Classic homes, walkability feed neighborhood’s appeal

After a long real estate slide, the Whittier neighborhood in Boulder has recently shown signs of a mini-boom, perhaps heralding that the long, steady rise back from the dead may be accelerating.

Because of Boulder’s building restrictions and mere 500 acres of remaining space for development — currently slotted for commercial — the area did not suffer the slew of vacancies seen elsewhere when the bubble burst. However, Boulder was not immune and suffered a drop-off in real estate values.

Jill Grano, an agent with Colorado Landmark Realtors, noticed that last August — when house sales typically drop off — she was selling a lot of properties in Whittier.

“Whittier is just going crazy right now, and it’s been during winter, really,” she said.

When she asked around, other agents had told her they were seeing a similar trend, so she put together the data, and the results were pretty startling.

Since Dec. 22, Whittier (which includes the east end of Pearl Street and is bounded by 28th Street and Broadway to the east and west, and Bluff Street and Canyon Boulevard to the north and south) had eight house sales and currently has eight active listings.

One of those recent sales was to Boulder city councilman Macon Cowles and his wife, Regina. Of the current listings, one is a school, and one was a $2.3 million home; others ranged from $300,000 to $1 million, with the average sale coming in around the middle. She has resorted to posting notes on homes to see if any owners were considering selling in the near future, and recently sold one home off market.

By comparison, the oft-desired Newlands, which covers a similar area, sold half that many, and currently has 22 active listings.

The sale went to a retired couple that had a large home in a classically desirable neighborhood, but were tired of having to drive everywhere. “They were caring for an elderly mother, and being in their 60s and 90s don’t want to be bound to a car,” Grano said.

The neighborhood also has a number of attached dwellings, which draws young couples that, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, reject the suburbs and also seek out walkability.

What has suddenly made Whittier attractive to foot traffic has been the revitalization of East Pearl Street.

“It used to be a little sad,” said Varja Rich, owner of Boxcar Coffee. He and his wife, Cara, share space with Will Frischkorn and Coral Ferguson, who run a European-style deli that sells cheeses, cured meats and 75 varieties of wine. The space is collectively known as Cured, which opened last August. It has become precisely the kind of comfortable gathering place prospective buyers would want to have within walking distance.

Local business owners trace the turnaround to the expansion of Frasca. Director of private events Christin Napier said the high-end restaurant, whose business was primarily reservation-based, had looked at the usually sought-after real estate further west, but when the commercial space next door came open, stayed because of the lower real estate and ample parking, which can be a bit hard to come by the closer one gets to the mountains.

They opened a more affordable Pizzeria Locale and Café more suited for walk-ins and every day dining. Snooze and other restaurants popped up, and the always-popular Laughing Goat offered some nice local atmosphere and a performance space for live music.

Whittier now has the feel of an up-and-coming place still finding its identity, which can be more exciting than the established neighborhood whose higher rents encourage safer businesses and scare off more creative ventures.

Whittier is also much more affordable than the classically sought-after real estate next door, with a revitalizing part of Pearl Street hip enough to get people to cross the traffic light.

Statistics show that single-family listings are at 11-year low. Also, unlike past years, the number of showings per available listing has not dropped in the fall as it has since the data begins in 2007. That suggests to Grano that homebuyers from the summer are still looking because they haven’t been able to find a house. But the continuing economic uncertainty has people still looking for a deal, and Whittier seems to offer more bang for the buck at the moment.


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