People Ask: “How’s the Real Estate Market?”

My short answer is “chaotic.”

One thing is certain: the seller’s market is now history. We’re at least in a balanced market and probably moving to a buyer’s market.

This chart tells a large part of the story. It is limited to the past 7 days of listing activity within 15 miles of downtown Denver.

There are currently about 4800 active REcolorado listings within that radius, ranging in price from $139,900 to $24,700,000.  Just under 600 of them are priced above $1,000,000, and the median price is $595,000.

Here’s the statistic that really tells the story of today’s market: the median days on the MLS of those 4800 active listings is 32 — over a month! This time last year, it was 4 or 5 days.

Roughly a quarter of the active listings have languished on the market for 2 months or longer, and about half of those for 90 days or longer.

Obviously, the surge in mortgage interest rates has played a big part, but I think it’s deeper than that. Buyers are being told that homes are overvalued, but sellers are still listing their homes based on recent comparable sales.

But recent comparable sales may have been overpriced, too, and buyers are happier on the fence than jumping into a market which they (and many professionals) don’t understand and can’t accurately predict.

I still laugh when I recall that the conventional wisdom among real estate and mortgage professionals back in January was that interest rates might reach 4% by the end of 2022. On 9/22, Freddie Mac quoted a 30-year fixed rate of 6.29%.

The stock market needs to be factored in because the 20% or more of buyers who pay cash for a home purchase are reluctant to sell stocks that have dropped in value. They don’t want to liquidate those investments until they go up again, which they will — eventually.

Cash Sales Are Up Less Here Than Nationally

By JIM SMITH

Like you, I’ve read reports from Zillow, Redfin, the National Association of Realtors, and others about the surge in investor purchases and the percentage of transactions that are all cash, but I can rarely confirm those reports when I do statistical searches on REcolorado, Denver’s MLS.

For example, Inman, the leading real estate news service, reported the following last Saturday: “All-cash home purchases in the U.S. hit 31.4 percent of all transactions in July 2022, up from 27.5 percent the year before, and just shy of an eight-year high reached in February, according to data released Friday by Redfin. Since the beginning of 2021, all-cash purchases have surged thanks to a pandemic-housing rush, reaching an apex in February when 32.1 percent of all transactions were made without financing, according to Redfin.”

Compare those numbers with the chart below, created from REcolorado, based on closings within 25 miles of the State Capitol.

The pandemic took root in April 2020, but there is only a modest increase in the percentage of cash transactions well into year two of the pandemic. A more significant increase can be noted in 2022, but the peak was well before the increase in mortgage interest rates which only showed up in April, and the percentage of cash sales actually dropped a little as those rates increased.

Regardless of those fluctuations, the percentages are well below the national percentages reported by Inman.

MLS Statistics Confirm a Rapidly Slowing Real Estate Market in Metro Area

As I write this on Sunday evening, I can’t know what the statistics will be at the end of August, so I ran some numbers for the first 28 days of the month to see how they compare to the previous 12 months. The result of that number crunching is in the chart below, and it confirms what we have all been feeling — that the real estate market in the metro area is indeed slowly abruptly.

The chart, limited to REcolorado listings within an  18-mile radius of the state Capitol, shows four metrics which I consult regularly to read the temperature of the market: the average and median days that a listing is active before going under contract, the ratio of sold price to listing price, and the average sold price. As you can see on the bottom four lines of the chart, the market started coming off its peak in May, slipping seriously by July.

During the seller’s market triggered by low mortgage interest rates and the pandemic, we saw the median days on the MLS in the mid single digits, as shown in column two. The average days on the MLS was higher, but not as high as in pre-pandemic times when it was in the 30s and 40s. Amazingly, that metric slipped into the single digits this April and May.

The last time the ratio of sold price to listing price was below 100% was in January 2020. In April of this year, before the impact of rising mortgage interest rates, it peaked at 106.1%, but it fell to 100% in July for the first time in 18 months, and during the first 28 days of August, it slipped to 99.57%.

