5280: On any given night, ask your friends, colleagues, or neighbors what they’re doing and where they’re going, and chances are the word “Highlands” will be part of the answer. Maybe they’ll be dining on pork steamed bao at the hotter-than-hot Linger, or grabbing a Negroni at the hipper-than-hip Williams & Graham. Maybe they’ll be canoodling over glasses of Burgundy at Z Cuisine, or downing a burger and a pint of Odell’s Levity Amber Ale at Highland Tap and Burger. Or maybe they’ll be queuing up for a cold treat and a warm night at Little Man Ice Cream. What makes Highlands so hot? We polled some Denver real estate pros to determine the factors behind the boom, and in the coming pages we detail which neighborhoods have Highlands-type potential.
Location: The rehabilitation of LoDo in many ways led to the Highlands renaissance. The nationwide new urbanism trend has renewed the appeal of city living, and once Denver erected the Millennium, Platte River, and Highland bridges, the seamless pedestrian and bicycle link between northwest Denver and downtown made it that much easier to walk or bike to work or to LoDo restaurants and recreation. Other neighborhoods, regardless of their proximity to downtown, have followed suit by improving paths for biking and walking or by adding light rail lines to speed commutes and get people out of cars.
Mixing commercialand residential: The once-booming, later-dormant Highlands commercial areas have been revitalized over the past decade. It’s more than just the retail and restaurant hub at Highlands Square; the area is also bubbling over with mini-commercial districts such as 32nd Avenue and Zuni Street, along Tejon Street, and on Tennyson Street between 38th and 45th avenues—stretches with a few eateries or boutiques that break up the residential enclaves and bring in visitors from other parts of town.
Walkability: Even if you aren’t heading downtown or out to eat, Highlands itself has plenty of attractions for the everyday pedestrian, such as Sloan’s Lake to the west and the Platte River trails to the east. There are plenty of parks—a boon to the growing number of young families in the area—and they’re spread out enough that the nonparents aren’t constantly fighting stroller traffic like in more congested parts of the city. And between historic Victorians, well-kept bungalows, Denver Squares, and vibrant new construction, a walk in Highlands is like a self-guided architectural tour.
LOCATION: Areas with easy access to downtown, other neighborhoods, and freeways.
DOM (Days on Market): 86, Average Sale Price: $264,000, Price Change (Year over year from December 2010 to December 2011):+ 6 percent
Although Baker seems to have enough amenities to become the next Highlands—from nightlife and inventory to the preponderance of hipsters—it also has limitations such as small lots and occasionally sketchy blocks. “Baker’s a good example of what Highlands was like in 1995,” says Charles Roberts of Your Castle. “It’s wonderfully transitional, but you don’t want to end up in the wrong part of it.”
Ones to Watch
Capitol Hill—DOM 153, Average sale price $423,000, Price change - 2 percent
Curtis Park (Five points)—DOM 117, Average sale price $284,000, Price change 0 percent
MIX OF RETAIL/RESIDENTIAL: Areas that tastefully blend residential comfort with lively retail centers
DOM: 89, Average sale price: $292,000, Price change: + 6 percent
A neighborhood on the rise, thanks to the improving Tennyson Street Cultural District and its proximity to Highlands and freeways. “Tennyson Street gives residents more options than just one or two restaurants or coffee shops, and the area is trending along the lines of Highlands with a mix of new builds and fixer-uppers,” says Liz Richards of Kentwood City Properties.
Ones to Watch
Cherry Creek—DOM 120, Average sale price $814,000, Price change - 7 percent
Platt Park South—DOM 59, Average sale price $394,000, Price change + 5 percent
WALKABILITY:Areas with a variety of attractions within walking distance
DOM 94, Average sale price $432,000, Price change + 1 percent
This area is more than fulfilling its new-urbanist mission, with plenty of parks, an evolving commercial district, and a planned light- rail line. “Stapleton is one area where values have held up, and a lot of new residential and commercial development is going on,” says Lina Krylov of ERA Herman Group Real Estate.
Ones to Watch
Cherry Creek—DOM 120, Average sale price $814,000, Price change - 7 percent;
Downtown (CONDOS < $500,000)—DOM 87, Average sale price $274,800, Price change + 1 percent
SPREADING THE WEALTH:Areas whose attractiveness is helping surrounding neighborhoods grow and thrive.
