Friday, November 17, 2017

Colorado Homicide Rate Up in 2016

According to the FBI's annual crime report, released in September, Colorado's homicide rate increased to 3.7 per 100,000 in 2016. That's up from 2015's rate of 3.2 per 100,000, and from the 50-year low of 2.6 recorded in 2010.

2016's rate was a 12-year high, but still remained well below the homicide rates that were common during the 1970s and 1980s:


Compared to the nationwide homicide rate, the Colorado rate has been lower every year since 1963. The nationwide homicide rate in 2016 was 5.2 per 100,000.

Since the 1990s, the US homicide rate has been nearly cut in half, and the US rate hit a 52-year low in 2014 when it fell to 4.4 per 100,000.

Compared to other US states and Canadian provinces, Colorado's homicide rate places it as one of the lowest-homicide rates in in the US, and puts it on a par with central-Canadian provinces like Alberta and Manitoba:



As a map: 


Within the state of Colorado, metro areas can differ significantly. Over the past decade, the metro area with the highest homicide rate has in most years been Pueblo (no Pueblo data is available for 2008). In 2016, Colorado metro areas reported the following homicide rates, per 100,000:

Pueblo: 6.7
Grand Junction: 6
Colorado Springs: 4.5
Denver: 4.3
Fort Collins: 2.6
Greeley: 1.4

By this measure, Fort Collins and Greeley are among the safest places in the world. Grand Junction's homicide rate spiked in 2016, but with such a small overall population, it's impossible to say if this change reflects any real trend in the region. 

These numbers, however, are by full metro areas. If we look within a single metro area, such as the Denver Metro Area, we'll find significant differences there as well. For example, the City and County of Denver is the primary driver of homicide rates in the area. In 2016, there were 57 homicides in the City and County of Denver, and 22 in the City of Aurora. In the metro area as a whole, however, there were 124 homicides total. Thus, Denver and Aurora alone accounted for nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all homicides in the metro area. This is in spite of the fact that those two cities make up only 37 percent of the total population of the metro area. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Case-Shiller: Denver home prices growth falls to 35-month low

According to the latest Case-Shiller report, home prices have been moderating throughout the year, with August's report showing a 7.2 increase over August of 2016. This was the smallest rate of increase found in 35 months, or since October of 2014.

August's growth rate is down from the November 2015 peak of 10.9 percent.


Meanwhile, home price growth in the 20-city index has been largely flat, but slightly growing over the past year — although overall growth is below that found in Denver metro. In august, the 20-city index grow rate was 5.9 percent, which is a six-month high.

While overall growth is outpacing the 20-city sample, we can also see that Denver's index value is now well above where it was during the last peak home-price period of 2006.

The  index for metro Denver had peaked at 140 back in August 2006. But now, the index value is 201, up 43 percent from 2006.

The 20-city index, meanwhile, is not even back to its former peak, and is now still down 1.7 percent from where it peaked during August of 2006.


Clearly, home price growth in Denver metro is strong, even when compared to a variety of other large cities throughout the US. This is partly fueled by job growth in general, and specifically by job growth in the energy sector.

Moderation in price growth, however, also reflects a similar moderation in job growth that metro Denver is now experiencing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Releases of deeds of trust in metros fall to 32-month low

A deed of trust is "released" when a home loan is paid off. This event is recorded by the public trustee in each county in Colorado.

Trends in public trustees tell us about how much activity there is in terms of home loan refinances and home sales. In many ways, activity in releases of deeds of trust are an indicator of demand for real estate purchases in Colorado, and historically, we have seen more release activity during times of economic boom. 

Activity Through September of This Yea

In September 2017, we found that releases had fallen to a 32-month low in the 11 largest counties in Colorado, plus Broomfield County. These counties include more than 90 percent of the population of Colorado. 

In September, releases totaled 20,730. That's the lowest total since February 2015 when releases totaled 18,826. September 2017's total up down from the same month a year earlier, falling 26.6 percent from September 2016's total of 28,252.



