“Tracy is the best!! She sold our 1 bedroom condo in a Historic Register building in Capitol Hill in Denver. Unlike many realtors who are just looking to make a sale and move on to the next, Tracy really cares about her clients and their financial situation. She actually convinced us not to sell the first time we contacted her because the market was in the pits and our condo was worth less than 1/2 what we paid for it. By following her advice and waiting a few years, we ended up making money on the condo when it sold for OVER the asking price. She was incredibly patient with all of our concerns and questions, and knows more about the market than anyone. Also worth mentioning that we were out of state for the whole process, so she handled EVERYTHING; renovations, cleaning, staging, pricing, showing, you name it! She made this very stressful situation much less so, and we can’t imagine using anyone else.” – Keith Orell
As the clock ticks toward year’s end, it’s time to review the 2015 real estate market.
When someone asks me how the real estate market is, the cocktail party answer is that it’s been a very pleasing 12 months and future looks bright and shiny. Because the economic news is good our Denver Metro real estate market is projected to stay strong but not overheat. I’ll share some of the metrics I use to evaluate the market and understand it better, describing what 2015 looked like and where I think we’re headed.
Market strength–2015 was an extremely strong seller’s market. The market strength peaked in the spring when the bottom dropped out of our inventory and multiple offers were all the rage. Frustrating for buyers who felt they had to give away so much to stay competitive, the good news is that the market reacted appropriately and became more balanced as the year progressed. With prices on the rise, sellers were motivated to sell as we approached the fall so the market cooled with the start of school and the weather. It is still a strong seller’s market, but far more in balance. I expect 2016 to continue along this line and see no sign of a major imbalance that could lead to any sort of ugly peak and crash. Sellers should get a good price for their homes and replacement properties should not be as hard to find.
Buyers– Real estate website Trulia says that buying an average home in Denver is a whopping 38 percent cheaper than renting a home! For the average home, the interest rate would have to skyrocket to 11 percent for renting to become cheaper than buying, meaning that it is currently MUCH more affordable to buy than to rent. Even with current prices and current rents, interest rates would have to nearly triple to make renting more affordable than owning. (Call me if you want to talk about this.)
Sellers-Can’t say this enough: the most important thing to prepare your home for sale is to get rid of clutter. This includes furniture. You may have learned to live with that cherished armchair stuffed into the corner but a professional stager will often times whisk away half of your furniture. The house looks so much bigger for it, leaving space for a buyer couple and their agent to tour the home without bumping into each other, and space for their imaginations to make it their own. You don’t have to go “Stager drastic” but take a hard look, be objective, and see what you can live without. Painting always pays for itself and statistics show that springing for a staging company is often a good investment.
Rental Vacancies– The rental market is stronger than it has ever been in metro Denver. The vacancy rate for 1- to 4-unit properties is an extremely low 2 percent. That’s a drop from the already 4.7% we’d been experiencing for the past few years. On top of this, rents are rising faster than ever, up 30% in the past three years. With rents equaling a mortgage payment, we’re seeing more renters making the decision to buy. Why live waiting for another rent increase, tough competition and another application process without building any equity? Many homeowners who lost their homes in the downturn and have been renting, are becoming eligible to purchase once again. This is great news for the market and will certainly lead to more sales in 2016, though the influx of buyers insures a continuing seller’s market.
Interest rates– No one knows exactly what interest rates will do in the future but my best guess is that they may rise a little in 2016, but only a little. Remember that the Federal Reserve has control over only short-term, not long-term interest rates. Even if the Fed raises rates, that doesn’t directly affect the 30-year home buyer interest rate you are concerned with. Long-term interest rates are affected by the bond market (as bond prices decrease, interest rates increase) which, frankly, is not predictable. Understand though that interest rates are at near 50-year lows so they are highly unlikely to fall any further. All we know for sure is that someday they will go up.
The Economy– No matter what you may hear in the months leading up to the election (places hands over ears), right now the metro Denver economy is very strong. This is fueling our terrific real estate market and the rising population of our city. The unemployment rate is extremely low, about 3.5 percent. Inflation will stay in the range of 1-2 percent, our population is rising at a rate of 50,000 people/year and consumer confidence continues to rise. Nothing can be better for the housing market than a strong and steady economy.
