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listings (more than 20%) had price reductions in the last week, and during that same period 167 listings were either withdrawn from the MLS or expired without selling.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.

Zillow Says Late April Is the Best Time to Sell a Home  

Here are the key takeaways from a report released this week by Zillow:

> Homes listed for sale in the second half of April can expect to sell for 2.8% more, or about $9,300 on the typical U.S. home. 

> The first two weeks of November are the worst time to list a home, associated with a 3.5% discount. 

> The potential price difference between the best and worst times to list is 68% higher than it was pre-pandemic. 

Here’s a link to the full Zillow report.

The Current Surge in Sold Prices of Homes Will Cause a Jump in 2023-2024 Property Taxes  

In Colorado, property taxes are based on a calculation of what each property might have sold for on June 30th of the prior even-numbered year.

That means the property taxes for 2023 and 2024 will be based on what your home could have sold for on June 30, 2022. Given the crazy surge in home prices, you could see a 30% or higher jump in your property’s assessed valuation and therefore a 30% or higher jump in your property taxes for the next two years. 

The chart below shows the likely impact of the current run-up in median prices compared to the median prices in prior Junes of even-numbered years, based on data from REcolorado. Although your home’s valuation will be based on the sales of comparable homes near yours leading up to June 30, 2022, the fact that the median sold price of residential properties metro-wide will have increased by over 30% from June 30, 2020, suggests that your home’s valuation and therefore your taxes could rise by 30 percent or more.

I’ve estimated (conservatively) that the median sold price in June will be $570,000 because the median sold price was already $540,000 in February. That is already a 27.7% increase over June 2020.

That, however, is an average for the entire Denver metro area, defined for these purposes as within 25 miles of the state capitol.  There are locales within the metro area where the increase in values over the last two years have approached 35% or more. Here is how that metro-wide 27.7% average increase of Feb. 2022 over June 2020 breaks down by county:

Denver County—19.5%

Jefferson County—30.1%

Douglas County—31.9%

Adams County—28.6%

Arapahoe County—27.1%

Boulder County—40.7%

Gilpin County—42.4%

The appreciation also varies greatly by city addresses:

Golden addresses—15.9%

Littleton addresses—26.0%

Arvada addresses—33.0%

Broomfield—27.2%

Centennial—36.9%

Aurora—30.5%

Highlands Ranch—31.8%

Castle Rock—36.5%

So, keep an eye on what homes like yours are selling for this April, May and June of this year to get a sense of what the county assessor’s valuation of your home will look like when you get that notification in May 2023.

About 50 readers are receiving “neighborhood alerts” from me.  These are email alerts regarding all MLS listings within your particular neighborhood. Usually, the alerts cover a certain subdivision or ZIP code, but they could be structured to include only listings which are comparable to your own home. For example, if you have a 1970s ranch home, I could set up an alert that only includes ranch-style homes built between 1960 and 1990 within a half mile or mile of your home. This will give you the best indication of how the value of your own home may be calculated by your county assessor. Feel free to email me at my address below to request such an alert or to modify the alert I am already sending you.

MLS Statistics Document the Return of Last Year’s Out-of-Control Seller’s Market  

One of the most dependable indicators of a strong “seller’s market” is the number of listings which sell above their listing price, and by how much. Another is the number of days that a listing is on the MLS (“DOM”) before going under contract.

As shown in the chart below, drawn from REcolorado’s data for the period of January 2021 through last month, the seller’s market peaked in May and June of last year but has now surged again. All indications are that the surge will continue through the spring.

Average DOM is always higher than median DOM because there are many homes that languish on the market unsold because they are overpriced, or for another reason. What’s remarkable about this sellers market was how low the average DOM went as even those hard-to-sell homes attracted buyers.     

As with the previous surge, the average DOM has sunk below 20 while the median DOM has revisited its all-time low of 4 days on the MLS.