Looking at counties, individually, we find that year-over-year, the counties with the largest drops were Douglas, Broomfield, and Denver counties. There were no counties that reported increases during this period. 




Although September's total is clearly down significantly from December 2016's peak, overall activity continues to be generally robust as demand for housing and homes for purchase remains strong. Although the Federal reserve acted to allow the Federal Funds rate to rise slightly over the past two years, mortgage rates spikes in late  2016, but fell throughout much of 2017. Without a sustained increase in mortgage rates, we're likely to continue to see relatively strong numbers for releases of deeds of trust. At least, this will be the case until there is a general worsening of the labor market and economy overall.  

So, for now, release activity is moderating, but compared to most years since 2008, activity is relatively strong. This reflects ongoing interest in real estate purchases and in refi activity in Colorado. 


Friday, November 10, 2017

Suicides drop in Summit County — Is Altitude a Factor in Suicide Rates?

Summit Daily reports that suicides in the mountain county are on the decline this year after a spike upward last year:


Four people have died of suicide this year in Summit County, a sobering statistic but still a welcome improvement from the double-digit numbers that have marked past years. If the trend continues, 2017 could have the lowest number of suicide deaths in a decade.The major reduction comes on the heels of a concerted push by advocacy groups and local officials to combat mental illness and break down barriers to care. And while it's difficult to draw a causal link with such a small sample size, the numbers indicate Summit is moving in the right direction. 
"I would say one suicide is too many, but any reduction in the number feels like a win," assistant Summit County manager and former Summit Community Care Clinic CEO Sarah Vaine said. 
There were 13 suicide deaths in 2016, the highest number on record, eight in 2015 and 10 in 2014. The most recent year with fewer than four deaths was 2007, according to coroner's office statistics.
This is good news to be sure, although when dealing with such a small population, huge swings can occur in events like suicides, without it indicating any sort of established trend. It may be that last year was the anomaly, and that there was never any growing trend of suicides to begin with. We'll need more time to know. 

Given that Summit County is a high-altitude county, this discussion is an interesting reminder that high altitude has been connected to suicides in at least one study. Writing in the journal High Altitude Medicine and Biology in 2011, Barry Brenner, David Cheng, Sunday Clark, and Carlos A. Camargo, Jr. concluded there really is a correlation: 
Recent preliminary studies have reported a positive correlation between mean altitude and the suicide rate of the 48 contiguous U.S.states. Because intrastate altitude may have large variation, we examined all 2584 U.S. counties to evaluate whether an independent relationship between altitude and suicide exists. We hypothesized that counties at higher elevation would have higher suicide rates. This retrospective study examines 20 yr of county-specific mortality data from 1979 to 1998... 
Controlling for percent of age >50 yr, percent male, percent white, median household income, and population density of each county, the higher-altitude counties had significantly higher suicide rates than the lower-altitude counties. Similar findings were observed for both firearm-related suicides (59% of suicides) and nonfirearm-related suicides. We conclude that altitude may be a novel risk factor for suicide in the contiguous United States.
In recent numbers for the state of Colorado overall (February 2017), Denver showed up with the lowest suicide rate among counties at 13.9, while mountain counties had some of the highest rates, including Gilpin (37.8), Clear Creek (37.8), Park (37.8) and Teller (37.8) counties. Among large counties, Pueblo county had the highest rate at 28.5. (All rates are total suicides per 100,000 people.)

Unfortunately, since these are such small counties, population-wise, the statewide report notes  "there is no significant statistical difference between the rate for this region and all other regions with the exception of Denver County."
Even if there is a clear correlation here, the implications for public policy are few, except that local healthcare workers ought to be aware of risk factors. The possible correlation here is interesting, nonetheless, and possibly of use when other alleged causes of suicide are put forward. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Releases of deeds of trust in Colorado metros fall to 12-month low in June

A deed of trust is "released" when a home loan is paid off. This event is recorded by the public trustee in each county in Colorado.

Trends in public trustees tell us about how much activity there is in terms of home loan refinances and home sales. In many ways, activity in releases of deeds of trust are an indicator of demand for real estate purchases in Colorado, and historically, we have seen more release activity during times of economic boom. 