WASHINGTON PARK EAST
DOM 110, Average sale price $597,000, Price change + 2 percent
This old standby remains as attractive as ever, and its desirability is helping sustain the tonier Belcaro and Cory-Merrill neighborhoods through a tough down period, while extending its reach to areas like University and Virginia Village. “In a neighborhood like Virginia Village, which is right near these areas, you can get a lower price for decent-size lots and a good location,” says Lane Hornung of 8z Real Estate.
Ones to Watch
City Park West—DOM 54, Average sale price $351,000, Price change + 34 percent
South Park Hill—DOM 76, Average sale price $442,000, Price change + 5 percent
5280 Q&A + 8 things potential buyers and sellers should be thinking about as they navigate the housing market now.
5280: Q: What is it about Denver’s real estate that makes things so much better than in the rest of the country?
A: There are a couple of things: In home-price metrics, Denver’s been in the top five, at least, for the last couple of years. A guy on CNBC just sent me something saying Denver is the place he’s telling investors and real estate pros to buy property. We have a migration happening, and it’s in the right demographics. We’re third in the country in migration, but in the key demo of 25- to 44-year-olds, we’re number one. Those people are moving here not necessarily for jobs, but for lifestyle and a better housing market. It’s relatively stable and healthy, and it doesn’t look skimpy to them. The markets on the coast are getting healthy enough to let people get out of them.
Q: How did the downturn affect people’s assumptions about home ownership?
A:You’d think that the dream of home ownership is dead, especially among the millennials. But survey after survey says the millennials want home ownership as much as any other generation. It’s smaller, smarter, not so much fix-and-flip, but they really want home ownership.
Q: But they’re going about it differently?
A: Right. It’s gotta be smart and well-researched. They’re way savvier, and they know the market. They’re really cautious, and rightly so, all the way through the transaction. What’s great about that is that they make great sellers later on, because they bought right. They’re not underwater, or in a bad house with a bad floor plan, or on a bad street.
1) Location & Size
What: Sure, you can get more for your money in the ’burbs, but do you really want to live there? Why: “There’s continued migration into the city, where people want pedestrian-friendly areas, don’t want to deal with commutes, and would rather have 1,600 square feet in a sensible, great location rather than 3,000 square feet farther out.” —Liz Richards, Kentwood City Properties
2) Upcoming Elections & Market Realities
What: Think the November elections will fundamentally change the housing market? Think again. Why: “We’ve run data during congressional and presidential election years, and an election year doesn’t change anything. Look at what’s actually happening in the market, not at this hocus-pocus stuff.” —Charles Roberts, Your Castle Real Estate
3) Denver & The Rest of the U.S.A.
What: National trends mean little in your own backyard, but there’s nothing wrong with hometown pride, and Denver is the envy of most other markets nationwide. Why: “Denver’s been in the top five, at least, for the past several years. It’s not great yet, but it’s not falling off a cliff like a lot of other markets.” —Lane Hornung, 8z Real Estate
4) Lifestyle & Quick Returns
What: The days of fix-and-flip are over for almost everyone but the fix-and-flip pros. And that’s all right. Why: “People have adjusted their paradigm and now realize that their house is more of a home than an investment. People want to be smart, but they’re buying it more for the emotional connection than because they think it’ll be worth more in a few years.” —Liz Richards
5) New Renters & Old Renters
What: Being a renter once pegged you as struggling, young, unreliable, and thus undesirable. No longer. Why: “My perception of today’s renters, especially in areas like Highlands, is that they’re affluent and high-end in ways that can only improve a neighborhood.” —Liz Richards
6) Affordability & Greenness
What: Sure, we want better windows and efficient water heaters; they just can’t be too exotic. Why: “People think things like solar are really neat, but they aren’t as willing to spend money on it because it takes so long to pay back the investment.” —Tarl Ford, Highland Renovations
7) Smart & Cheap
What: Just because you can afford a home doesn’t mean you should buy it. Why: “A sub-$275,000 market may not put you in a sexy neighborhood like Highlands, but more of a bread-and-butter kind of neighborhood. But this will be hard to find while we’re all waiting for the shadow inventory to be released.”—Lane Hornung
8) Fix it up & Move On Up
What: The credit crunch is motivating homeowners to go the renovation route because it’s easier to find money for incremental improvements. Why: “People are increasingly interested in investing in their homes; they’re willing to spend more [on a new kitchen or addition] because they’re in it for the long haul.” —Tarl Ford