Publisher’s notebook: Boulder’s housing prices erase competitive advantage

Boulder’s housing prices erase competitive advantage

Is Boulder losing an important advantage when it comes to its counterparts around the country?

Escalating housing prices in the city have seen the median sales price for a single-family home shoot up to $992,500 in June, just behind the highest median price ever recorded in a metropolitan statistical area — San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. — at $1.085 million in the second quarter.

OK, it’s not apples to apples — Boulder’s number reflects the city, not the MSA. And it was one month, not a quarter. The Boulder MSA, encompassing Boulder County, came in at $549,600 in the second quarter, about half the price of the San Jose MSA, according to the National Association of Realtors. But the Boulder County price reflected an 18.5 percent increase over the same period a year ago — the largest percentage increase in the nation.

The city of Boulder’s median price did dip slightly, to $900,000 in July. On a monthly — apples-to-apples — basis, here’s how Boulder stacks up against some other cities for July median prices (cities, not MSAs):

• Boulder, $900,000.

• San Jose, Calif., $930,000.

• Cupertino, Calif., $2 million.

• Palo Alto, Calif., $2.74 million.

• Mountain View, Calif., $1.657 million.

• Milpitas, Calif., $912,000.

• Sunnyvale, Calif., $1.5 million.

The California numbers come from the Sereno Group, a Silicon Valley real estate company. While Boulder’s median price remains far removed from the rarified air of Palo Alto or Cupertino, the pace of Boulder’s housing-price surge is getting it a bit closer, even on par with San Jose and Milpitas.

Boulder’s housing-price surge at least puts to question the long-voiced mantra that the city’s housing remains affordable compared with other markets, particularly those with a concentration of high-tech employers. Economic developers and business leaders for years long have touted that advantage, which appeals to out-of-state workers looking for a deal in comparison to the Silicon Valley, Boston, etc.

Among some other key competitors — high-tech and otherwise — even the Boulder MSA is downright pricey, according to NAR:

• Boulder MSA (Boulder County), $549,600.

• Austin-Round Rock, Texas, $289,100.

• Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass., $435,800.

• Eugene, Ore., $242,800.

• Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., $356,700.

• San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.: $885,600.

• Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, $406,900.

One local Realtor told me recently that he had heard a story making the rounds in his brokerage office. A would-be buyer from the Silicon Valley was considering relocating to Boulder, hoping to get a lot more house for his money. But, when he heard of the prices within the city, he opted to stay in California. It’s not a trend, the Realtor noted, but it was a wake-up call.

Increasing competition from Denver also challenges Boulder from a nearby source, one with lower housing prices, a big-city “vibe” appealing to younger workers and with an increasing concentration of high-tech companies.

No, Boulder isn’t as expensive as Palo Alto, Cupertino or Sunnyvale. But it also doesn’t have the deep price advantage that has helped lure high-tech workers for years. Those days are slipping away fast.

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-630-1942, 970-232-3133 or via email at


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