Activity Through June of This Yea

In June 2017, we found that releases had fallen to a 12-month low in the 11 largest counties in Colorado, plus Broomfield County. These counties include more than 90 percent of the population of Colorado. 

In June, releases totaled 23,422. That's the lowest total since June 2016 when releases totaled 23,265. June 2017's total up down slightly from the same month a year earlier, rising 0.7 percent from June 2016's total of 23,265.



Looking at counties, individually, we find that year-over-year, the counties with the largest drops were Adams, Broomfield, and Boulder counties. The largest increases were found in Weld and Denver counties. 



Although June's total is clearly down significantly from December 2016's peak, overall activity continues to be generally robust as demand for housing and homes for purchase remains strong. Thanks to low interest rates and rising home prices, it remains relatively easy to obtain refinances for current mortgages, and home continue to sell quickly, with the possible exception of high-end homes. 

All of these factors continue to put upward pressure on release activity. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Housing permits in Metro Denver up 18 percent in 2016

Housing permits in the Denver metro area increased 18 percent from 2015 to 2016, rising from 1,462 to 1,732 permits. As we can see in the first graph, this brings total permit activity back to levels similar to those found in 2004 and 2005, and well above what we saw during the recessionary period of 2008 and 2009:


As demand for both apartments and for-sale housing grew after 2009, we saw gradual increases in permit activity, and the permit total is now at a 14-year high. Permit totals have not been this high since 2002 when they reached 1,770. 

The composition of the permit total is very different today from what it was prior to 2007, however. As we see in the next graph, prior to 2007, the total number of single-family permits greatly outnumbered the number of multifamily permits. Since 2011, single-family and multifamily permits have been rather similar, with multifamily permits even exceeding single-family permits in 2012 and 2013. 

We can contrast this to the situation before 2007 when the very large numbers of new single-family permits from 1998 to 2005 were a factor in what became sizable declines in home prices from 2008 to 2010 that only made a quick turnaround on the back of massive federal monetary and fiscal stimulus in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Since then, the single-family market has remained well below its former peaks even though population growth continues as a sizable rate in Colorado. 

Much of this single-family activity has now been replaced by multifamily production. In fact, over the past five years, nearly half of new permits have been for multifamily housing, which is highly unusual:


Moreover, we see this show up in the homeownership numbers in Colorado. due in part to the boom in apartment building that has taken place since 2012, homeownership has gone into decline over the past decade. 

While homebuilders were quickly adding new supply, we saw the homeownership rate sit as historic highs above 70 percent. . 



Now, the housing focus has shifted more in the direction of multifamily, but overall permitting has  rebounded to 80 percent of where it was at the 2001 peak. Nevertheless, continuing growth in both home prices and rents suggests that there is still room for more housing production. 

Foreclosures in Colorado's metro counties fell 6.9 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Foreclosure activity continued to fall in 2016 in Colorado's 12 metropolitan counties. In Colorado's 11 most populous counties plus Broomfield County,  new foreclosure filings were down 6.9 percent while foreclosure sales at auction — the point at which the foreclosing property is auctioned off to the bank or other buyer — were down 26.5 percent. The first chart shows all counties measured, and the year over year change from 2015 to 2016:


Except for Mesa and Denver counties, foreclosure filings fell in all counties. And, when it came to foreclosure sales at auction — the final and most serious phase of foreclosure — only Mesa county reported an increase from 2015 to 2016.

Annual foreclosure totals in these counties have fallen off significantly in recent years:

If we look at monthly totals, we see a similar trend — with foreclosure activity falling to some of the lowest levels we've seen since I began tracking monthly numbers in 2008. The first graph shows just how far totals have fallen since they peaked in 2008 and 2009. In December, we can see that new foreclosure filings ticked up slightly, while sales totals remained near all-time lows:

For all counties combined, filings were down in December 2016 by 17.4 percent, year over year, while sales at auction were down 29.2 percent. 