The average sold price, which fell almost $30,000 in July, fell an unprecedented $58,136 during Aug. 1-28, a 9.2% drop in just one month.  When the full month is tabulated, it could well be worse.

For buyers who have cash or are not scared away by 5% interest rates, this represents an opportunity, and I have had my busiest open houses in a long time over the past three weekends, so I think buyers are ready to capitalize on that opportunity.

This is not to say there will be a market rebound anytime soon. There is a lot of uncertainty in the air in terms of politics, economics, and other matters, which will continue to keep many buyers on the sidelines.

Statistics Help to Quantify the Slowing Real Estate Market in Metro Denver

Here are some ways I’ve been able to quantify what we are all seeing, namely the slowing of our local real estate market.

Looking within 14 miles of downtown Denver, the currently active (i.e., unsold) listings have a median days on MLS (DOM) of 27 days. However, the currently pending listings have a median DOM of 13, and the listings that closed in the last 30 days have a median days on the MLS of 7.

The listings that closed in the prior 30 days had a median DOM of just 5, which is what it has been, more or less, through the past couple years. So the market is definitely slowing, and slowing rather abruptly.

The number of active listings —  what we refer to as “inventory” — has surged as homes sit on the market longer.

As I write this on Tuesday morning, there are 4,133 active listings on REcolorado, the Denver MLS, in that same 14-mile radius. That’s down from the peak of 5,521 at the end of July, but you have to go back to September 2020 to find a higher number of active listings than this July, as shown in the chart below.

In prior years, you’d see the number of active listings increase by 50%, more or less, from January to July, but look at this year’s more than triple surge from January to July in that chart.

The chart of pending listings (below) is also instructive. Notice that in most months during 2021 and 2022, the number pending listings was almost always higher than the number of active listings (above chart), but that changed in June and July, when the numbers dropped dramatically.

You’d expect, in a normal market, with a lot more listings to choose from, that more listings would go under contract, but the reverse was true. As the number of listings surged in June and July, the number of listings going under contract went down substantially. That, too, reflects an abrupt slowing of Denver’s real estate market.

(As an aside, notice the effect of the pandemic on the April 2020 number of pending listings. April was the first full month of the pandemic, and the number of listings going under contract plummeted at a time of year when they would normally surge. Notice, however, the quick recovery in the following months. It has been surmised that Covid soon caused a surge in sales as people began to work at home and saw the need for more home office space and the opportunity to move further from their place of work since they were no longer commuting.)

Another statistic demonstrating the slowing of Denver’s real estate market is the extent to which the median sold price of homes has fallen as the market has turned.

The median sold price for that   14-mile radius peaked at $582,950 in June, but it fell to $550,000 in July and has fallen to $520,000 for closings during the first half of August — going down, but still higher than in any prior year.

NOTE: The above article was adapted for a Jefferson County audience using only Jeffco statistics. You can read a PDF of that version at www.JimSmithColumns.com.

Buyers and Sellers Are Confused by Today’s Chaotic Real Estate Market  

Frankly, we real estate agents are confused, too! Homes that would have attracted bidding wars a few months ago are sitting on the market — attracting few showings and no offers.

But it’s really a tale of two real estate markets, because there are “special” homes which still attract bidding wars. It’s the “ordinary” homes which are not getting any love — tract homes, mostly.

The trigger for this change, as we all assumed, was the abrupt increase in mortgage interest rates which occurred around April 1st, combined, no doubt, with a sinking stock market. There are investors who have already sold those stocks and are cash rich, but there are also investors who prefer to hold their depreciated portfolio and wait for the stock market to recover.

Buyers who can pay cash are unaffected by the rise in interest rates and continue to bid against fellow cash buyers for the “special” homes, especially million-dollar homes. They no doubt appreciate the reduced competition for those homes with the reduction in the number of buyers who depend on mortgage financing.

