Realtor.com Weighs in on the Real Estate Market’s Surprising Rebound

The fact that we’re still in a seller’s market puzzles many real estate professionals, but there are reasonable explanations, which Realtor.com did a good job of describing in a July 13th article by Clare Trapasso.

The headwinds in this market are strong and numerous. We have a lingering and maybe worsening pandemic, staggering unemployment numbers, and a contentious presidential campaign, made even more contentious because of our national reckoning about systemic racism. How does one account for such a strong real estate market, and when will that market soften?

First let’s look at our local numbers. In my July 9th column, I showed statistically how the market had surged in June.  As I write this on Monday evening, there are 4,903 active listings within 20 miles of the State Capitol, but there are 7,720 listings under contract, 3,905 of which (or 50.6%) went under contract in 7 days or less.  A total of 5,219 listings closed in the last 30 days, 2,679 of which (or 51.3%) went under contract in 7 days or less and 1,895 of which (or 36.3%) sold for above full price, likely with competing offers.

So, yes, we are still in a seller’s market — but how can that be, given all that’s going on?

To quote the realtor.com article, “The housing market is back — and then some.”

Nationally, according to realtor.com, median home prices rose 6.2% year-over-year for the week ending June 27th.  According to REcolorado, the median sold price for listings within 20 miles of the State Capitol that same week was $440,000, with 49.9% of them selling in 7 days or less, compared to $418,000 for the same 7-day period a year ago, when 44.5% sold in 7 days or less. That’s a 5% increase in median price year-over-year.

To quote the realtor.com article, “Homes are selling faster than they did in 2019, when no one had heard of Covid-19. And bidding wars are back as first-time and trade-up buyers who have lost out on other homes slug it out.”

The contrast between this market and the market during the “Great Recession” of 2008 couldn’t be sharper. Back then, there was a glut of housing and few buyers. Today, the situation is reversed, with fewer listings and a glut of buyers. Because the 2008 crisis was caused by the subprime mortgage scandal, the glut of housing was made worse by a flood of foreclosures.

Quoting further from the realtor.com article, “To be sure, there are plenty of danger signs ahead in this economy, including continuing historic levels of unemployment and rising coronavirus infection rates in many parts of the country. But, for now, real estate is bouncing back much quicker than other bellwether industries. The reason: After months on hold, Americans are beginning to feel more confident about the idea of buying or selling a home.”

The article quoted a Fannie Mae survey of 1,000 participants, showing that 61% said it was a good time to buy and 41% said it was a good time to sell. And that survey was taken before mortgage rates dropped to under 3%, which happened just last week.  As a result, we can expect the real estate market to be even more supercharged in the coming weeks. Already, mortgage applications for home purchases had risen 33.2% year over year in the week ending July 3rd, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Lower interest rates mean lower mortgage payments by hundreds of dollars, which instantly increases the affordability of homes, and buyers understandably believe they are smart to buy now before the rates rise again, as they surely will.

The low interest rates also make the decision to buy more compelling for renters burdened by the still high cost of renting in the Denver market.  This is particularly compelling for white-collar workers who were not furloughed or laid off during the pandemic and may have money in the bank for a down payment.

Another factor which I mentioned in my earlier column is the number of workers who started telecommuting because of the pandemic and whose employers said they could keep telecommuting even after it’s safe to return to the office. These people are in a buying mood as they look to move further from the congestion of downtown apartments or condos where going outside involves a greater risk of Covid-19 infection.  They also saved a lot of money (as Rita and I did) by eating more home cooked meals because restaurants were closed. And Netflix costs a lot less than going out to the movies or the theatre, to say nothing about the savings on popcorn made at home or purchased at the supermarket!

Yet another factor is the increase in divorces and separations resulting from forced home confinement. I was amused to note the increase in TV commercials by divorce attorneys during April and May.

Bidding Wars Are Back, According to Redfin

You’ve got maybe 5 seconds to read the small print…

Nothing has surprised us real estate professionals quite as much as how hot the market has been during the Covid-19 pandemic. Redfin, the brokerage with what I consider misleading TV ads, did an analysis of offers written by their own agents on MLS listings and found that over half of those offers faced competing offers from other agents.

