Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Average rent in metro Denver hits new high as vacancies remain low

To the surprise of very few, the Denver Post reported last month that the average rent in metro Denver continues to rise. According to the Metro Denver Apartment Vacancy and Rent Survey, the average rent during the second quarter of 2016 was $1,371, which was up from teh first quarter's average rent of 1,315. The second quarter rent marks a new all-time high:

The increases in rental rates reflects ongoing low vacancy rates in the region. For the second quarter, the apartment vacancy rate in Metro Denver was 5.4 percent, which was down from the first quarter rate of 6.1 percent. During the second quarter 2015, the vacancy rate was 4.5 percent. Overall, we can see that, excluding a surge in vacancies during the fourth quarter of last year, the vacancy rate in metro Denver remains low, although not as low as what we frequently saw during the 1990s:

As the economy has slowly expanded in the wake of the 2007-2009 recession, apartment vacancies have tightened, and reached especially low levels in 2014. The market has loosened a bit since then, but vacancies remains generally low.

With the second quarter's all-time high of 1,371, the average rent is up 8.3 percent over the average rent a year earlier. The average rent was 1,254 during the second quarter of 2015.

While an increase in the average rent of 8.3 percent is substantial, it nevertheless shows a declining trend on rent growth. Rent growth peaked at an all-time high of 13.2 percent during the second quarter last year. Since then, the rent growth rate has fallen in each quarter. In other words, rents are growing, but the pace at which they are growing is slowing.
The boom in apartment rents is still going. Just not as strong as was the case in the previous two years. 

Adjusting for Inflation 

When looking at rents over time, it's always important to consider rents compared to the Consumer Price Index. While the graph (above) of nominal rents shows unabated growth since 2000, we see a different trend when adjusting for inflation. 

In inflation-adjusted terms, the average rent declined from 2001 to 2010. Only after 2010 did the average rent reach its former peak reached in 2001. Since 2010 though, the average rent has repeatedly been reaching new highs, even after adjusting for inflation. 

during 2001, the high was $1,108 in 2015 dollars. In recent quarter, that rate has been repeatedly topped, with 2016's second quarter rent coming in at 1,358 in 2015 dollars:

Year-over-year growth in inflation-adjusted rent is similar to that seen in the nominal rents. Over the past year, rent growth has been large, but has been gradually getting smaller. During the second quarter of this year, the inflation-adjusted average rent grew 7.1 percent, which is down from the second-quarter 2015 rate of 13.2 percent:

For now continued population growth and a generally solid economy continues to fuel demand for housing, and especially rentals. (See my recent article on the homeownership rate.) Neither the national economy nor the local economy are especially robust when compared to previous expansions, but as long as the Colorado economy is performing at least as well as the country overall, it looks like there will be ongoing demand for a place to live in Colorado.

Colorado homeownership rate falls to lowest point since 1994

Americans have long regarded owning a home to be largely synonymous with the so-called "American dream." High homeownership rates are not necessarily synonymous with a high-income prosperous society. Switzerland and Germany, for example, have homeownership rates well below that usually found in the US.

Nevertheless, the US government has long made increasing homeownership an important policy goal, and this has led to a number of large and costly programs and institutions including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, FHA, and a plethora of federal regulations surrounding mortgage lending and banking.

Things haven't quite gone as planned.

The most recent quarterly data from the Us Census Bureau shows that the homeownership rate in the United States has fallen to a 51-year low.  as of the second quarter of 2016.

As of the second quarter of 2016, the homeownership rate in the United States was, according to the Bureau, 62.9 percent. That's exactly equal to the rate recorded during the third quarter of 1965 — 51 years ago:

The homeownership rate has been declining since 2004 when it peaked at 69.2 percent. The rate has gone into virtual free-fall over the past two years, however, as home prices have continued to rise and incomes have not kept up.

In Colorado, the trend has been somewhat similar in recent years, although the homeownership rate here is only at a 21-year low.

The Census Bureau only publishes annual data on Colorado-specific homeownership rates, but using annual data, we find that 2015's homeownership rate is the lowest recorded since 1994.

In 2015, the homeownership rate in Colorado was 63. 6 percent, and it hasn't been that low since it was 62.9 percent in 1994:

Colorado's economy was in a recession for much of the 1980s, so we find that the homeownership rate hit a multi-year low in 1989 (58.6 percent) and gradually increased until hitting in 2003 what was likely the highest level ever achieved since white men started building houses in Colorado. Since 2003, though, when the rate was 71.3 percent, the rate has fallen nearly nonstop.

