In booming Denver, housing’s not all that’s scarce

We need more lawn-mowers, tree-trimmers and electricians, too

Forbes magazine recently rated Denver No. 1 out of 401 metropolitan areas on its annual list of Best Places for Business and Careers.

Of course, Denver’s drawing power, especially for young professionals, has brought well-documented challenges, too, the most notable being where to put the newcomers. Apartment rental rates are up 26 percent from three years ago, according to the apartment locating service Colorado Lease Up, and Denver is taking on 7,000 to 10,000 new renters a year, the firm says.

An expected 30,000 new apartment units are projected to come online in the next three years to help accommodate newcomers, and that’s good, because another survey suggests a lot of Denver’s young professionals might be renting for some time.

Bloomberg Business recently ranked Denver the 12th-most difficult home-buying market for millennials, estimating that their median annual income of $39,462 is $2,620 short of the estimated yearly salary needed to buy a median-priced home (see page 7).

I’ve seen firsthand the effects of a tightening labor market, and evidence that Denver has room for not just more housing but more businesses.

First was a lawn-mowing service I called early in the summer that said it was too booked to take on any new business. Then a few months ago I was considering a kitchen renovation and called a contractor a friend had recommended. The contractor agreed to come over and give me some ideas, but warned me he was so swamped with jobs, mostly converting warehouses into pot-growing facilities, that he couldn’t take on any new work for several months.

Around that time, I went looking for new kitchen-countertop material and stopped at a store with a big “granite outlet” sign in front. Out back were rows of granite slabs, including partial slabs left over from previous jobs. I saw one I liked and planned to have it cut and then install it myself. But the store manager said that wouldn’t work; the sale had to include installation. He asked for my card and said he’d look into getting me a good deal, but I never heard from him. Evidently my modest needs were too small.

I’ve seen other evidence of demand seeming to outstrip supply in the service sector. Early this summer a storm ripped through my neighborhood, toppling my next-door neighbor’s towering silver maple tree. Its limbs and branches covered my yard. I called a tree-removal service I’d used before, but when I explained the tree was already on the ground, the company said it wasn’t doing much of that work these days, it was so bogged down by bigger jobs — pricier jobs, I took that to mean — and it would be eight to 10 weeks, if that soon, before the tree removers could get to me.

And then last month an electrician, also recommended by a friend, came over to give me an estimate on a job that was to include re-routing wires in a wall I planned to knock down and installing some recessed lighting. He looked around for half an hour, poked at the fuse box and asked some questions. As he left he said he’d text me an estimate that night or the next day.

Five days passed with no word, so I texted him. He responded, saying he’d been busy with family and work. He could do the job for $1,200, he said, and could probably start the next week. That was the last I heard from him.

Frustrating? Yeah. But I’ll take Denver and its growth issues over, say, Atlantic City, which finished last on the Forbes list of Best Places for Business and Careers for the third straight year, or the city Bloomberg rated No. 1 in housing affordability for working millennials: Detroit.

Categories: Magazine Articles, Real Estate