February 7, 2022

Wells: Measuring markets through the ‘Boulder Benchmark’

In the world of real estate, there’s a long-standing slogan that “all markets are local.” For evidence to support that statement, look no further than our own backyard.

For as long as The Group Inc. has been doing its annual real estate forecasts in Northern Colorado, the one story that tends to draw the most attention is the Boulder Benchmark, an annual comparison of home price trends across Northern Colorado. We can see how unique each of our local housing markets can be — even between three bordering counties.

For those unfamiliar with the Boulder Benchmark, let’s start with a little Northern Colorado history. In the mid to late 1950s, John R.P. Wheeler and his company — Wheeler Realty based in Greeley — were well-known across the region as both a residential and commercial builder. 

Wheeler built the same models of ranch homes across three of Northern Colorado’s largest cities, Greeley, Fort Collins and Boulder. Today these properties in these three cities serve as an incredible benchmark to track the trajectory and history of price comparison across the region.  The homes were well-constructed, all-brick ranch plans ranging in size from 800 square feet to 1,300 square feet.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Wheeler began offering these homes to the market at prices between $10,800 and $13,000. I think it is safe to say those were sound investments when looking at the benchmarks in Farr Farms Addition in Greeley, South College Heights in Fort Collins and Martin Acres in Boulder today.

For 2021, our benchmark property in Greeley was 1,005 square feet, listed for $315,000 and ultimately sold for $336,000, or $334 per square foot, on April 26, 2021. This was up from our 2020 Farr addition benchmark of $295,500. In South College Heights in Fort Collins, our benchmark property was an 875-square-foot home listed at $474,900 and sold on June 15, 2021, for $470,000, a price of $537 per square foot. This was an increase from 2020’s benchmark of $435,000. Down south our benchmark properties come from homes in Martin Acres in Boulder. Historically, the price of these Wheeler-constructed homes has shown that Fort Collins is approximately a decade behind Boulder prices. The Boulder Benchmark, a 1,387-square-foot home, was listed at $740,000 but sold for $865,000 — $125,000 over list price — on July 6, 2021, or $624 per square foot. 

​​Of course, it’s hardly a shock to see Boulder houses fetch a much higher price per square foot than anywhere on the Front Range. But a longer view will show how the cost of housing is climbing at a faster pace in Fort Collins and Greeley. Since 2017, the Benchmark shows the prices per square foot for the Benchmark homes are up 8.3% in Boulder, 52.1% in Fort Collins, and 49.8% in Greeley. Looking at the 2020-2021 trend, Greeley’s Benchmark price jumped the most, up 13.7% between 2020 and 2021, while Fort Collins increased 8%, and Boulder 10.4%.

If you follow the trend lines, Fort Collins prices appear to be just eight years behind Boulder; the 2014 Benchmark price in Boulder — $475,000 — has nearly doubled in that time.  Year-over-year, we continue to follow the trendline making this study a fun one to watch. 

Brandon Wells is president of The Group Inc. Real Estate, founded in Fort Collins in 1976 with six locations in Northern Colorado. He can be reached at bwells@thegroupinc.com or 970-430-6463.

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