Nationwide, the percentage of Redfin offers facing competition was 53.7% in June, up from 51.8% in May and 44% in April. Boston led the pack with 72.4% of offers facing competition during June, up from 67.2% in May.

The Denver market came in 12th nationally in terms of bidding wars, with 53% of offers facing competition, down from 55.6% in May.  Of the top 12 metro areas, only Denver and Portland had lower percentages in June than in May.

After Dreadful March & April, Denver’s Real Estate Market Surged in June

If you’ve been wondering how Denver’s real estate market would make it through the pandemic, here’s an early answer: it’s doing great.

The chart below shows the record surge in contracts and sales. Contracts, which surged in May, surged further in June, along with a large jump in closings. (Statistics are for listings within a 25-mile radius of the state capitol building.)

The following table shows how the first six months of the past five years compare with each other in several key metrics, demonstrating among other things that the median days on the MLS has dropped as it has done in previous years from January through June, and that the average price per finished square foot has continued to rise year over year.

At Golden Real Estate, we have detected increased interest in relocating to Colorado from both coasts. The pandemic put apartment dwellers, in particular, in more fear of catching the virus, especially those dependent on elevators. Of course, we have apartment buildings in Denver, too, and we’re seeing people from there as well wanting to be “on the ground,” able to get outside without coming in close contact with others.

Not content with simply buying a detached single-family home, some buyers are looking to buy homes on acreage. Some are moving to the western slope. 

All the after-effects of the pandemic are yet to be fully understood, so it should be an interesting rest of 2020. For example, permanent implementation of working from home could trigger an increased migration from city to countryside.

One thing is clear for now — that the real estate market is going to stay active and that it will be a seller’s market, although we have observed that overpriced homes are sitting on the market more than ever. When a home doesn’t sell within the first week, it’s important to lower the price right away instead of letting the listing languish on the MLS at its original listing price.

More Metro Area Homes Went Under Contract in May 2020 Than Ever Before

Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic hurt the real estate market in April, but it sure made a rebound in May!  The 13-month chart below is for Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties.

Last week and this, you probably heard or read about how bad the real estate market was in April, and that was true here in the Denver Metro area, as it was throughout the country.

Pending sales of new and existing homes in April were roughly half the pending sales of April 2019. But pending sales in May surged to a number that was greater than the number for any month since before 2010, which is as far back as REcolorado’s statistics application goes.

The number of closings in May was somewhat low because of the low number of homes that went under contract in April.  The number of closings in any given month is always within range of the number of pending transactions the previous month.

(Note: The number of pending and closed sales for May is from June 1st, It could go up as additional May contracts are reported on June 2nd & 3rd.)

It should be noted that, despite the lower number of pending and closed listings in April compared to 2019, the median sold price was much higher — $435,000 vs. $415,000 in April 2019. The median sold price for May was also higher than the median sold price that month in 2019.

It’s also worth noting how quickly listings went under contract in April and in May. April listings went under contract in 5 days (median figure), which was even faster than last year, while May listings went under contract in 8 days (median) vs. 7 days last year.

These statistics may come as a surprise to those who think that the real estate market is on a downturn because of Covid-19.  I am as surprised as anyone at the resilience of our real estate market.

Driving the market is the fact that there is still a low supply of homes for sale and an over-supply of people needing or wanting to buy a home. That explains the low “Days in MLS” figure for April when the number of homes for sale was so low. Because so many sellers postponed putting their homes on the market during the lockdown, it became more of a seller’s market than before. That meant that the homes that were on the market had less competition for the large number of buyers.

Given what we’re seeing now, it’s hard to be pessimistic about the future of our real estate market, however pessimistic we might be about the country as a whole, given the rioting in multiple cities around the country, including Denver. We’ll see in June how much impact that may have.

Another wildcard is the possible resurgence of the coronavirus, given how our state, like others, has yielded to pressure to reopen earlier than CDC guidelines recommended. A resurgence could result in another stay-at-home order.