(Note: These statistics are for residential listings in the metro Denver area, which I’ve defined here as within a 25-mile radius of the State Capitol.)

The rising cost of money — that is, the increase in mortgage rates projected for this year — will lure many buyers “off the fence” hoping a buy a home before interest rates rise further.

I foresee a stronger than usual seasonal jump in the number of new listings as spring arrives.

Many people believe, erroneously, that the best time to list a home is in the spring, so those people will be putting their homes up for sale in the coming weeks. In addition, as I wrote last week, many homeowners who weren’t thinking of selling before are likely to decide it’s a good time to “cash out.” But I don’t foresee that increase in supply going far to meet the needs of today’s home buyers, and I don’t see prices leveling off, much less declining.

It surprises many of us that homes are appraising at the high prices they are selling for, but when a winning bidder waives appraisal objection to win a bidding war — which is almost common nowadays — that sale becomes a comp that supports future appraisals at the same price or higher. (On the appraisal form, there’s a place to indicate a rising, falling or stable market, and when an appraiser checks the box that it’s a rising market, that gives him or her more leeway to appraise a home higher than recent comparable sales might otherwise justify, further fueling the frenzy.)

The real estate market is becoming less and less predictable, along with other elements of our economy and society. War could be imminent or a new Covid variant might come. God only knows!

The 2.8% Co-op Commission Is Becoming Less & Less Common  

There’s a term in journalism called “the buried lead,” meaning that the key point of an article doesn’t appear until several paragraphs into it.

Well, last week’s column had a buried lead. You may recall that the headline spoke about the myth of the 6% listing commission. The point of the column was that it’s common for prospective sellers to think there’s a “standard” 6% commission that’s charged by most listing agents. In fact, as I explained, the listing commission is negotiable and has declined over the last 40 years from a 7% commission dictated by the Denver Board of Realtors to listing commissions averaging, according to surveys by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), in the mid-5% range.

What has slowed the decline of the listing commission is the more resilient “co-op” commission paid to buyer’s agents from the listing commission.

Until recently, 2.8% was almost universally offered to buyers’ agents. If listing agents offered less, they ran the risk of limiting the number of showings and contracts they would receive, since the amount of the co-op commission was prominently displayed on the MLS.

What’s now allowing listing commissions to drop to (or even below) 5% has been the freedom that listing agents now feel to offer a smaller co-op commission.

It has been my own practice to list homes for 5.6% because I felt it necessary to offer half of it — 2.8% — to the agent who represents the buyer. With a 2.5% co-op becoming more common (as I showed in last week’s column and as evidenced in the chart below), I’m more comfortable now listing homes, especially higher priced homes, for 5% instead of 5.6%. I believe next year’s survey by NAR will show a big drop in listing commissions, and it will be because of the lowering of co-op commissions.

In addition to being good news for sellers, this is not bad news for listing agents because of the increase in selling prices of listings. Getting 2.5% on a $700,000 transaction pays $3,500 more than getting 2.8% on that same listing when it sold for $500,000 a few years ago.

Why Aren’t More Homes Going on the MLS Amid This Record Shortage of Listings?  

This January, only 3,237 non-builder homes were entered for sale on the Denver MLS within 25 miles of downtown Denver, the lowest number of new resale listings in that area for any January in at least 10 years. That’s a big drop from January of 2020 (pre-pandemic), which saw 4,171 new listings of non-builder homes for sale.

I find these statistics surprising, given what an ideal time it is to sell one’s home. We’ve had a seller’s market throughout the pandemic, but this month it became a sellers market on steroids, partly because of the Marshall Fire, which destroyed over 1,000 homes, putting even more pressure on the limited supply of homes for rent and for sale.

Of January’s 3,237 new listings, 2,611 went under contract before month’s end, and the median time on market before they went under contract was a mere 4 days. Only 214 (8.2%) of them were active more than a week before going under contract.

