This article is an opinion piece written by the editor of the Gunbarrel Gazette. It reflects his thoughts, opinions, and views at this moment in time and is not reflective of the opinions of those referenced.
If you’re a Gunbarrel resident, you’ve likely seen two things creep in over the last five years: A sea of new housing, and a flood of real estate alerts about the home price inflation in our area.
It’s long been true that Boulder is a sought-after city; the city’s schools, while not always nationally ranked, are solid institutions with a commitment to well-rounded curricula—and are often touted as respectable places to work. What’s more, the city is committed to environmental responsibility, and while there is always debate about best practices, commercial and residential development are paced by regulation and balance with open space preservation.
All of this can be counted as beneficial to the existing Boulder community, but it also means new homes are hard to come by. Sure, publications from Men’s Journal to Livability and ZoomTens have given us nods for infrastructure, community, and environment that make raising a family ideal. The city has even been praised for its work-life balance, a large draw for big tech companies like Google and Twitter that have lately set root in our town (alongside incentive programs that help, too). But that means more people and only a modest increase in the number of homes. Soaring demand plus low inventory equals astronomical prices.
Neil Kearney, a local real estate expert with decades of experience in the area, recently shared his “Kearney Report” for the third quarter of 2016. The takeaway was not surprising: “At the end of the second quarter, the Boulder County real estate market was ranked #1 in the nation for annual home appreciation,” the report reads. “It was a testament to the unrelenting demand, low inventory, and the pent up frustrations of buyers who had finally realized that the price they needed to offer didn’t have anything to do with what the last home in the neighborhood sold for.”
But, Kearney says, the recent explosive market growth in Boulder is slowing. Homes are on the market longer now than they were in June; buyer offers can be counted on a single hand instead of in the dozens; and, ultimately, there is no guarantee that a house will sell.
In fact, the report indicates that the only price points where sales increased in Boulder were $750,000 to above $1 million. Everything else fell off—not dramatically, but noticeably. And while it’s worth noting that the cycle of sales typically ebbs as winter approaches, this is still a striking figure.
Whatever seemed to be firing home sales in earlier quarters—and many point to the influx of large, money-lined tech companies—the concerns for existing homeowners is clear: Even if residents could sell their homes at 150-percent of the purchase price, upgrading to another home in Boulder is a financial challenge, if not an impossibility.
Is it any wonder that Twin Lakes development is such a hot-button issue? There are other concerns at play, of course, and GG has highlighted many of them, but Boulder is in an awkward space right now—and has been for some time. Residents want to maintain a city characterized as a happy blend of sleepy hamlet innocence and progressive, culture-rich dynamism. We want an unshakable infrastructure, but one that’s as simple and transparent as government will allow. We want the money brought in by high-powered companies of all stripes—and we want to be lusted after for our unique lifestyle and culture—but we don’t want to be another Silicon Valley. We also don’t want much of the residential development those companies demand. Companies are welcome; their employees can live outside the city.
There is undeniably a hard balance to be struck here. But what I see, above of all of this, is a splintering of Boulder by neighborhood and mission—fractured groups that have different visions for the city in which we all live. Are we favoring corporate growth that affords outsiders a financial advantage when shopping for homes? Are we inadvertently pushing longtime residents into peripheral cities and unincorporated Boulder County as a result? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the longterm growth of Boulder, as was recently revisited (briefly) for Gunbarrel.
I am a Boulderite, and I am proud we are the envy of cities and states across this great country. But we must turn inward, now, and be sure that what we see in our own communities is what we want—not some broad-stroke Arcadia that is touted as one of the best places to live in the U.S.
If, that is, you can afford it.