If You’re Surviving Covid-19 Financially, This May Be a Good Time to Buy or Sell

Despite the best efforts of state, local and federal governments, there will surely be people who are suffering financial hardship and have had to put their dreams of homeownership on hold.  I wish them well as they dig themselves out of this terrible situation.

For those who are surviving Covid-19, however, and don’t get sick from it in the coming months, the continued record-low interest rates are making home purchase more attractive and more affordable.

As you’ve no doubt heard, the Federal Reserve has plunged hard into softening the impact of the virus and its attendant effects on the economy by reducing the Fed Funds interest rate used by banks to near zero. While this rate is unrelated to mortgage rates, we are also seeing those rates staying below 4% and approaching 3%, which is propping up the real estate market in a big way.

People who can afford to buy a home and have the income to qualify for a mortgage are getting off the fence. This is evident from how many homes are going under contract quickly, often with competitive bidding.

In the first 10 days of May, there were 2,306 homes within 25 miles of the State Capitol entered on Denver’s MLS. 615 of them were under contract by May 10th. Another 171 homes were entered as “Coming Soon” as of this Tuesday.

May 5-12 Stats within 25 miles of State Capitol

While that’s less than the first 10 days of May 2019, when 3,348 homes were entered on the MLS and 795 of them went under contract by May 10, it’s still an impressive amount of activity, and is probably due in part to the excellent mortgage situation.

Another factor that will stimulate purchasing among the wealthy is that the stock market has recovered more than half of its early losses due to the virus. That makes it more likely that investors would be willing to liquidate stocks to finance a cash purchase of real estate.

In April 2019, about 48% of homes sold at or above their asking price, and 46% of them sold in a week or less. This year’s performance is better. Of the homes that closed during April 2020, about 58% sold at or above their asking price, and about 62% sold in a week or less. Those statistics tell me that we have a pretty active sellers market, which stands in contrast to the gloomy economic situation caused by Covid-19.

It’s hard to believe that the real estate market will tank later this year if it is not tanking already.

I’m seeing that dynamic myself. As of this writing, all my own listings are either under contract or closed, including the Wheat Ridge home featured as “coming soon” a couple weeks ago.  That $550,000 brick ranch was only listed as “active” on the MLS last Tuesday, and showings didn’t begin until Saturday, but our first offer came in on Sunday, and it was under contract at better than full price by Tuesday morning.

New Listings and Showings Surged Last Week After Governor Eased Showing Restrictions

By JIM SMITH, Realtor(r)

Sellers who had been holding back during most of April put their homes on the market during the calendar week ending Saturday, May 2nd. And showings of listings also surged.

Listing Activity – 7 Days ending 5/6/20 within 25 miles of the Colorado State Capitol

Altogether, 1,648 homes within 25 miles of the State Capitol were listed on Denver’s MLS between Sunday, April 26th and Saturday, May 2nd. That’s pretty close to the 1,885 number entered on the MLS during the same 7-day period in 2019, and more than double the 819 homes listed two weeks earlier. (During the week of April 19th to 25th, only 993 homes were entered on the MLS.)

Of those 1,648 listings, 29 were withdrawn from the MLS by week’s end for unknown reasons, and 10 were entered as “sold” without ever being active. That still left 1,609 new active listings, 511 of which were already under contract by Tuesday noon. That’s significantly above the 405 homes that went under contract by the end of the same period last year.

By the deadline for this column at noon on Tuesday, 233 additional listings had been entered as “active” on Denver’s MLS. 

Not included in the 1,648 number are 176 listings that were entered on the MLS as “coming soon,” a status that didn’t exist until this year. One of those was my $550,000 listing at 2950 Jay St. in Wheat Ridge. It went “active” this week. Showings begin Saturday, May 9th.  There are more pix on the website.

So, while we can hardly say life is “back to normal,” the real estate business is certainly showing renewed signs of life. Frankly, I’m surprised at the size of this surge in listings and signed contracts.

Like most agents, I have many buyers who have given me their search criteria, and the MLS automatically sends them alerts of homes matching those criteria as they are entered on the MLS. In my case, I have nearly a hundred such email alerts in effect. Since Gov. Polis replaced “stay-at-home” with “safer-at-home,” which allows in-person showings to resume, I have seen a spike in the number of buyers clicking on the links for listings sent to them.  My listing at 1957 S. Taft Street in Lakewood saw five showings set on May 1st and 2nd alone.  With this week’s price reduction, I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes under contract quickly.

