble opinion.

 

 

 

Beige Book, Case-Shiller and Local Price Reductions. What’s Going On?

Nationally we still seem to be in a Goldilocks economy. The Beige Book evidenced positive economic indicators; The Federal Reserve indicated due to the continued momentum of the economy an increase in the Fed Funds rate is imminent. Interest rates on mortgages continue to bounce around yet continue to hover at historic lows.

So what is happening in Denver?

Well, a lot. The Case-Shiller Index advised the Denver area has fallen to #4 concerning price appreciation behind Seattle (12.3%), Portland (9.2%) and Dallas (8.6%). Of note Denver’s Year over Year appreciation was 8.4%. This is a positive as gains are still above national averages yet the cooling off concerning appreciation may indicate movement towards a market more oriented towards equilibrium.

For homeowners price appreciation may be a positive, yet when we have a continuing disparity between average income/wage growth coupled with higher prices; this is not sustainable and leads to potential corrections down the road including housing prices and employment attraction as many businesses will reconsider relocation if the cost of living is excessive.

And yes I have been told by some to look at New York (4.1% Year over Year) and San Francisco (5.1% Year over Year) as markets, which historically continue to increase in value. However both those cities have geographic constraints and higher demand leading to exorbitant pricing by Denver standards and strict rent-control programs, which impact the market, issues we do not have in locally.

While statistics can be interpreted any which way one desires; readers of my blog know I focus on the upscale neighborhoods of Denver. Specifically I believe the upscale neighborhoods are a leading indicator of the future of the overall market. Granted not scientific concerning methodology yet anecdotal evidence coupled with 20+ years as a broker makes me a bit concerned.

I have been keeping my eye on the Country Club Neighborhood of Denver, specifically are area bounded by Downing on the West, University on the East, 8th Avenue on the North and 1st Avenue on the South. While historically expensive the neighborhood has been the pinnacle concerning prestige and address within Central Denver for generations.

Suddenly there seems to be an increase in available inventory. Couple this with a section of listings that have endured price adjustments between 10%-25% to the downside, what is going on?

Granted some of the listings may have been overpriced to begin with. As brokers we advise our clients pricing options based on past sales, demand and other factors. Yet at the end of the day it is the seller who dictates the asking price. Thus some listing may have sellers believing their residence is valued higher than the market would dictate and thus the price reductions.

Yet there is another factor, which I call irrational exuberance of investment gains. A few listings I have watched include a selection that are asking 50%-100% return over their purchase price within the last 3-5 years. Granted some have been renovated/updated yet others are in similar condition when last sold and are asking for returns which are just not rational. Granted if the seller gets the asking price, all of a sudden it is rational.

However let me use the example of a home within the western section of Country Club south of 4th Avenue, a prime neighborhood that sold within the last 12 months and is NOT presently on the market.

The house sold in late 2001 for between $310,000 – $330,000

In early 2002 the home resold for $530,000 – $550,000*

Thus in real #’s gross #’s not taking into account commissions and closing cost the house appreciated $200,000+* or over 60%

*During that short period some improvements were made to the house yet far from a full gut renovation, mostly cosmetics and some mechanicals.

The next resale of the home was in early 2006 for between $640,000 – $660,000

Between 2002 and 2006 (4 years) the house appreciated $100,000 or approximately 19% still quite respectable for housing, on an annualized basis 5%, which was below gains in the stock market during the same period.

The new owners who purchased the home in 2006 bought at the pinnacle of the housing market during that period of expansion. Within 1.5 years we would witness the bubble burst with the shut down of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent Great Recession and Housing Crisis, which were soon to follow.

In late 2016 the house sold between $745,000 – $765,000, an approx. 16% gain yet took 10 years for this gain to happen.

Overall the home in the above example has done well yet also provides insights concerning timing and overall market conditions. In pure #’s between 2002 and 2016 the home went from between $530,000 – $550,000 to $745,000 to $765,000 or approx. $225K or 40%, quite respectable and beating inflation yet also took 14 years to achieve the 40% gain or under 3% annualized which matches inflation which housing (beyond select coastal markets) usually mirrors. 

Are we to assume Denver is now suddenly an outlier like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles OR are we in a period of concern as our housing appreciation historically matched those of other inland regional cities.

To be honest I do not know but as many clients are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what the market does. My view is business cycles have not ended and while not in a bubble, if I were looking to buy and resell within 12-36 months, I would be a bit hesitant to sign the mortgage.

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.

 

 

Does the Seller Really Want to Sell

While the metro Denver market continues to hum along and there are a few “blockbuster” sales on the upper-end, anecdotally I am seeing signs of stress especially on the upper-end of the market. Some listings are coming on at inflated/fantasy prices and within 1-2 weeks a price reduction. Granted some reductions are more symbolic i.e. still priced above market and I never fault anyone for holding out hope of that blockbuster sale. However as an experienced broker I look for various signs showing that a seller is serious and motivated.