Here are filings: 

 And here are sales totals:

Only Mesa and Broomfield Counties reported increases in filings (the Broomfield numbers were tiny overall), while only Adams, Boulder, and Pueblo counties reported increases in sales. In general however, it's safe to say that foreclosures in the state continue to be at at least ten-year lows.  

As a final note, we can see which counties have the most or fewest foreclosures in relation to the number of households overall. The following chart shows the foreclosure rate given as the number of foreclosure sales adjusted for the number of households in each county (based on 2015 household totals): 



By this measure — in which a higher number indicates fewer foreclosures per person — we see that with zero foreclosure sales, Broomfield has the lowest rate, but Douglas County also shows a very foreclosure rate compared to other counties, with more than 57,000 households per foreclosure sale. Pueblo and Mesa counties — as has been the case for several years — show some of the highest foreclosure rates with Mesa showing just over 2,300 households per foreclosure sale. 

Generally, higher income areas with more demand for real estate tend to show lower foreclosure rates while areas with lower incomes tend to have higher foreclosure rates. 

This data is just the latest confirmation that demand for real estate in Colorado continues to be strong. In an environment such as we have today, even a household that goes into foreclosure can usually find a buyer before the property enters the foreclosure process. Thus, high demand for homes leads to few foreclosures, even as some households become delinquent on their loans.  

Note on the data: all foreclosure numbers are collected from the public trustee in each county measured.

Rent growth in Metro Denver falls to 4-year low in 4th quarter of 2016

According to the latest data from the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, the average rent in Metro Denver during the fourth quarter of 2016 was $1,347, which was down from the third quarter average rent of $1,368.

The fourth quarter's average rent was up from the fourth quarter of 2015 with the average rent rising 4.2 percent from $1,292.

With a year-over-year increase of 4.2 percent, however, average rent came in at the smallest year-over-year increase since the first quarter of 2013, when the average rent grew 4.1 percent:


Rent growth has been falling for the past six quarters after reaching a record high of 13.2 percent during the second quarter of 2015.

The average rent has also fallen, quarter over quarter, for the past two quarters. After hitting $1,371 in the second quarter of this year, the average rent fell to $1,368 during the third quarter and then to $1,347 during the fourth quarter:

If we adjust for inflation, we see a similar trend, although we can note that in real terms, the average rent fell between 2001 and about 2011:


Flattening rents are likely a result of substantial increases in new housing construction that took place in metro Denver since 2012. In October 2016, for example, new housing permits reached the highest level recorded since 2001. 

Not surprisingly, we also find that vacancy rates have increased as well. During the fourth quarter, the metro Denver' vacancy rate rose to 6.2 percent, which was up from the 3rd quarter rate of 5.1 percent. 2016's fourth quarter rate was down, however, from the vacancy one year earlier. The vacancy rate had surged to 6.8 percent during the fourth quarter of 2015, but fell again during the first quarter of 2016. Nevertheless, 2016's fourth-quarter rate of 6.1 percent is the second-highest vacancy rate recorded since 2010. 
All of this points toward some stabilization in the market, although there is still little to indicate that we're entering a bearish market in multifamily housing, barring a sizable economic shock to employment or incomes.

Home-loan payoffs in Colorado increase in 2016 after fourth-quarter surge

In Colorado, a release of a deed of trust occurs when a real estate loan is paid off whether through refinance, sale of property, or because the owner has made the final payment on the loan. Increases in release activity occur as refinance and home-sale activity increases, and rising release totals generally indicate increases in the demand for home loans and real estate.

Every quarter, I monitor release activity in 21 counties based on population size and to ensure that as many regions of the state as possible are represented. More than 90 percent of all occupied households in Colorado are within the twenty-one counties chosen:


The number of home loans paid off in Colorado was up 14.4 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015 to the fourth quarter of 2016. Comparing the full year of 2016 to 2015, the total was up 2.8 percent. 

Looking at all counties' measures, we find that during the fourth quarter of 2016, most areas reported increases in releases of deeds of trust: 


Year over year, the largest increase was in La Plata County and the largest decline was in Alamosa County.