Mortgage -The single most important number for a home buyer is their FICO score. For good or bad, your FICO plays a major role in your ability to finance your home purchase. Your credit score is a snapshot taken by the three leading credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, to help lenders determine what sort of credit risk you are. Your FICO is a number between 300 and 850 and is calculated by a complex algorithm assessing your past credit history. Most home lenders will consider a score over 700 to be excellent while scores below 600 are considered poor. The better the score the more credit will be extended, at better terms, with a lower interest rate. The best credit terms are extended to consumers with scores above 740. Therefore, it’s critical to understand what your FICO is and what you can do to improve your score. When I work with buyers I help them understand the factors affecting their score so they can work to improve them. I can’t think of a better investment in your future than to spend a little time working on your FICO score.
Here are a few tips I give my clients:
1.Don’t max out your cards, try to keep them under 50% of available credit. Running high balances can severely impact your FICO.
2.Continue paying your bills on time.
3.Don’t apply for new credit or cancel an old card because length of credit helps.
4.Pay down high balances.
5.Dispute and resolve any inaccurate items in your credit report.
6.Invest in a credit monitoring company to track the changes to your score.
I’m frequently asked where the real estate market is headed and when we will get back to some kind of equilibrium. The truth is it’s extremely difficult to accurately predict the future but here’s what I know: Right now we are experiencing one of the strongest seller’s markets in our history and we’re a full six and a half years into this market recovery. The reason is simple: we have much more demand for homes (buyers) than we have supply of homes (sellers). What’s fascinating to watch is the dynamic build on itself. It looks something like this:
1.Buyers make offers on homes and continue to lose out to higher offers.
2.Buyers get increasingly frustrated and begin to get more aggressive with their offers.
3.The momentum builds on itself until we see what is occurring today, with multiple offers on a propertythe norm rather than the exception.
4.The multiple offer dynamic almost always bids prices higher than the original asking price.
5.The buyers that lose the bid learn from the experience and become more aggressive on their next offer.
6.Then back to Step 1, until the buyer bids high enough on a property to finally get an offer accepted.
The result of course is the tremendously strong seller’s market we have experienced for the past several years. And this seller’s market is not going to change any time soon, at least not until we get back to some kind of balance in the market between buyers and sellers. I don’t see that happening for at least several more years. In the meantime, if you’ve thought about selling your home, now might be a great time to find out what the market is like in your neighborhood and see what your home is worth. It’s almost certainly worth more than it was just a few years ago. Drop me a line and I’ll put together a professional Competitive Market Analysis on your home so you have the data to make the right decision.
Another question my potential sellers often ask is if they sell today, can they find a replacement home in time to move? In a market like ours this is a very good question. Fortunately, there are a number of things savvy sellers can do to take advantage of the seller’s market and put themselves in a good position when looking for their replacement home.
Here are a few:
1.First and foremost, work with an experienced agent to write a strong, professional offer on the home you want to buy. In a dramatically competitive market like we have now, weak, poorly written, unprofessional, and bad offers just aren’t taken seriously. There is both an art and a science to writing a strong offer. Call me and I’ll explain more about how to write an offer that has a great chance of getting accepted.
2.Add a contingency clause to your contract to buy another home. The clause would say that you will close on the home you are purchasing once your own home sells. The problem with this is that it somewhat weakens your offer as many sellers don’t want to accept a contingency when they can sell quickly to the next buyer. But occasionally we do run across a seller that is in no hurry and is happy to wait for the buyer’s home to sell.
3.Lease the home you just sold from the buyer for a period of time while you are looking for your new home (this is called a lease back). Some buyers do not want or are not able to move into their new home immediately and this permits them to earn rent from you for the period of time you are shopping for your next purchase, a win-win situation. 4.Look into a new construction purchase. Builders are building as fast as they can in this market to keep up with demand and there may be inventory of completed or soon-to-be-completed homes that could suit you. 5.Arrange to stay with family or move into short-term rental housing until you find your next home. While not a perfect solution I believe it’s far better to inconvenience yourself for a short period of time than to settle for anything less than your dream home!