According to data obtained from REcolorado, the Denver MLS, there has been a negligible increase in the percentage of cash versus non-cash closings, but the rise in interest rates will likely be a factor ongoingly.  

The one statistically significant change I spotted was an 80% increase in closings for homes over $1 million  in the 2nd Quarter compared to the 1st Quarter of 2022. This compares to less than a 50% increase in the sales of homes priced between $500,000 and $800,000. I would normally expect the sales of those lower-priced homes to increase during the “selling season” at least as much as the homes over $1 million.

The chart above shows a sharp drop in total MLS sales this June versus the June of 2021, but there’s a longer trend at work than I didn’t suspect before creating this chart using REcolorado data. Notice that 2021 was the peak year and that 2022 showed a month-to-month decline in year-over-year sales for the first six months of the year. The drop in total sales only became significant in June, probably reflecting that change in the mortgage market.

You can also see that 2020 — the year in which Covid-19 appeared — was showing significant growth until the lockdowns occurred in March, resulting in a dramatic drop in total MLS sales, but only for the two months I highlighted in yellow. Then we saw a huge upswing in June, probably due to pent-up demand from April and May.

The question on everyone’s mind is where do we go from here?

My crystal ball is foggy right now, but I think mortgage rates have risen as much as they’re going to this year, and may even moderate in coming months, during which time buyers will come to accept rates in the 5% range as historically “okay,” which they are. We were spoiled by the 3% rates that we enjoyed in 2021, but the memory of those rates is fading. Unless the economy enters a recession, I feel that buyers will return to the market and we’ll see another surge from those buyers who have stayed on the sidelines these past couple months. Then homes which would have sold in less than a week a few months ago, will start moving again.

How Much Has the Metro Real Estate Market Slowed?  Here Are Some Statistics.  

We all recognize that the Denver metro real estate market has slowed, but by how much?  I did some statistical analysis this past Sunday, and here is what I found.

Among the 4,061 active listings in the 5-county metro area (Denver, Jeffco, Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas), the median days on market is much higher than it has been — 16 days. That means that more than half the active listings have been on the market over two weeks. Earlier this year, the median DOM was under 10 days. The median price of the active listings is $650,000.

1,130 of those listings were entered on REcolorado in the past 7 days. Notably, 818 of those listings (more than 20%) had price reductions in the last week, and during that same period 167 listings were either withdrawn from the MLS or expired without selling.  That alone is a sign of a slowing market.

As of Sunday evening, there were just a few more listings under contract than active — 4,159.  The median days on the MLS for them was only six.  Only 22.6% of the pending listings took more than 16 days to go under contract, which, as stated above, is the median days on market of the current active listings.  About 11% of the pending listings had been active over a month. Just 1.4% of them were active over three months.

3,370 listings in the 5-county metro area closed between June 1st and 26th, not counting the ones that were sold without ever being active on the MLS. Their median length of time on the MLS before going under contract was just 4 days and the media ratio of closed price to listing price was 101.9%, substantially down from the peak of 105.9% in April and 104.3% last June.  The median closed price was $600,000, down from a high of $615,000 in April but up 11.6% from $537,500 in June 2021.

I like to study how the price per square foot varies from year to year or month to month, and those statistics are shown in this chart. Again, June statistics aren’t yet available, so I’m just showing the January through May stats for the past five years as compiled by REcolorado for the 5-county metro area. As you can see, 2022 has broken through the $300/finished sq. ft. level and is staying there.

Now let’s look at “inventory.” In June of last year, the end-of-month count of active listings in the 5-county metro area was 4,473, so Sunday’s late-June count of 4,061 active listings is down by almost 10%, and I would guess the end-of-month count won’t be much different. In June 2021, there were 7,689 new listings, and the number of new listings entered on the REcolorado from June 1-26 was only 4,997, not counting 58 “coming soon” listings, so it appears that sellers are holding back, knowing that the market is softening, rather than rushing to sell before it softens further. Which is the best strategy? It’s hard to tell.

