First quarter finishes strong with significant improvement in home sales

In like a lion, out like a lion. That was the story of the Boulder area real estate market in March.

The end of the first quarter wrapped up strong, with an 11 percent increase in single-family home sales in the first three months of 2010 compared with 2009. Multifamily sales gained 24 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period last year.

“I think the momentum we started at the beginning of the year has continued and helped round out the first quarter,” says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association. “I’m pretty impressed with the strength of the market as far as sales volume. It will be interesting to see if we can maintain it.”

Hotard attributes the impressive improvement to low interest rates, credit slowly becoming more available, and job growth on a national, state and local level.

“Especially along the Front Range, job growth is contributing to the strength of our housing market,” he says.

However, the housing market will face another “unknown” when first-time homebuyers and those looking to move up no longer have access to $8,000 and $6,500 tax credits, respectively. The incentive ends at the end of the month – meaning homebuyers must have their houses under contract by then – though they have until the end of June to close on their homes.

But Hotard says he expects contract activity may decline some in May with the absence of the tax credit.

“We’ll see if that’s going to be a factor,” he says, noting the market may remain strong if economic conditions and consumer confidence improve and interest rates stay low. “My expectation is this strength will continue into and through the summer months.”

Hotard notes that Congress and the Obama Administration have squashed any hope for the continuation of the tax credit, saying that it has done what it was supposed to, which is jump start the market. Now, he says, the National Association of Realtors has turned its focus to increasing access to credit for qualified buyers.

Many of Boulder’s communities continue to see a decrease in average and median sale prices, some of which is attributable to some homeowners reducing their asking prices to sell, but not all, Hotard says. In other markets, prices have stabilized and some are even improving.

“Buyers are out there, they’re active and deals are closing,” he says, adding that more than one-third of homes under contract at this time last year weren’t closing.

Another factor affecting the housing market, from a political standpoint, is the election year, Hotard says. Those up for re-election will work hard to make sure the economy continues to strengthen through this year.

State ranks high, metro areas in middle of price appreciation ranks nationwide

The House Price Appreciation rankings from the Federal Housing Finance Agency didn’t offer Colorado’s metro areas the big, positive news it has in the past – that many of them are among the 20 top cities in the nation for house-price growth. But it didn’t offer any bad news, either: all of Colorado’s metro areas stayed out of the bottom 20 cities for house-price appreciation, as well.

Colorado as a whole ranked third among 51 states (District of Columbia included) with a one-year appreciation of 2.76 percent, and a quarterly increase of 0.84 percent. Over five years, homes across Colorado have increased 7.31 percent. Colorado fell behind top-ranked Oklahoma, with a one-year appreciation rank of 3.53 percent, and second-place Virginia, where home prices increased 3.07 percent over the year.

Nationally, home prices dropped 1.21 percent in 2009 from the year before, and 0.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. In the five years ending in December, they increased 1.66 percent.

Denver-Aurora-Broomfield was the highest-ranking Colorado metro area, landing at 79th among 299 metro areas, with home prices there dropping only 1.37 percent in 2009. Fort Collins-Loveland ranked 80th with prices falling a smidge more - just 1.38 percent - and Boulder ranked 82nd with a 1.45 percent drop in house prices. Grand Junction, a former up-and-coming metro area for appreciation, ranked the lowest of all Colorado cities – 194th – with a 5.63 decrease in home prices last year compared with 2008.

For the complete report and rankings, visit

Here’s a closer look at how Colorado’s metro areas performed in the national rankings compared with the state and the U.S.:

After many moves, Superior is now ‘Haven’ for interior designer and her family

Between her father’s and her husband’s careers, Laura Hodgson has lived in 12 states throughout her life.

Her father worked for the Federal Highway Administration, so her family moved to wherever his next assignment took them. Her husband of 17 years this month, David, was an officer on a nuclear submarine and, like most military families, the Hodgsons would go wherever the Navy told them to go.

Rather than bemoan that fact that she never stayed anywhere long enough to really consider it “home,” Laura considers how the exposure to travel, great people, diverse cultures and different architecture has made her the person and interior designer she is today. “It has really affected my perspective, career and our priorities as a family,” says the owner of Haven LLC in Superior. “I think I am a better designer because of my experiences.”

Laura, husband David and daughters Chloe, now 9, and Sophie, now 6, moved from Massachusetts to Colorado in 2004. “It was sort of by design,” Laura says. “I was actually born in Colorado.”

Laura’s parents moved from Colorado when she was a baby, and she hadn’t lived here since. She and David are both from large families now living in Kansas, Nebraska or Colorado, with Laura’s parents having made their home in Fort Collins.