This is likely due to several factors, although the big ones are likely rising housing costs and stagnant household incomes.

In this post, I looked at household incomes in Colorado and found that incomes have remained largely flat over the past decade.

Meanwhile, as most everyone on the Front Range knows, housing prices have moved upward, with the Case-Shiller home price index increasing around 10 percent, year over year, in most months in recent years.

In other words, household incomes do not appear to be keeping up with home prices, and it stands to reason that is pushing down the homeownership rate. That's not the only reason that homeownership is declining, of course. There could be other factors such as demographic shifts, including more young people choosing to marry later and have children later, which can lead to less demand for a for-purchase home.

Affordability does look to be a real issue, however, and if potential buyers must turn to renting a home (although that is an expensive alternative) this pushes down the homeownership rate.

One should use caution in using homeownership as a proxy measure of economic prosperity, although in the past the homeownership rate has often tracked with general economic conditions, as was the case in the 1980s.

Whatever the cause, the latest data does suggest that both the national and local economies are moving more toward a rental-housing focused real estate economy, it this does not look like it will reverse itself unless real incomes begin to gain more steam or more home construction begins to ramp up.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

10 Things You Didn't Know About Colorado's Early Constitution

This week marks the 140th anniversary of Colorado statehood. That means the constitution of Colorado took effect 140 years ago this week, on August 1, 1876.

The state constitution has been amended many times since it was first adopted, but a look at the original constitution provides some interesting insights into the historical and political context of the time during which Colorado became a state.

Here are a few of them:

1. The government of Colorado was tri-lingual at first. The constitution states:
The General Assembly shall provide for the publication of the laws passed at each session thereof; and, until the year 1900 they shall be caused to publish in Spanish and German, a sufficient number of copies of said laws to supply that portion of the inhabitants of the State who speak those languages, and who may be unable to read and to understand the English language. 
This provision is likely due to the influence of Casimiro Barela, a Mexican-born Coloradan from Trinidad who served in the Colorado Senate for 37 years after being a territorial representative and participating in the state's constitutional convention. Barela was known for being a spokesman for the Hispanic population of Mexico and for being mindful of the state's ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Spanish, of course, was commonly spoken throughout southern Colorado where the Arkansas River had marked the international border with Mexico until 1848. Traders and merchants in Southern Colorado at the time, such as the Bent family, tended to be bilingual in English and Spanish.

Moreover, in the late 19th century, the German language was commonly spoken throughout the United States and may have been the most-spoken language behind English. The language went into decline during World War One as American nationalists began to persecute German-Americans and forced the closure of some of the nation's numerous German-language schools.

2. Judges on the Supreme Court were elected and served fixed terms. Supreme Court judges today are appointed and subject only to removal through retention elections. At first, however, the Supreme Court was an elected body of three judges. Judges served nine-year terms. An amendment was adopted in 1966 mandating that the governor appoint justices instead.

3. The Governor of Colorado served a two-year term. As with many states in the United States, the governor of Colorado used to serve a shorter two-year term. By the late 20th century, nearly all states had converted to four-year terms. An amendment was passed in 1956 in Colorado extending the term to four years.

4. The Constitution suggested that the General Assembly adopt laws allowing women's suffrage. The Constitution mandated universal suffrage for males over 21 years of age, but stipulated that the General Assembly at its first session "enact laws to extend the right of suffrage to women of legal age." Colorado would eventually extend suffrage to women in a state referendum in 1893. More than 25 years before the United States adopted women's suffrage at the national level.

5. Colorado practiced "declarant alien voting." During the 19th century, numerous states and territories granted the vote to immigrants who stated they intended to become US citizens. The Colorado text reads:

 [The voter] shall be a citizen of the United States, or not being a citizen of the United States, he shall have declared his intention, according to law, to become such citizen, not less than four months before he offers to vote.

Obtaining US citizenship at the time was far easier than it is today. Western states were most likely to extend voting rights to alien voters since frontier states were more interested in attracting new residents, and offering easy voting rights and citizenship was one way to attract new migrants.