There’s little doubt that if a seller wanted to sell at the top of the market, they missed that opportunity. Rita and I chose to “cash out” in March, selling our home and moving to Avenida Lakewood. But, just like with selling stocks, missing the top of the market is not the worst situation, if you can still sell your home for 50%, 100% or 200% more than what you paid for it just a few years ago. At the same time, only sell if it fits your life plan.

Buyers are in a different situation, of course.  On the one hand, the market is softening and there are fewer bidding wars — especially among homes that have been on the market 10 days or more, which your agent can help you find. On the other hand, unless you’re a cash buyer, the interest rates are approaching double what they were last year. Should you not buy because rates are over 5% now?  The interest rate was 13% when I bought my first home, so interest rates are really just “normal” if you put them in a historical context.

The bottom line is that you can still sell your home for a fair price, and you can still buy a home for a fair price and with less frenzy. For sellers, pricing your home correctly is more important than ever. Pricing it based on what you saw in your neighborhood three or six months ago might cause your home to sit on the market, and you’ll probably have to lower your listing price one or more times before you get an offer — which may be less than if you had priced your home that way in the beginning. As I’ve said in the past, you really can’t underprice your home, because it will only attract more buyers and help to bid it up, but you can certainly overprice your home.

My advice to buyers is to concentrate on homes which have been on the MLS 10 or more days, because those sellers will be more motivated and, unless they just reduced their price, you probably won’t be competing with other buyers.

For both buyers and sellers, don’t put a lot of weight on what Zillow says your home is worth. This was never a good idea, and even less so now. If your agent is a Realtor (not all agents are), he or she has access to my favorite valuation software, which is called Realtors Property Resource or RPR.  A second valuation software that is available to every MLS member is Realist, which uses a different algorithm than RPR, so it gives you a second opinion. Usually the correct value for pricing purposes is somewhere in between those two valuation models. 

The best valuation, however, is one which your listing agent can generate, as I do, on REcolorado. Below is the spreadsheet that I created for a home that I listed on April 13 — just as the mortgage interest rates began to explode — and sold in 5 days. The RPR and Realist reports suggested a price around $700,000. Using the grid below, the seller agreed to list the home for $735,000. We sold it for $831,000. You can see from the chart that the listing price was clearly in line with comparable sales in the neighborhood, but if we had listed it for $800,000 or more, I’m confident it would not have sold for the price it did.

Ask your listing agent to do this kind of analysis for your home — or, better yet, call me or one of our broker associates below, since we have mastered the process of creating this kind of comp analysis.

Statistics, Oddly, Seem Not to Support the Idea That the Real Estate Market Is Slowing Down  

We all know that the real estate market has slowed down since the dramatic April increase in mortgage rates — right?

Seeking to document and measure that slowdown, I checked the statistics available to me as a member of REcolorado, Denver’s MLS. Below is a chart of the statistics I gathered for the period Jan. 2021 to present. Analyzing that chart, you can see that while there are fewer active listings this May than a year ago, there are roughly the same number of sold listings — and they went under contract just as quickly, with a median days on the MLS (DOM) of just 4. And, more significantly, the median sold price this May was nearly $100,000 higher than May 2021, with a slightly higher ratio of sold price to listing price. April’s statistics year-over-year were even more impressive.

The smaller chart is a 7-day residential “Market Watch” widget that I copied and pasted from the MLS on Tuesday morning. Although I don’t know how to replicate what that chart would have looked like a year ago, it’s safe to say that it’s much different — and does not paint the same picture as the larger chart above. It definitely shows a vibrant market with lots of new, pending and closed listings, but the number of price reductions must be significantly higher than they were a year ago — and 10 times the number of price increases.

So, what does all this data mean for the average homeowner thinking of listing his or her home for sale?

