The Year in Review: 2021 Saw Unprecedented Real Estate Changes  

I don’t think anyone in real estate foresaw the amazing year which is now coming to an end, any more than they foresaw the pandemic’s arrival in March 2020 and its effect on that year’s real estate market.

Even though the pandemic spanned both years, the two years display notably different patterns when it comes to home sales.

Below are four charts derived from REcolorado statistics, the first three of which span the time from Jan 1, 2020 through Dec. 27, 2021, when I researched this article. Final figures for December 2021 are not yet in but shouldn’t greatly affect that month’s stats. Because REcolorado is a statewide MLS, I limited the analysis to listings within 20 miles of downtown Denver, which includes the metro area except for the city of Boulder.

The most spectacular effect of the pandemic is shown in the top left chart, as homes started going under contract in a week or less (median), down from 26 median days in MLS in January 2020. Despite that, you can see that the active inventory of listings shot up from about 5,000 before the pandemic to a high of nearly 8,000 in May 2020. Inventory only started dropping at the end of that first summer, but  it’s apparent that the decline in active listings was not for lack of new listings but rather because most listings which came on the MLS went under contract within a week, causing the number of unsold listings to decrease.

The third chart has what looks to be an uninteresting top line, but that’s only because of the compressed scale. It actually reveals a dramatic change which only occurred in the second year of the pandemic. The ratio of closed price to listing price was only 99.3% in January 2020, but it rose to 100% in February and stayed there through January 2021. It surged to almost 105% in June 2021 and was still at 100.6% in November.

What has happened in the luxury market is even more pronounced. The fourth chart, going back six years, shows how the number of closings over $1 million has surged from well below 100 in early 2016 to a high of 547 in June 2021, with the two pandemic years showing the most outstanding growth. On the same chart you can see that the change in price per finished square foot was up and down showing a gradual increase month-to-month from 2016 to 2019, but then took on a sharper and steadier increase during the pandemic.

There does seem to be a cause-and-effect relationship between the pandemic and the real estate market. In the beginning, we could conclude that the lockdown was causing people to seek bigger homes to accommodate working from home (and schooling at home). Also, it seems that some couples broke up under the strain of being together 24/7, further increasing the demand side of the real estate market.

Although the government is reluctant to reimpose a lockdown for pretty obvious reasons, the pandemic is still a factor and can be expected to drive further real estate activity for months to come, even as interest rates rise gradually.

(Actually, rising interest rates can stimulate buying activity, because once buyers see rates rising and realize they’ll continue to rise, they want to buy before rates rise much further.)