“We’ve wanted to be closer to family so we could be a part of those special moments in each others’ lives,” Laura says, noting her husband was looking for a job opportunity in Colorado and eventually found one as a thin film optical engineer at Research Electro Optics in Boulder. “We’re hoping this is it, that Colorado is the last move.”

David also is an avid rock climber and the entire family is “very outdoorsy,” enjoying camping, hiking and biking, Laura says, so living in the Boulder area was a natural choice.

“The weather here is great year-round,” she says. “We ride bikes in December if there is no snow on the ground.”

It was while attending school in Virginia to obtain her psychology degree that Laura re-discovered her knack for decorating. “I have always loved interior design,” she says. “I remember growing up and decorating my rooms. It’s just something I enjoyed doing, and my mom accommodated me.”

Laura found a job as a receptionist at a commercial interior design firm when she wasn’t attending classes, and worked her way up to design assistant. After realizing how much she enjoyed the job, she eventually obtained a degree in interior design. When she moved to Massachusetts, she went to work for a high-end residential interior design firm to see the difference between residential and commercial work. She found she enjoyed residential interior design more because the results were a personal reflection of her clients and their families.

Laura is also able to apply what she has learned about psychology of color, ergonomics and workplace dynamics to her work as an interior designer. “The two blend together so well, because clients have a hard time verbalizing what they want,” Laura says. “My psychology training helps me to understand them.”

Laura was with a firm in Massachusetts when she had her first child and found that working for someone else was not the best fit for her and her family. She started Haven and had been in business for herself three years when the Hodgsons moved to Colorado. The transition with her business wasn’t too difficult, as many of her accounts were national, so it was just a matter of changing to whom she paid taxes, Laura says.

“I knew when we moved that it would take a while to build the business up again,” she says. “I had young kids and I was fine with that. It worked well with where we were at with our family in that time of our lives.”

And so is the Hodgson family, which continues to travel – including to Argentina for three weeks and completing a six-week tour of national parks (the Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff and Jasper) last year – and enjoys the many benefits of living in the Boulder area.

“We could have moved closer to Denver, but we enjoy Pearl Street and all the variety of experiences the community of Boulder has to offer," Laura says. "It’s a lifestyle-focused community. … It’s just a wonderful community to be in.”

Perfect home can be house with potential

According to, instead of looking for the home that is already perfect for your family, consider buying a home with potential. A house has these elements that make it the potentially perfect home:

• Location, location, location. The old adage that you get a better deal when you buy the worst house in a great neighborhood than when you buy a fancy house in a not-so terrific neighborhood is still true.

• Less than 50 years old. Properties more than a half decade old are likely to have more fundamental problems — like aging wiring, inadequate plumbing and sagging foundations.

• Livable floor plan. The home’s basic design should be one with which you can live; once you start moving walls, you’re spending big money.

• Light. Your potentially perfect house should have plenty of natural light.

• Good storage. Adding storage is expensive, so choose a property that already has it.

6 Colorado metros in top 30 of Forbes Best Places for Business and Careers rankings

If you’re in the market for a job or to expand your career, then mid-America – including any of Colorado biggest metros – is the place to live, according to Forbes’ 12th annual ranking of the Best Places for Business and Careers.

Boulder landed 14th on the ranking of the 200 largest metro areas in the nation, but it didn’t have the highest showing of Colorado cities: Fort Collins (with which Loveland is grouped) landed in the fourth slot, while Denver ranked sixth. Colorado Springs came in two places ahead of Boulder, while Greeley (includes all of Weld County) was 29th. Pueblo was the only Colorado metro that didn’t make the list.

To come up with the Best Places for Business and Careers, Forbes looks at the 200 largest metro areas ranging in population from 245,000 to 11.7 million, It ranked areas on 12 metrics including costs (business and living), job growth (past and projected), income growth, educational attainment and projected economic growth. Forbes also factored in quality of life issues such as crime, cultural and recreational opportunities as well as net migration patterns. The magazine also considered the percentage of subprime mortgages handed out over a three-year period and the number of highly ranked four-year colleges in the area.

The recession took its toll on nearly every big city across the nation last year, with home prices dropping in 182 of the metros ranked, according to Forbes. Household incomes also fell in 94 percent of these areas. Of the 200 metro areas, just four of them recorded positive job growth but with only 4,300 positions created between all of them. The other 196 metros together lost 3.5 million jobs in 2009.

Here’s a look at how Colorado’s metro areas faired in Forbes’ Best Places for Business and Careers: