The most satisfaction and fun Mary & I have in real estate is working with first-time home buyers on a limited budget. Helping someone buy their first home - something many of them never dreamed they would be able to do - is always a warm fuzzy experience for us as well as them.
It has become much rarer in the last couple of years. With persistent low inventory, and a vigorous regional economy generating strong demand, our affordable home market has all but vanished.
Even our reporting of it has changed. Affordable used to mean under $200K. When those became scarce, we raised the limit on our market reports to $225K, and then again to $250K, but that was just so we could have some data to report. The fact is that the higher limits didn't really reflect the market - affordable home buyer's incomes weren't keeping pace with prices or our artificially raised limits, and we were just tiptoeing around the fact that there weren't any affordable homes for sale that matched those buyer's budgets.
Let's take a detailed look at what has happened over the last 5 years. We'll focus on Fort Collins, but the results are effectively the same across all northern Colorado housing markets.
We'll start with Median Price. A quick look at the graph is all that's needed to see the overall situation - median home prices have risen over $100K in the last 3 years. And while the data points reflect specific home sales by month, the trend line certainly indicates a strong increase in home values.
Now let's look specifically at what's going on with the under-$260K segment of the market.
Closed Sales tell the story clearly - affordable home sales last month are at levels around 10% of what they were three years ago - 114 affordable homes closed in April 2013, and 13 closed in April 2016.
And a look at affordable home Inventory shows that there are significantly less affordable homes available, while a look at the Days on Market and the Month's Supply of Inventory tells us that the interest in those homes hasn't diminished.
And even in the affordable home category, we can see from the $/Sq.Ft. graph that a limited budget is now buying a lot less house than previously.
This is so discouraging, and there simply may not be a reasonable solution. As we wait for the law of supply and demand to generate more inventory in response to high demand and rising prices, we realize that will have minimal effect on the affordable housing market. When home owners do become sufficiently incentivized to place their homes on the market by those rising prices, few of them are going to appear in the actual affordable price range.
If we can't find a way to increase incomes for affordable home buyers, they'll never catch up with the market. And worse, they may not find any reasonable housing alternatives at all, with rents following - or in some cases leading - the rising trend line. The effect is going to entail a major socioeconomic shift in the nature of our northern Colorado communities, as we become less economically diverse.
We are still working with affordable home buyers, and we do have occasional success, finding that needle in a haystack. Those are joyous times, but there are far too few of them these days.
Mary & Dick Greenberg
Data Source: IRES MLS