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“Prices are going crazy. Multiple offers, love letters, videos, all kinds of things to appeal to a seller in order to make yours stand above all the others,” said Denver real estate agent Jill Schafer.
Supply here is low for a number of reasons. Employment is growing at more than 4 percent versus a year ago, home builders really didn’t ramp up production after the recession and land prices in the Denver area are at an all-time high, according to John Burns Real Estate Consulting. Most of the available land is out by the airport, where sales are not particularly strong.
Another issue plaguing the market is a lack of condominiums. Demand for condos was weak after the housing crash and foreclosure crisis, and then a Colorado law passed in 2010 making it easier for homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to file class-action lawsuits against developers for even the smallest construction defects.
“If you can’t put a project-specific insurance policy in place to protect yourself against inevitable lawsuits, you won’t build condos,” said Christopher Waggett, CEO of D4 Urban, a Denver real estate developer, who has been fighting to have the law changed.
Standing in front of a huge construction site of rental apartments, Waggett said there is a multifamily construction boom in Denver, but just 2 percent of it is condos, and those are only on the very high end. That’s because in order to afford the insurance policies against litigation, developers would need to build million-dollar units.
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“We’ve had a situation in Denver for the last five years, where vacancy rates on multifamily have stayed below 5 percent and rental growth has been above 7 percent. That is not a normal market,” said Waggett.
Rent growth is great for apartment developers, not so great for Denver renters, many of whom are young millennials coming to town for new jobs with Google and Apple.
“I don’t think incomes have been rising at that pace, and I think we all know what happened in 2008-09 where we got an imbalance between incomes and value of property, in this case rent. There is a serious issue,” added Waggett.
Over in the tony Cherry Creek neighborhood of Denver, a condo building is going up, and it is more than 80 percent sold, even though it doesn’t open until August.
“If we were 50 percent sold, we’d be just outrageously happy, but at 80-85 percent where we are right now, this market is so incredibly tight for all real estate including condos. It’s just been amazing,” said Roy Kline, managing director of Western Development Group.
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Most of the condos at Kline’s 250 Columbine list at more than a million dollars, with the penthouse going for $5 million. That, he said, is what it takes to insure his company against litigation, and to test the project vigilantly for any potential defects..