Taking the year as a whole, the changes were less dramatic: 


Statewide, releases were up 2.8 percent for the year overall. Again, La Plata County showed the largest increase, but Eagle County, in this case, shows the largest decline. 

The fourth quarter of 2016 showed a sizable surge in release activity as can be seen in the first graph: 


For the fourth quarter of 2016, there were 93,147 releases, which makes the quarter the second-highest in releases since I began tracking the quarterly totals in 2008. During the fourth quarter of 2015, there were 81,398 releases. Over the past two years, there has been a sizable trend upward in release activity. 

Although quarterly data only goes back to 2008, I do have annual data going back to 2000. Looking at annual data, we find that 2016 was not an especially remarkable year, in spite of the fourth quarter's surge: 


Releases did hit a 3-year high in 2016, but this was comparable to what we saw in 2012 and 2013. Totals remain well below where they were in the run-up to the housing bubble in 2002, 2003, and 2004. 

So where is release activity most concentrated? In raw numbers, we naturally expect the most activity in the most populous counties. However, when we adjust for the total number of households in each county, we find: 



In this case, a small number means more release activity given the population size. So, the county with the most release activity per household is Summit County with only 6 households per release. The least-active county is Alamosa County with 48 households per release. 

If we had to identify factors that lead to more release activity, we could likely point to median income and employment trends as factor, as well as overall demand for real estate in that area. There isn't a flawless correlation here, but counties like Douglas, Weld, and Jefferson continue to see fairly solid employment and income numbers while some counties at the bottom of the list — Pueblo and Alamosa Counties, for instance — tend to have lower incomes and/or less job growth. 

And finally, it's always helpful to compare release activity against trends in mortgage rates. Since refinance activity is a large factor in release activity, we find that, historically, falling interest rates have tended to spur more release activity.

This appears to still be the case, and we can see that in the quarters following declines in the mortgage rate, we see increasing release activity:


There is a lag here, so the 4th Q's surge represents the result of the overall decline in mortgage rates that occurred through most of 2016. Note also how in the quarters immediately following the increases in the mortgage rate in 2013, releases fell to a multi-year low. 

In late 2016, mortgage rates began to climb and remain above four percent during the first quarter of 2017. This is likely to lead to a leveling off in release activity, although this may not be apparent until after the first quarter this year. Moreover, a continuation of strong employment trends may mitigate interest-rate-based downward pressure on home sales and refi activity — and prevent sizable declines in release activity as well. 

Note on sources: all release activity is collected from the public trustee in each state listed. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Snowpack is above average, but eastern Colorado experiencing drought conditions

You'd have to be no paying attention at all to not have noticed that California has experienced an amazing turnaround in its drought conditions.

According to the national drought monitor, as recently as November 2015, the California drought map looked like this:



Now, after months of well-above-average precipitation, the California drought map looks like this:



Colorado's turnaround was not so abrupt, and went from severe drought in 2013, then to virtually no drought at all in 2016. Here's 2013:



And here's May 2016:


Over the past several months, however, the Front Range has begun to see dry conditions again. Here's the current week:

This will lead to concerns over wildfire conditions, although fortunately, precipitation in the mountains has been high enough that water supply-concerns do not appear to be substantial at this time. If we look at recent data on snowpack, we find that while Colorado started out very slowly this season, it is now well above where we've seen it in recent years.  The black line is 2017 and the red line is the average:


And, even the second-most pessimistic forecast shows total snowpack coming at at slightly above the median measure for the year:


The water supply is increasingly important in terms of residential use, although agriculture uses over 90 percent of the state's water while producing a mere one percent of the state's production and less than two percent of the state's jobs. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Vacancy rate in metro Denver falls to 1-year low of 5.1 percent

In yesterday's post, we looked at apartment rent growth in the metro Denver area, and we noted that rent growth, even though it's been lessening in recent quarters, has been quite strong over the past two years.