Yet first some signs advising the seller may not be so serious:

Will Not Close until Replacement Property Secured: In such a situation the seller is driving the transaction. You as buyer are in a holding pattern literally beholden to the seller and their timing and wish-list concerning finding a replacement property which in a hot market may not be so easy. In commercial transactions this can be a common occurrence and is a tactic used in 1031 Exchanges. Concerning traditional residential I would be more cautious. Not to dissimilar from a reverse contingency i.e. usually buyer will purchase contingent on the sale of their existing property. Instead here the seller will sell and close once their replacement residence is secured.

Holdover or Leaseback in Excess of 30 days: Holdover i.e. occupancy once the house is sold and closed is not so uncommon. I usually suggest 30 days or less; there is even a pre-printed Colorado Real Estate Commission Form known as the Post Closing Occupancy Agreement for such an event. For longer periods (and again if you are an investor the criteria may be different) I would be more cautious. Basically the seller is looking to cash out and lease their house back. I have been involved with situations concerning relocation when this is quite accepted. However barring a relocation situation my immediate concern is for the buyer. The seller is desiring to cash out and lease back. Again in commercial real-estate not uncommon, in residential may indicate seller may believe market is adjusting downward and desires to cash out at prevailing market conditions and assumes paying rent is safer than a mortgage associated with a downward trending asset. Yes the seller may need the cash out of the house; there are additional options from HELOC’s to Reserve Mortgages, thus a sale is more drastic.

Again the above are basic guidelines, not the gospel and each situation is truly unique.

The signs seller is truly serious:

Buy Me: Even in a hot market a property may go through multiple price reductions. Granted this could be an indicator the listing was over-priced to begin with. However when coupled with other indicators i.e. priced well-below market value, being offered “as-is” or desiring a cash transaction can possibly construe the seller is very serious.

Of note, be forewarned as some brokers will purposely list a property at below-market to instill excitement of prospective buyers and more importantly bids and offers. In a hot market such a tactic can be a benefit to the seller. However in a market trending downward such a strategy may place the seller in a losing situation i.e. full price offer at the below-market price and by not accepting barring contingencies the broker may demand a commission if seller does not sell.

Curb Appeal or Lack Thereof: Anyone who has owned a home knows landscaping takes time and money (even DIY’s i.e. materials, water, maintenance). While brokers usually advise an investment in curb appeal, a seller who may not have the time or capital to attend to the landscaping may be showing signs of motivation by their inaction and lack of investment. Such signs I look for include:

  • Overgrown or dead lawn/shrubs/flower beds.
  • Weeds and other decay i.e. trash, dead leaves, and overgrowth.
  • Newspapers that have not been picked up and/or fliers in the door.

Such signs could also point to an absentee owner, landlord or similar situation. I have used such visual cues to procure listings by researching public records and other databases.

Interior is Half Lived In: Hey I am all for staging and a staged house usually suggests a motivated seller i.e. the investment in staging. However dig deeper especially if you believe the house continues to be owner/seller occupied. Are the closets ½ empty? Is the furniture mismatched or haphazardly placed? Are walls showing signs of art having been removed and not replaced? Such indicators may indicate divorce, destitution, already moved out or similar. Usually when a home is in such condition, the seller is motivated. Please note there is a difference between purging and having moved on.

Of note, in Japan in the 1980’s some listings were not only staged but also included a live multi-generational family pursuing their daily routine during open-houses to show how the home functions and meets the needs of a multigenerational family as buyer. Trust me somewhat disturbing seeing children doing their homework during an open house yet also true early adopters of the precursor to virtual reality.

Family Dynamics have Changed: I see this quite often; the signs may include a child’s crib in one of the social rooms i.e. living, dining, home office or similar. Or on other side of the spectrum oxygen tank or other medically oriented items. Such indicators may suggest a new addition(s) to the family from a child to an aging parent or illness. This may be a situation where the owners desire to move for more space to accommodate and thus at present a not optimum living situation.

Estate Sale: Usually estate sales are when the owner passes and/or the present sellers are by descent. Such sellers may be more motivated to unload the property for various motivations from estate tax liability to not desiring the upkeep and maintenance. In the Denver Multilist there is a check box for type of seller and one option is Estate. If your locale does not indicate such type of seller and it is a deed of trust state, investigate what type of deed is being offered. Is it a Personal Representative Deed or similar? May be an estate. Of course some experienced brokers review obituaries and similar to look for listings; an old pastime in New York City which is practiced to this day (not to mention treating estate lawyers to lunch).