“Denver apartment rents rising three times the national average”
This was the Denver Business Journal’s Sept. 2 headline. Denver rents have increased another 7 percent in the past year, which is three times the national average of 2.3 percent. And given the continued lack of rental inventory, rents are expected to continue increasing at a strong pace. Sooooooo…. 1.If you’re a renter it might be time to consider looking into buying a home to get out of the rental market madness! 2.If you’ve ever thought about buying a rental as a long-term investment now might be the time to learn how to purchase a safe, cashflowing property. Interest rates are still near record lows and rents havenever been higher, a wonderful combination for any real estate investor.
Mortgage rates continue to hover at near-record lows. For homeowners looking to upgrade to a larger, better home, low rates combined with low home inventory are making this a great time to upgrade to a larger home with very nearly the same monthly payment. We have several recent examples of clients selling their current homes and getting into a $40,000 – $50,000 more expensive home with the exact same monthly payment. Please give me a call or send me and e-mail and I’ll do a free analysis to see if this might be a good scenario for you to take advantage of.
What’s new in the Denver Real Estate Market?
The question I’m asked all the time by friends, colleagues and clients who are still renting is whether it’s too late to buy a home. “Are we heading for a big downturn?” and “Are we too deep in the market cycle to buy?” they wonder. For those of you who read my newsletter and know me well the following will sound familiar but it bears repeating: timing the real estate market perfectly is extremely difficult (maybe even impossible) and those who try usually fail. So don’t try to time the market. Instead, look at factors like the ones below to see if homeownership is right for you.
1. You should buy a home when you feel it’s the right time in your life to do so. Don’t try to time the market, instead time your life. Are you getting married? Sick of paying skyrocketing rents? Looking for a bigger place for you and your family? Want your own backyard for the kids to play in? Want to be part of a neighborhood community? Plan on staying in one place for a number of years? Want to build long-term wealth? These are the types of questions you should ask yourself when considering whether you want to own a home. To the extent you say yes, home ownership might be the answer for you.
One important stat to keep in mind is that the average rental household in the U.S. has a total net worth of only $5,500. In contrast, the average homeowner has a net worth of $195,500 — that’s 36 times those who rent! Over the past 15 years, this multiple has ranged from as low as 31 times to as high as 46 times the net worth of renters. You don’t want to try to time the market, but over the long term home ownership is the tried and true path to wealth accumulation and financial security. (So is owning rental property, by the way. Call me if you’d like to learn more about that as well.)
2. Interest rates remain at record lows but this can’t last forever. No one knows when they’re going to rise (remember, you can’t time the market!), but rise they will at some point in the future. Though home prices have gone up the past several years, low interest rates continue to make homes relatively affordable (especially compared to renting). Once interest rates do rise the window of home ownership affordability will truly begin to close for a lot of potential buyers and they will be sorry they didn’t act when interest rates were at 50-year lows.
To illustrate the numbers, assume you are purchasing a $210,000 home with a 5 percent down payment. The Principle + Interest payment at 4 percent interest would be $952 per month. Just a 1 percent interest rate increase to 5 percent would result in a payment of $1,070 per month for a total increase of $128/month and $1,416/year. Now assume that rates tick up to 6 percent. That increase would result in a 21 percent increase in payments from $952 to $1,196. Where you really see the effect of these increases is when you hold the property for the full 30 years. On a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage that increases from 4-5 percent, the borrower who obtains the 5 percent loan would pay an additional $42,772 in extra interest as opposed to the borrower who paid just 4 percent interest. That’s 21.4 percent of the total loan amount! This is why a lot of folks who don’t purchase a home while interest rates are near record lows are going to regret it down the road.
3. The main reason the average home owner has so much more personal wealth than the average condo owner is that over time, homes appreciate in value. Over the past 44 years, homes in metro Denver appreciated 6 percent per year, about 1 percent above the inflation rate. If you buy a $200,000 home, you can expect over the long term its value to rise about 6 percent every year. This means you’d make $12,000 in appreciation the first year, an additional $12,720 the second year, another $13,483 in the third year, and on and on. It’s that simple. So if you want to build wealth, your best bet may be to take advantage of these numbers and buy a home for the long term. I can help you do this. Call me and let me show you how.