The number of price decreases suggests to me that too many sellers are starting out with a listing price that might have worked in the past, but that is too aggressive for the current market. While the median days-on-MLS is still only 4, you can be sure that those listings lowered their prices a week or more into their time on the MLS.  At the same time, that low days-on-MLS number tells you that the sellers who price their home correctly outnumber those who do not. Good for them. That’s the group you want to be in!

Another obvious conclusion is that while the dramatic increase in mortgage interest rates has impacted many buyers, there are enough buyers who are paying cash or are not deterred by the higher rates, which are still historically low. (When I bought my first home in 1983, I benefited from a subsidized interest rate of “only” 13%!)

Bottom line: Sellers should price their homes less aggressively. Buyers should focus on homes with a DOM over 10 days. That’s where the best deals can be found.

Report From State Division of Insurance Details Extent of Underinsurance in Marshall Fire  

Since the devastating Marshall Fire last December in Boulder County, many homeowners may have contacted their insurers to see whether they might be under-insured, meaning that their homeowner’s policy does not cover the full cost of repair or replacement of their home should a similar disaster strike.

You may be interested to read the following April 26 release from the Colorado Division of Insurance containing initial estimates of the extent to which the homes destroyed in that fire were underinsured.

Here are the relevant paragraphs from that DOI release, omitting the charts referenced, which you can see on the division’s website:

Of the 951 total loss claims analyzed, 76 homes had guaranteed replacement coverage, meaning that the insurance policy on these homes provides coverage for replacement of the home with similar quality, square footage, finishes, etc. without a cap — meaning under-insurance is not a problem for these homes. These 76 homes represent 8% of the homes in the analysis. 

Determining the extent of the underinsurance issue is largely dependent on the anticipated rebuilding costs. The Division analyzed under-insurance using various rebuilding costs — $250, $300 and $350 per square foot. Of the 951 policies, here is the breakdown for how many are underinsured. [Chart omitted—see it on DOI’s website.] Note that these policies that are underinsured include both policies that have extended benefits coverage, meaning coverage that provides some additional coverage if rebuilding costs exceed policy limits (83% of policies), and policies without such extended coverage (9% of policies).

At a rebuild cost of $250 per square foot, a total of 344 (36%) policies are underinsured. 

 At $300 per square foot, 523 (55%) policies are underinsured.

At $350 per square foot, 639 (67%) are underinsured. 

The DOI also calculated the average amount of underinsurance per policy, using the same rebuilding costs of $250, $300 and $350 per square foot. 

At $250 per square foot, for the 344 policies, the average amount of underinsurance per policy is estimated at $98,967. 

At $300 per square foot, for the 523 policies, the average amount of underinsurance per policy is estimated at $164,855. 

At $350 per square foot, for the 639 policies, the average amount of underinsurance per policy is estimated at $242,670.

    The DOI will hold a town hall the week of May 16th to discuss this data and any other next steps that have been identified for assistance. As soon as a date and time are decided, information about the town hall will be posted on the Division’s Marshall Fire Response website, and information will be sent to the Division’s Marshall Fire email list.

I checked the Division of Insurance’s website, and it did not yet have information on when that town hall will take place. You can check it yourself in coming days at http://doi.colorado.gov.

I was disappointed that the report didn’t clarify why it was providing estimates based on those three different price-per-square-foot rebuilding costs, without mentioning why an insurer would use one or the other and why different insurers might use different cost figures for homes that were, for the most part, tract homes built to the same quality by the same builder or builders.

Consult your own insurance agent to see whether your policy contains “guaranteed replacement coverage” or if it could be added.

Are Investors Snapping Up Homes, Squeezing Out Other Buyers?  Yes and No.  

Media reports have created the impression that “Wall Street” interests are dominating the purchase of homes for sale, squeezing out individual buyers and causing the low inventory of homes for sale. That’s not exactly true.

What’s happening is that those purchases are happening through an off-MLS process, with very few on-MLS listings, based on my own observation and experience, being purchased by those large investors.