Providing Too Much Unrequested Information: In Colorado we have what is known as the Seller Property Disclosure, a 7+ pages form executed by sellers to provide information to the best of their knowledge concerning the residences condition and state of repair. Of note I advise seller clients to be truthful and honest as its both a legal and ethical course of action not to mention most buyers will engage the services of a home inspector prior to closing.

However some clients can be more forthcoming and mention issues and potential remedies before being prompted. In general I usually caution sellers to be circumspect in what they mention i.e. “We were going to install an on-demand hot water heater but went with the conventional as it was cheaper and we did not want to invest any additional money into the house”. This tells a buyer the seller while preparing for sale went for near-term economics versus cost-savings over the long-term. I am guilty of this myself. In the sale of my house I advised the sellers concerning a secondary bathroom; if they ever plan to renovate to consider changing the dual knobs to a single-lever. Was I disclosing too much? Maybe; however I advised since we did not use that particular bathroom we never did the upgrade; something to consider for their larger household and lifestyle.

The House Is Empty: Rarely do homes show better when vacant (that is why we have staging as an image is worth 1,000 words). In reality an empty property may indicate the seller has moved on. Yet continuing to retain ownership the empty home does incur carrying costs even if there is no mortgage i.e. real estate taxes, upkeep, insurance and so forth. Thus the seller may be willing to be more flexible knowing their for-sale asset is depleting capital while on the market.

Granted some homes are staged and again this may be a sign the seller is serious as staging is not inexpensive. In some markets we are now witnessing virtual staging i.e. computer generated staging to the benefit of on-line marketing, again a picture is worth 1,000 words. One company has brought the cost of staging down with inflatable furniture; just don’t sit on the props. Of note, a broker trick to show the scale of a bedroom, set up four to six boxes for support, add a camping air mattress, cover with a bedspread and pillows. The result an instantly staged and scaled bedroom.

Happy House Hunting

Real Estate, Stocks and Geography

I recently came across the most interesting commentary concerning housing and investments via The Denver Post and NerdWallet site titled Are You Buying a House or a Lottery Ticket.

The author mentions Warren Buffet placing his Laguna Beach residence up for sale. The following is directly from the column:

Buffett bought his Laguna Beach place in 1971 for $150,000 and is asking $11 million. My friend’s parents bought their home for $24,500 in 1965 and just sold it for $104,000. Put another way: If Buffett gets his asking price, his house will have appreciated at an annual rate of 9.79 percent. The Cleveland house eked out a 2.82 percent annual return. Neither buyer could have predicted what their homes would be worth now. One could score a healthy return, while the other didn’t even keep up with inflation. (If she had, her home would have been worth about $190,000.)”

While the author mentions inflation (and how the house in Cleveland did not keep up). Let me take a step back. The $150,000 Mr. Buffet paid in 1971 has the buying power of $902,000+ in 2017 dollars. The $24,500 paid in 1965 would have the buying power of $189,000+ on 2017 dollars. Thus the Cleveland residence was and continues to be a starter home based on price. The Laguna Beach residence in real dollars was expensive in 1971 and in the top 0.01% of prices today for real estate.

The author goes on to suggest if that same $150,000 Buffet paid for the house was invested in the S&P 500, it would be worth $14,5M today (and if invested in Berkshire Hathaway Class A that same investment would be worth $800M).

This brings up one of my sayings of “Could Have, Should Have and Didn’t”.

Granted I am the first to advise never to consider a house as a capital investment. First and foremost it is shelter. Yes there are financial advantages i.e. tax write-offs and related yet maintenance and upkeep probably cancel out the benefits over time. Also, the vast majority of homeowners are buying and selling in 5-7 year cycles based on lifestyle changes.

It is true certain markets i.e. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and similar if your real estate was held long enough it may feel like hitting the lottery. In other markets keeping up with inflation is the norm and this accounts for the vast majority of the United States.

This brings up the debate about Denver. Yes I have been considered a pessimist as I have been through 3+ business cycles since Denver became my primary residence in 1989. Looking at the sale of my house which I purchased in 1989 for $140,000 ($275,000 in 2017 Dollars) did beat inflation, however if I factor in maintenance, upkeep and so forth, the returns are far less impressive.

Even more enlightening, when I purchased the house in 1989, the seller had to come to the table with cash as he had paid $200,000 ($469,000 in 2017 Dollars) for the residence in 1984 and sold it in 1989 for $140,000 yet with a mortgage balance of $160,000 plus real estate broker commissions. Not the worry, the seller had a nice loss and I believe is presently a physician in the Bay Area thus most likely financially whole.

If the seller had held onto the residence and sold today i.e. in 2017 he too would have basically kept up with inflation.

