September 24, 2010

Housing numbers getting better, quietly

Lately there’s been a lot of negative sentiment about the economy. Talk of a double-dip recession and possible tax increases are spooking the public, which can filter to the real estate market.

But quietly, the local residential real estate market is improving. Sure, some of July’s figures were bad – monthly home sales in the Fort Collins/Loveland/Greeley metro areas fell 43 percent from June, and 41 percent from July 2009 – but that was to be expected as the federal homebuyer’s tax credit expired.

The bigger picture, according to Loveland-based Information and Real Estate Services LLC, shows that year-to-date, through July, home sales are up 7.2 percent in the region from a year ago, with 3,712 single- and multi-family units sold.

The total dollar sales volume of those transactions is up 11.2 percent from 2009, suggesting some price appreciation.

The median sale price of a single-family home is up 6.2 percent to $239,000 in the Fort Collins area from a year ago, up 14.4 percent to $238,000 in the Loveland/Berthoud area, but down 12.8 percent to $135,000 in the Greeley/Evans area.

The median sale price of a multi-family home is up 7 percent to $161,500 in the Fort Collins area from a year ago, down 1.5 percent to $159,500 in the Loveland/Berthoud area, and up 7.8 percent to $107,500 in the Greeley/Evans area.

Perhaps the most encouraging news for the local real estate market is that foreclosures filings continue to drop in 2010, down 12.3 percent through August in Larimer and Weld counties. That’s compared to an 18 percent rise at this time last year. Foreclosures were a leading indicator into the downturn – they started their aggressive climb in 2006, well before the 2008 crash – and they might be a leading indicator out.

A recovery year?

Still, some experts remain reluctant to claim 2010 a recovery year just yet.

“I think it will be a tale of two halves,´ said Eric Thompson, president of The Group Inc. residential real estate brokerage in Fort Collins. “The first half was driven by the tax credit. But by the end of the year, I think we will look back and see the same number of transactions in 2010 that we did in 2009.”

Thompson said he does see the lending market improving. Lower interest rates and lenders more willing to help struggling homeowners are likely factors in the drop of foreclosure figures, he said.

But even if lending becomes more available, it all comes down to jobs, Thompson said. “The good news is that fundamentally, Northern Colorado has the right environment to attract jobs.”

Jobs are also the key to a recovery in the commercial real estate market, said Peter Kast, a broker/partner with Realtec Commercial Real Estate Services in Fort Collins.

Comparative sale figures in the commercial market are harder to come by, but it’s clear that transactions are minimal. While banks might be warming back up to residential lending, they are keeping clear of commercial.

Much of the activity today involves smaller deals backed by Small Business Administration financing, Kast said.

“The best thing I can say is that it’s better than last year, but it’s still a struggle,” he added.

On the leasing side, there are mixed signs of stabilization in the local commercial market.

According to Realtec, office vacancy rates in Fort Collins stood at about 14.2 percent at the end of the second quarter, slightly better than last year. Office vacancy rates in Loveland and Greeley are still up from a year ago, at 11.6 percent and 23.4 percent, respectively.

Retail vacancy rates remain about where they were last year at 9.5 percent in Fort Collins, 8.4 percent in Loveland, and 14.7 percent in Greeley.

Industrial vacancy rates also are stabilizing at 6.8 percent in Fort Collins, 8 percent in Loveland and 11.9 percent in Greeley. Kast said he expects the Greeley industrial market to improve next quarter with a boost from the growing oil industry.

The best signal for both local commercial and residential real estate might be the health of local banks. The picture there on a year-to-year basis is still grim, but it’s stabilizing quarterly.

Total delinquent loans and foreclosed property held by the 15 banks based in Larimer and Weld counties stood at more than $475 million as of June 30 – up 11.4 percent from a year ago, but up only one-tenth of a percent from a quarter ago.

Banks are still pulling back on lending. Net loans and leases held at local banks fell to about $4.8 billion as of June 30 – down 18.5 percent from a year ago, and down 3.9 percent from a quarter ago.

David Clucas is a freelance writer based in Boulder who can be reached at clucas.work@gmail.com

Lately there’s been a lot of negative sentiment about the economy. Talk of a double-dip recession and possible tax increases are spooking the public, which can filter to the real estate market.

But quietly, the local residential real estate market is improving. Sure, some of July’s figures were bad – monthly home sales in the Fort Collins/Loveland/Greeley metro areas fell 43 percent from June, and 41 percent from July 2009 – but that was to be expected as the federal homebuyer’s tax credit expired.

The bigger picture, according to Loveland-based Information and Real Estate Services LLC, shows that year-to-date,…

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