Listing agents are expected to take extra precautions to protect the health of both buyers and sellers under the “safer-at-home” guidelines. For example, there can be no overlapping showings, and only 3 persons (typically two buyers and their agent) are allowed in a listing at one time. Our showing service, ShowingTime, is enforcing these rules by not allowing overlapping showings to be set.

As a listing agent, it is my responsibility to sanitize a home between showings, which I do by using Clorox wipes on all hard surfaces that visitors might touch, such as door handles and light switches. I leave the lights on and most doors, including closet doors, open or ajar, so that touching them is minimized. If the home is not vacant, sellers can perform these safety functions themselves.

Buyers and their clients are asked to wear face masks and gloves and to wear booties, which they’re asked to take with them when they leave. By following these guidelines, agents and their clients can feel as safe as, or safer than, for example, at a supermarket.

The Number of New Listings Remains Low, But They’re Selling Fast

Each week I have been checking the MLS to see how many homes are being listed afresh and how many are going under contract as the Covid-19 stay-at-home order remains in place.

In last week’s column I reported that during the 7-day period from Sunday April 5th to Saturday April 11th, a total of 819 homes within 25 miles of downtown Denver were entered on Denver’s MLS, This past week — from Sunday April 12th to Saturday April 18th — that number dropped slightly to 799.  Of those, 23 had already been sold privately, compared to 22 the previous week, so there were only 776 new active listings last week. Amazingly, 114 of those went under contract by Saturday, compared to 124 the previous week, despite stricter enforcement of the “no-showings” guidance from the Division of Real Estate. Another 74 of those new listings went under contract by Tuesday evening, April 21st.

Bottom line?  The roughly 50% drop in listings from previous years which we saw last week has become the “new normal” for the current situation in which in-person showings are not allowed until a buyer has signed a contract to buy a home.

This is actually a great time to list your home! The fact that so many buyers are still submitting offers without even seeing a home in person should inspire more sellers to offer their homes for sale. Just be sure you do it with a narrated video tour like we do for all Golden Real Estate listings.

Homes Are Still Selling

Each week I have been checking the MLS to see how many homes are being listed and how many are going under contract as the Covid-19 stay-at-home order remains in place.

For the weeks of March 22nd and March 29th, the market showed surprising resilience, with statistics comparable to prior years.  Now let’s look at the statistics for last week.

During the 7-day period from Sunday April 5th to Saturday April 11th, a total of 819 homes were entered on Denver’s MLS, REcolorado, within 25 miles of downtown Denver. Of those, 22 had already been sold privately, so there were only 797 new active listings. Of those, 133 were already under contract by Saturday.  A total of 25 were immediately withdrawn or expired, many of them likely because of the no-showings rule, which was issued that Monday.

This is a huge drop from the same 7-day period in 2019, when there were 1,631 new active listings, 227 of which had gone under contract by the end of the same 7-day period. 

In 2018, the numbers were similar, with 1,588 new active listings, 579 of which went under contract within the same 7-day period.

In 2017, the numbers were also similar, with 1,633 new active listings, 663 of which were under contract by the end of the same 7-day period. 

The numbers were equally impressive in 2016.

Bottom line? We are finally seeing about a 50% decline in new listings, but many of them are still selling quickly. Sellers who do list their homes may benefit from the lack of competition.

Newspaper Headline Gave a Distorted Picture of Real Estate Market Under Covid-19

“Hundreds of sellers pull their homes off market,” read the lead headline on the Business page of last Friday’s Denver Post, but the first sentence of the article noted that “thousands [of sellers] went the other way, rushing to list their homes before a major downturn made a sale tougher to achieve.”

The reporter was referring to March statistics quoted by the chair of the market trends committee of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors.

Let’s look at the actual numbers. Yes, 184 listings that were entered during the month of March were “expired” on the MLS by month’s end. Another 443 listings were “withdrawn,” which means the listing agreement is still in effect, but it is not displayed on the MLS until it is made “active” again.