There’s a lot of talk in Denver about this “crazy new real estate market”, how “everything’s different than it used to be”, and after six years of heartbreak, I say “thank god”. For those interested in real estate, and for those who might be considering buying or selling a property, understanding the big picture is critical. So here’s where it stands.
Most people think this tremendous seller’s market and that the super low inventory is something new, or that the market’s going to suddenly erupt overnight. Neither is true. Here’s the truth: we are FOUR YEARS PAST THE BOTTOM of our last real estate cycle. Just because the Denver Post is suddenly aware of the real estate market, or Zillow writes screeching articles about the tight market in order to sell ad space don’t be fooled. It’s not new. It is a logical continuation of a market that is reacting strongly to the over-selling we saw between 2007 and 2009 (which finally bottomed out in 2009). It’s doing exactly what real estate market cycles do. They rise and fall over long periods of time, but historically (and I mean over the past 40 years) residential real estate appreciation has averaged 6 percent per year and there is no reason to think that is going to change over the next 40 years.
We tend to think of market cycles in short-terms, spiking and crashing over short periods of time, but a quick look at the last market cycle clearly shows this is not how real estate works. Real estate cycles tend to move in much broader periods, 7-10 years are typical over the past 40 years. This is why predicting short-term market movements can be very difficult, whereas assuming the market will move in 7-10 cycles is a pretty good guess. During these past four years, as we continue the rise from our low, we have seen more of a seller’s market. Plummeting inventory and rising prices drove nervous buyers into multiple offer competitions with happy sellers getting the price they want. In fact, look at Chart Y and you’ll get a great perspective of how strong our market is. You see that the metro Denver 2013 Closed Dollar Volume of all residential sales hit a new high which translates into a record amount of money in the pockets of sellers. Good times for sellers!
Many of my buyers are understandably nervous. Rents are skyrocketing (up 8% this year) but news articles and TV reports claim the market is teetering on the brink of a crash, creating a “Fear of Buying”.
So let me be clear: no one can predict the real estate market with 100% accuracy. I can’t, the Federal Reserve can’t, the banks with all the money can’t (obviously!), no one can. But, understanding how market cycles work, and recognizing how low our current inventory is, I can say with confidence I do not see any impending weakness in the market over the next couple of years. We are four years into what will probably be a typical 7-10 year cycle of low inventory and rising prices. I can’t tell you what the Dow Jones will finish at next Monday. I can’t tell you if the Rockies will win their fifth game of the season. I can’t tell you what the weather will be on April 3rd. But I can say with confidence that real estate tends to move over predictable long-term trends, and this market cycle has a long way to go.
The National Association of Realtors just wrapped up their 2013 Conference & Expo. Chief economist for the organization, Lawrence Yun offered his insight on what to expect for the 2014 housing market: steadiness in existing-home sales over the next year as prices continue to ascend.
Based on what has happened in 2013, Yun says he expects existing-home sales to be up about 10 percent in 2013 to 5.13 million and that 2014 will hold fairly even at about 5.12 million.
We in the Denver housing market, predict continued growth in the number of homes sold, with the accelerated appreciation of 2013 to level out in ’14 to around 4 percent.
National median existing-home prices should end this year about 11% higher than 2012, while next year’s growth is expected to nearly half of that. Those who’ve been following the return of the housing market know that the past two years have shown a 20% cumulative increase in existing-home sales with prices rising an average of 18%. Incomes have not kept pace, rising between 2-4% in the same period.
“We’ve come off of record high housing affordability conditions in the past year, and are now at a five-year low, but conditions are still the fifth best in the past 40 years,” Yun said, noting that the median-income family should still be “well-positioned” to buy a home in 2014 in many areas.
Affordability, limited inventory (especially in metro Denver), stringent mortgage standards and rising interest rates will all factor into the expected gains over the coming year. Housing starts are predicted to fall short of the underlying demand, while sales of new homes are expected to total 429,000 in 2013 and 508,000 next year.
Based on Lawrence Yun’s forecasts,the top 10 markets to watch for a housing turn around in 2014 are Salt Lake City, Utah; Naples and Tampa, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Boise, Idaho; Houston, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; and Tucson, Arizona.