Not surprisingly then, we find that apartment vacancies have been relatively low. During the third quarter, metro Denver's vacancy rate was 5.1 percent. That's down from the second quarter rate of 5.4 percent in the second quarter, but it's up slightly from last year's third quarter when the vacancy rate was 5.0 percent:


The metro-wide vacancy rate is at a one-year low, but remains higher than during most of what we saw during 2012 and 2013 when population growth was strong, and new housing units were not being produced in the larger numbers that are being produced now. 

Traditionally, a vacancy rate of five percent has been called an "equilibrium" rate site it tends to imply neither a tight market, nor a market with excess supply. As an example of a tight market, we might look to the vacancy rates during the 1990s when vacancy rates frequently fell to levels near four percent (or even below). 

With a vacancy rate of five percent, we're likely seeing a reflection of the overall economy in which job growth is solid, and so is new construction in housing. The new construction means that, even with new job growth, demand is not driving vacancy rates down to historic lows as they did in the 90s. 

Indeed, one of the larger drivers of the vacancy rate has long been employment.  In the second graph we can see how the vacancy rate frequently moved along with the unemployment rate over the past 25 years. when the unemployment rate is low, vacancies tend to be low. When unemployment is high, the vacancy rate tends to be high.  In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and recession however, we saw that the market tightened even as the unemployment rate increased. This was likely due partially to the accompanying foreclosure crisis which drove many former homeowners into rental units. It was also likely due to the crash in housing-unit production that followed the 2008 financial crisis. Today, however, it is likely that we will see the two variables track more closely as housing-production levels return to more normal levels in the absence of large numbers of foreclosures. 




Saturday, January 7, 2017

Metro Denver rent growth falls to 3-year low in third quarter

According to new data from the Metro Denver Apartment Association, the average rent in the metro Denver area grew 5.9 percent from the third quarter of 2015 to the third quarter of 2016. That's the smallest year-over-year gain in the average rent since the second quarter of 2013.
The year-over-year growth rate has also been falling for the past five quarters. Year-over-year rent growth had reached an all-time high of 13.2 percent during the second quarter of 2015. Since then, the growth rate has gotten smaller each quarter, and as of the third quarter is now at a level not seen since the second quarter of 2013 when the year-over-year growth rate was 4.3 percent:

In the first graph, we see that rent growth had reached all-time highs last year, but things have since tapered off (the graph shows percentages):

At 5.9 percent, the growth rate for this year's third quarter is at a level that would have been considered very run-of-the-mill throughout the 1990s. Considering that new housing permits reached a 15-year high in metro Denver during October 2016, it may be that the period of surging rents in metro Denver is over for now. 

In the second graph, we see rent growth in non-inflation adjusted dollars over the past 35 years (the graph shows dollars): 
Although rent increases have been getting smaller, they do remain in positive territory, so we do see that the overall trend has certainly been upward. 

During the third quarter of 2016, the average rent in metro Denver was 1,358 dollars, which was up 5.9 percent from the third quarter of last year (when the average rent was $1,291), and down 0.2 percent from the second quarter (with an average rent of $1,371). It is very unusual, however, for the average rent to fall from the second quarter to the third quarter, further suggesting that the apartment market really is softening. 

Inflation-Adjusted Rents 

It is always a good idea to look at rental rates with an eye on the inflation-rate as well. In recent years, rent growth has generally outpaced the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and we see that is still the case as of the third quarter. (The CPI was up only 1.1 percent, year-over-year for the third quarter). However, we can see that rent growth, when we take inflation into account is less than it is in nominal terms. Adjusted for inflation, the average rent in metro Denver looks like this: 

As the CPI has been growing very slowly in recent years, we find little difference in the recent trend between the nominal numbers and the inflation-adjusted numbers. What's different in this case is the fact that rents can go down for years at a time  in real terms — as happened from 2001 to 2012. That has not the been the case since 2012, however, and even when adjusted for inflation, we find that rent growth has been substantial in recent years. However, as is the case with the nominal rents, the rate of year-over-year growth in rents has been falling for the past five quarters. 

The takeaway here is that rent growth continues to be positive, but the trend suggests we're already moving beyond last year's record-level rent growth and may very well be moving into a period of more moderate rent growth, especially in light of increased activity in single-family and multi-family construction.