Of those listings which went under contract before the month’s end, 284 of them closed in January, 227 selling for more than the listing price, with the median listing selling for 5.2% over listing.  More than 1 in 9 sold for at least 15% over the listing price. Obviously, most of the homes that went under contract were the subject of bidding wars, and the thing to remember about a bidding war is that there are losers — many losers who are still in the market, possibly interested in your home. Except for the small number who get totally discouraged and quit looking, they are still on the lookout for a home to buy.

Any new listing, if priced appropriately, should sell quickly and, frankly, for more than it will appraise for — but appraising is not generally a problem because, as we all know, a home is worth what a willing buyer will pay. We’re not seeing problems with homes appraising, especially when the listing agent can show the appraiser multiple arm’s length offers for close to the same price.

Even so, it is common practice now for winning bidders to waive appraisal objection, meaning they agree to bring additional cash to the closing if their lender won’t lend them the contracted amount because of a low appraisal.

Buyers are incentivized to purchase now more than they were last year (or even last month), because it’s quite clear that mortgage interest rates, which have hovered around 3% for a year or longer, have started rising. By the end of 2022, we may see interest rates for mortgages in the 4% range. On a $500,000 loan, a 1% higher interest rate equates to an additional $417 per month on your mortgage payment. That’s a strong incentive to buy now.

With the ranks of buyers swelling because of these and other factors, why aren’t homeowners putting their homes on the market?

The number one reason I encounter is that would-be sellers dread being a buyer in this market. Being a buyer is very frustrating, and although sellers know they will be able to sell quickly, they worry about being able to buy a replacement home. They understandably don’t want to end up homeless.

This problem is mitigated when a seller can make an offer that is not contingent on the sale of their current home, something that might be more possible than you think.

For example, if you have a lot of equity in your current home — say, for example, you owe $50,000 on your existing home, but it’s worth $700,000 — you can probably get a credit union to give you a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) for 80% of your equity minus what you owe. In the above example, that would be about $500,000. 

The nice thing about a HELOC vs. a regular mortgage is that you don’t pay any interest until you draw on that line of credit, such as at the closing on the home you’re buying. Then you put your current home on the market, sell it quickly, and pay off the HELOC at closing, having paid as little as one month’s interest on that $500,000 loan.

I like credit unions because they are non-profit member organizations, and the closing costs are typically less than with other lenders. If the line of credit is small enough — say, 50% of your equity — credit unions have been known to waive a full appraisal, saving you several hundred dollars.

If you have a lot of money tied up in stocks that you don’t want to sell, you can borrow against them, then pay off the borrowed amount when you sell your current home.

If you have a large balance in an IRA, you can withdraw money from it and not pay any penalty for early withdrawal if you re-deposit the withdrawn amount within 60 days, which is possible since you’ll be selling your current home within that time period.

Another highly effective approach is to sell your home requiring a 60-day closing and a 60-day free rent-back, which gives you 120 days after going under contract to find and close on a replacement home as a cash buyer (if you’ll be netting enough from the sale).  You could also make the penalty for overstaying the free rent-back period be a reasonable rental amount such as $100 to $150 per day.  The seller still has the ability to evict you but may be open to this arrangement as long as you’re making a good faith effort to buy and move.

Sometimes a would-be seller tells me that they don’t want to buy while prices are so high. I point out that if you are selling and buying in the same market, it doesn’t matter what prices are, because you benefit in the same way on the sale of your current home.  The same applies in a depressed market.  Don’t want to sell because you won’t get what you’d like for your current home? If you’re buying in the same market, you won’t pay as much for your replacement home.

My broker associates and I are happy to arrange an in-person or phone conversation with you about selling your current home and/or buying a replacement home. Our phone numbers are below.

Jim Smith, Broker/Owner, 303-525-1851

Broker Associates:

Jim Swanson, 303-929-2727

Chuck Brown, 303-885-7855

David Dlugasch, 303-908-4835

Ty Scrable, 720-281-6783

Anapaula Schock, 303-917-1749