6. The Colorado Bill of Rights is extensive and detailed. Article II of the constitution contains 28 sections, all of which are devoted to outlining the rights of Colorado citizens in a manner similar to the US Bill of Rights. The list of much longer and more detailed than the national list.

7. The constitution guaranteed private gun ownership, but frowned upon concealed weapons. The text reads:
The right of no person to keep and bear arms... shall be called into question; but nothing herein contained shall be construed to justify the practice of carrying concealed weapons.
Carrying a revolver in plain sight was apparently preferable at the time.

8. Slavery is specifically prohibited. Although the 13th amendment to the US constitution had already been passed a decade before, the Colorado constitution specifically states that "there shall never be in this State either slavery or involuntary servitude..."

9. The militia included most adult males. According to the constitution, "the militia of the State shall consist of all able-bodied male residents of the State, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years." This reflected 19th century ideas of national defense in which semi-independent state militias served as the bulk of the land-based military forces in the US. Indeed, militias functioned as independent entities, and prior to the militia act of 1903, state governments could intervene to prevent the President of the US from calling up troops from the state militias, as had been done in the past by Vermont, Connecticut, and Kentucky.

10. The legislature was smaller at first. The House had 49 members and the Senate had 26 members. The constitution stated, however, that the total number of members in the legislature "shall never exceed 100." Needless to say, each vote counted for much more in 1880 than it does today. In 1880, with 47 members of the house, each House district had only about 4,300 people. Today in Colorado, each House district contains over 77,000 people, on average.

Image by "Beverly and Pack"

Federal Reserve holds rates steady as national economy fails to impress

Last week, the Fed's Federal Open Market Committee announced it would leave the target Federal Funds Rate unchanged.

During 2014 and 2015, the Fed repeatedly hinted that it would raise rates "soon" and that it would return the target rate to more normal levels.

Throughout most of 2015, the Fed repeatedly put off increasing the target rate, and then, feeling pressured to actually take action after many months of claiming it would take action, the Fed raised the target rate from 0.25% to 0.5% in December of 2015.

Since then, though, after months of claiming that the economy was improving, the Fed has refused to raise the target rate any further. The Fed was apparently spooked by what many would consider to be a fragile economy, although FOMC statements continue to contain phrases like "growing," "moderate" "gains" and other language that would lead one to believe that the economy is stable and strong.

The reality, of course, is something different which is why the Fed kept the target rate at 0.25% for seven years, and why is refuses to move above 0.5% percent.

And lest we forget just how low 0.5% is, we should remember that as recently as 2007, the target rate was above 5%.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg asks the obvious question: Has the Fed become even more dovish?" 

The answer is yes, for two reasons. First, there is fear that there is a slowdown coming. But secondly, and more importantly, the Fed is extremely unlikely to raise the target rate right before a presidential election. 

For a longer historical view of the target rate, let's look at rates since 1992: 

Note that the seven-year stretch at 0.25% was unprecedented, and the current rate at 0.5% remains below anything seen over the past three decades.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Historical photos: formal photography of one's deceased relatives

The Victorians were known for taking photos of recently deceased relatives. Especially children. For a view of many of these, simply google "victorian photos of deceased children." The practice did not totally die out with the Victorians, though.

It persisted into the mid-twentieth century, especially among non-Anglo-Saxon and Catholic households with ties to cultures outside the US.

For example, my mother recently passed along to me a photo of her deceased brother Antonio who had died in the early 1940s in Los Angeles. In this case, the photo is quite "tame" by historical standards in that the deceased person is not propped up to look alive, as was the case in many Victorian photos. This is simply a photo of the child in his casket. Note the "Baby Galindo" on the blue ribbon at the center:

In the 1940s, the infant mortality rate was higher for Mexican-American families than it was for non-Hispanic whites, although families of all ethnicities commonly experienced the death of a very young family member. Many families were unfortunate enough to experience the death of a baby or toddler.

On my father's side of the family, for example, my father's brother Peter died as a toddler of pneumonia in 1951. However, by that time, few families continued the practice of photographing dead family members, especially among Anglo-Saxon Protestant types as was the case with his family.

As time went on, of course, infant mortality in the United States became more and more rare, to the point where many people born in the 1960s or later have no memory at all of young relatives dying to childhood diseases. Today, many would consider this practice to be macabre, although back in the 1940s — before the days of ubiquitous photography — a post mortem photograph might be the only photograph one had of one's deceased child.

Que en paz descanse.