The point is we have seen spectacular run-ups in the Denver market since the Great Recession. Even today due to lack of inventory prices continue to rise while incomes are not keeping up with prices. This is not sustainable in the long run. While I have had peers newer to the business advise Denver is the next LA, San Francisco, New York and so forth, I tend to disagree.

First we are inland. We are not geographically challenged i.e by bodies of water lapping at our borders. Thus the Denver metro area can easily expand into the hinterlands where prices are generally lower (and yes I know Boulder has growth controls, however when I first moved to Colorado in the early 80’s the land between I-25 and Superior/Louisville was farm land. Second, in Denver proper revised zoning has allowed for increases in density in many central neighborhoods. I have mixed opinions on this, however in general increased density provides additional affordability in the market i.e. multi-family, slot housing and related as the dirt can accommodate more than a single-family home. Of note, one of the reasons San Francisco is so expensive is the limitation on density and height in the city proper.

I suggest we should look at Denver in similarity to Chicago, Salt Lake, Dallas and similar inland cities. Yes we have a diversity economy, a young and well-educated population and of course lifestyle which cannot be replicated including 300 days of sunshine/year, more days than parts of Hawaii. Yet we are not on a coast, we do not have a port and we have ample land on which to expand even beyond the E/C-470 ring road.

I do believe Denver metro will generally outpace inflation. However my personal residence is the perfect example our its lifespan i.e. if when purchased new in 1984 and sold today, the residence would have mirrored inflation. However due to timing and some good luck, the residence was purchased during a severe downturn in the market and is being sold during an upturn coupled with being within an “in-demand” neighborhood.

Thus, when purchasing a home in Denver, look at what you can afford keeping in mind maintenance and upkeep and understanding your home is shelter foremost and gains beyond inflation will be the icing on the cake. With that said, I plan to buy a MegaMillions ticket later today.

Of note, there seems to be some ambiguities concerning the Buffet house as it seems the house was sold in 2005 for $5.45M. Was then listed in 2011 for $6.495M before a price reduction to $4,995M. Thus did Mr. Buffet repurchase, hold paper or what? Unfortunately I am not an investigative journalist yet I assume the same house? Just goes to show, timing and market conditions can be most influential concerning house values i.e. double the asking in 6 years, now that is hitting the lottery not to mention water views!

Is a certain residence in Denver indicative of the market we are experiencing

On my daily commute downtown I pass a large single-family home that has been for sale for the past year (been through two brokers during that time). This home is gorgeous offering over 6,500 SF of finished space, renovated interior including a chef’s kitchen, well water for the expansive yard, a carriage house all designed by a storied design firm and located within a designated Historic District. Taxes are reasonable considering the neighborhood the residence is located in. It is a corner lot, not to everyone’s liking and does have some traffic impact mitigated by a 6′ masonry sound/privacy wall. Throughout central Denver traffic impacts are not to be unexpected.

At my club last week a fellow member asked me about this particular listing advising she passes it daily, as do I and how it seems to have been on the market for a long time. I knew the residence and while I do not believe it is over-priced at present asking $317psf finished/ $434psf above grade (on a PSF basis actually on the low-end for its neighborhood). This member asked me why it has not sold; I advised in my opinion multiple factors including size as 6,000+ SF is not for most buyers a starter home, the corner lot on a thoroughfare and the design; historic  which for some prospective buyers signals increased upkeep and maintenance.

Thus I decided to review the pricing and sales history; what an awakening as it seems this particular residence has mirrored the Denver market and may forecast what is to come:

  • March 2004: Sold for $1,030,000
  • March 2006: Sold for $1,650,000 (+$620,000) 61% Gain
  • June 2013: Sold for $1,275,000 (-$375,000) 23% Loss
  • March 2016: Placed on Market for $2,995,000 Potential 230% Gain Unrealized
  • March 2017: Price Adjustment now $2,095,000 Potential 160% Gain Unrealized

Please note between March 2004 and March 2006, there may have been a renovation, I have no idea; however a 61% gain is just not a sustainable increase in a rational market. The loss between June 2006 which was close to the pinnacle of the boom and the sale in June 2013 when the market started to again accelerate out of the great recession to the upside shows the house had some resiliency i.e. a 23% loss, far from the losses seen in other markets.

The most recent asking price would still generate a very healthy 160% gain in 4 years. Granted I am not including carrying costs, commissions and so forth. Yet in my opinion a 160% gain in 48 months is a bit optimistic yet not unheard of.

The house continues to sit on the market. A buyer will eventually purchase as the size and neighborhood will eventually negate the issue of the location adjacent to a thoroughfare which I believe is the biggest factor impacting the property. I just thought the activity over the past 13 years was indicative of the Denver market and now being on the market for one year with price reductions, granted from lofty unrealistic heights may be a precursor of what the foreseeable future may be for the luxury market in Denver.

 

 

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.