Hottest real estate market is a Mile High

In case there were any doubts, Denver boasts the hottest real estate market in the country, at least according to Realtor.com’s monthly rankings that placed the Mile High City No. 1 among 300 U.S. markets for both April and May.

Reading this report – based on number of views per listing on Realtor.com and the average time homes spend on the market – it struck me how conditions have changed in five years. The real estate subjects I wrote about in 2010 included one Realtor who gave up sales and launched a business decontaminating meth houses; another agent who became a short-sale specialist, helping underwater homeowners sell at prices below what they owed; and a third Realtor who in 2008 was selling luxury mountain homes and two years later was eking out a living cleaning some of those same houses.

It’s easy to say now we all knew the market would bounce back, but that would be forgetting the rampant and contagious pessimism wrought by the mortgage crisis and foreclosure epidemic.

Granted, there were always believers, among them Greg Rand, former managing partner at Better Homes & Gardens Rand Realty, one of the largest brokerages on the East Coast. Amid the gloom of 2011, Rand came out with the book, “Crash Boom! Make a Fortune in Today’s Volatile Real Estate Market.” Sensationalized title aside, the book was meant as a rebuttal to all the pessimism he saw around him.

“It was a crime so many people were losing faith in this asset,” he told me over the phone in April 2011. “It’s such a phenomenal time right now and over the next couple years to take positions in real estate and wait for the revival. Which, for all we know, is going to be 10 years out. But we’re all going to be around here in 10 years, hopefully. So if you’re trying to get wealthy, take positions now and wait.”

The recovery has come even faster than Rand’s conservative timeline, in Colorado at least. Those who heeded his message have been rewarded. Legendary value investor Warren Buffett’s famous advice comes to mind: “Be greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy.”

One of the more interesting forays into real estate occurred right here at ColoradoBiz in 2006, when longtime freelance writer Steve Titus turned in his monthly real estate column and announced it would be his last. He had a little experience fixing and flipping properties, having once used student loan money to buy a run-down house in Drake (between Loveland and Estes Park) that he renovated himself, then leveraged to buy more property. And he’d spent five years writing for us, soaking up knowledge from all the developers he’d interviewed. Armed with that, he launched Titus Development and hasn’t looked back.

“I don’t know how many properties I’ve developed since then,” he told me a few weeks ago. “Maybe 30.” 

Titus said the real estate downturn and Great Recession caught him by surprise, but he considers himself lucky.

“I had to sell a really great property, but I still made money on it and I had the resources to ride out the recession,” he says. “Starting in 2009 it was hard to find money. These days it’s pretty easy to find money, but getting good properties is really tough. The trick is to stockpile properties when the market is going down, then build them out when the market comes back.”

I asked if he had any advice for would-be developers. He did. “All the profit is made – or lost – when you buy the property,” he says. “Don’t overbuild; come up with a realistic budget based on real bids and a selling price based on recent comps, then stick to the plan. Use leverage whenever possible.”

That reminded me again of Warren Buffett’s wise words. As doubts of just five years ago have given way to exuberance, is it time to be greedy, or fearful?

Categories: Magazine Articles, Real Estate