In fact, I can’t think of even one transaction that involved a large entity purchasing one of Golden Real Estate’s listings. And they certainly did not hire us to buy another brokerage’s listing. All our listings have been purchased either by owner-occupants or by small investors — homeowners themselves, who may have a portfolio of rentable homes or condos.

If you’re a homeowner, you’ve likely received, as Rita and I have, many solicitations to sell your home without putting it on the MLS — a bad idea if you want to get the highest price for your home. Also, brokers like me regularly receive emails and texts asking whether I have a “pre-MLS” listing that they or their client could buy “as is” before it’s put on the MLS. My standard reply to such solicitations is that I would never encourage a seller to sell their home without putting it on the MLS, because that’s a sure way to get less than their home is worth. I consider it my responsibility as their agent to get the highest possible price by exposing their home to the maximum number of buyers. That is not achieved by selling one’s home to an investor without putting it on the MLS.

Media experts and others continue to treat the low active inventory on the MLS as the result of reduced number of homes being entered on the MLS, including by off-MLS sales. In fact, the number of new listings this April was higher than both prior Aprils, but the number of active listings keeps declining because those new listings sell so quickly.

Yes, some of those off-MLS sales might have ended up on the MLS if they had not been solicited, but I think mostly they are homes which the owners had not intended to sell before they got “an offer they couldn’t refuse.”

In researching this topic I found a March 31, 2022, article from The Washington Post which highlighted this very problem of big investors buying up homes and converting them to rentals. Using data from Redfin, it reported on major spikes in such purchases from 2020 to 2021. The Denver market had less such activity than most other major markets, but still the percentage rose from 8.4% in 2020 to 12.4% for 2021.

Above is a chart from The Post’s article, based on the Redfin data. Each of those thin lines represents a different metro area. I inserted a carrot symbol at each end of the line for transactions in the Denver metro area. What’s remarkable is that all but two of the metro areas show a spike in investor purchases in 2021. Those metro areas that didn’t show a spike are New York City and adjoining Nassau & Suffolk Counties.

It’s hard to ignore that the pandemic must have played a role in that abrupt rise in purchases by big investors, defined in that article as entities with 100 or more purchases.

The article confirmed that these transactions typically originated from letters or postcards sent to homeowners offering an off-MLS purchase of their homes “as is.” It also showed that majority non-White suburbs experienced most of this activity, giving the process a racial tinge I didn’t expect to see.

Here’s an excerpt from that March article: “In Charlotte and elsewhere, according to The Post’s analysis, investors have purchased a disproportionate number of homes in neighborhoods where a majority of residents are Black. Last year, 30 percent of home sales in majority Black neighborhoods across the nation were to investors, compared with 12 percent in other ZIP codes.” The article didn’t claim that the letters and postcards targeted such communities, only that most sales occurred there.

If a Slowdown in the Real Estate Market Is Coming, April Statistics Don’t Show It  

Last week I predicted a slowdown in the real estate market because of the abrupt and severe increase in mortgage rates, and I stand by that prediction, but it will not be apparent, I believe, until we see the market statistics for May 2022.

April statistics won’t be available until mid-May, but below is a table showing March statistics over the past 6 years. As you can see, especially in the last two columns, the seller’s market was only accelerating. Despite a surge in new listings and a high number of pending and closing listings resulting in a record low number of active listing, the median days in the MLS was at its lowest — 4 days — and the ratio of closed price to listing price was at its highest.

Although the numbers for April aren’t yet available, I checked the pending and closing listings from April 1 through April 24th on REcolorado, the Denver MLS, and found that DOM was still only four, and the ratio of sold price to listing price had swollen to 105.5%.

Keep in mind, however, that those listings which are pending now or have closed in April probably had interest rates that were locked in back in March before the abrupt increase in mortgage interest rates which I still believe will soften the market in May and beyond.

Here are a couple other statistics as of April 24th that suggest an increased seller’s market: There are only 4,995 active listings in the entire MLS, but there are 10,649 pending listings. Compare that to the above chart.