However, 3,525 listings entered last month are already under contract as I write this on April 5th, and another 467 listings have already closed.  Of the ones that closed, 179 were sold before being entered on the MLS, and of the 308 that were exposed to MLS users as active and had already closed by this past weekend, only 13 took longer than a week to go under contract.

 As I write this on April 5th, there are still 4,289 listings that were entered on the MLS during March and are still active.

So, yes, 184 sellers decided not to sell during March, but 8,122 sellers made their homes active on REcolorado during March and did not withdraw or expire them. Another 443 sellers kept their listing agreement active but without exposure on the MLS.  Presumably their listing agents can still sell those listings privately, perhaps keeping their entire commission instead of having to share it with a buyer’s agent.

So the headline was sort of accurate.

By the way, unless the practice has changed since I was a reporter at the Washington Post and then a headline writer at the New York Post, reporters have no say in the headlines that appear above their articles. Instead, a headline writer on the “copy desk” reads the article briefly and writes a headline that fits the assigned character count. As a result, sometimes the headline doesn’t truly reflect the gist of the article, and that may be the case with last Friday’s article.

From the New York Post, I went on to publish several community newspapers in New York City and instructed my reporters to write their own headlines, not knowing what the character count had to be, so the editor had the reporter’s headline as a guide as he rewrote it to fit. 

Getting back to real estate — sorry, I had to vent! — here are the numbers from March 2019:

A total of 7,968 listings were entered as “active” during March 2019, which is fewer than this year, even if you include the 70 listings that were withdrawn by month’s end.  So, not only was the headline misleading, but this March showed increased activity over March 2019.

The fact that 70 listings were expired prematurely in a “normal” month suggests that not all 184 expired listings this year should be attributed to Covid-19.

The market was “hotter” last year, in that over 400 of that month’s listings went under contract in less than 7 days compared to just under 300 this March.

I invite any and all reporters writing about real estate statistics to let me fact check their conclusions prior to publication. And suggest your own headlines!

Can you tell that I enjoy statistical analysis?

Here’s a Follow-up to My Analysis Last Week of the Denver Real Estate Market for March 22 to 28

In last week’s column (which you can read below), I showed how the market continued to be active from March 22nd to 28nd, despite the growing impact of Covid-19 and imposition of a stay-at-home order.

It seems appropriate for me to do a similar analysis of the following week which ended last Saturday, April 4th.

This time I limited the stats to listings on REcolorado that were within a 20-mile radius of the state capitol, since our MLS includes many far-flung listings.

What I found is that between March 29th and April 4th, there were 1,136 new listings, 884 of which were still active on Monday, April 6th. 207 of them went under contract by week’s end, and 19 were withdrawn or expired.

This compares to 1,651 new listings during the same 7 days in 2019, of which 329 were under contract by April 6th of that year. Only 4 listings were expired or withdrawn immediately.

Since those numbers were about 50% higher than this year, I analyzed the same 7-day periods in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and was surprised to see that last year was an anomaly. During the same 7 days of all three prior years, the number of new listings was roughly the same as this year, although the number of quick contracts was much higher, as you’d expect from the stronger seller’s market that we were experiencing during those years.

In 2018, there were 1,192 new listings during the same 7-day period, 51 of which were entered as already sold. Of the “active” listings, 290 were under contract within that 7-day period and 4 were expired.

In 2017, there were 1,161 new listings during the same 7-day period, 58 of which were entered as sold. Of the “active” listings, 413 were under contract within the same 7 days, and 3 were expired immediately.

In 2016, 1,285 new listings were entered during the same 7-day period, 50 of which were entered as sold. Of the “active” listings, 392 were under contract during that 7-day period, and 7 were expired immediately.

Undoubtedly some sellers kept their homes off the MLS this year because of Covid-19, but still a lot of homes were made active this year, comparable to 3 of the past 4 years for that period. Listings are not going under contract nearly as fast, but it’s still impressive how many of them are selling quickly. Sellers should not shy away from listing their homes for sale at this time.