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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lou Barnes on Boulder, Colorado Housing

by Calculated Risk on 4/15/2012 09:44:00 AM

Long term readers will remember the quote about "neutron loans" from mortgage banker Lou Barnes in 2007:

“All of the old-timers knew that subprime mortgages were what we called neutron loans — they killed the people and left the houses,” said Louis S. Barnes, 58, a partner at Boulder West, a mortgage banking firm in Lafayette, Colo.
Here is what Lou Barnes wrote on Friday on housing in Boulder, Colorado:
"What would the turn look like, if really underway? My own back yard has turned in just the last 60 days. The Front Range of Colorado never had a housing bubble: we danced with the Technology Fairy 1999-2001, afterward built too many houses, and made too many stupid loans, but all of that was over by 2004 when we led the nation in foreclosures. Long time ago. We have the 6th-lowest level of mortgage delinquency of any state in the US. Our rental vacancy rate spiked to 12%, now below 5% for the first time since '99 (0% in Boulder!). Rents are moving up quickly. State population in the last dozen years has risen from 4.1 million to 5 million, and we're short of land to build (you could drop Rhode Island in here and never find it, but we are maniacs for "open space" reservations). Building permits have been off 85% since '07. Unemployment is down to 7%-ish. Our listed inventory of homes evaporated by 40% since last year. Buyers have lost their fear, the only problem finding something to show them.

Does your local market look like that? Mister housing-has-bottomed? Eh?

As perfect as our set-up, are prices rising? In rich, government- and tech-payrolled, land-starved Boulder County, yes. At last. Enough to unlock sellers? Ummmm... later.

Two philosophers have remarked incisively on speed. Stephen Hawking: "Time is what keeps everything from happening at once." Then, Satchel Paige's description of Cool Papa Bell: "He was so fast he could flip off the light switch and be in bed before the room got dark. One time he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his ass just as he slid into second."

Housing is the polar opposite of Cool Papa Bell.

Here in Colorado, the 1980s were tougher than this patch, and in Boulder we had all the same, lovely conditions as above by the spring of 1990, and the first, timid price increases in nine years. It then took 18 months for prices to begin to rise on the far side of town. Bottom is one thing, better another, recovery something else entirely.
Yes, my local market looks like that.

As Barnes notes, a bottom for prices is one thing, a recovery in prices "something else entirely" - and I doubt prices will rise significantly any time soon. However, in more and more areas, it appears prices have bottomed, and buyers have "lost their fear".