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The Denver housing market: All better now?

This week, we learned that in August, home prices in the Denver area rose for the sixth straight month, and the average was down just 1.9 percent from the same month last year. Given that catastrophes in the housing sector are largely responsible for our long-running recession, do the August digits mark a return to normalcy? Mark Trenka, president of the Denver Board of Realtors, doesn't try to sell this line -- but he suggests that things are finally starting to even out.

"I guess the word I use right now is 'stable,'" he says. "We're not seeing the kinds of things people are seeing in Las Vegas and California and Arizona. But the story's different for different neighborhoods. Some are doing extremely well, others are flat, and some aren't doing well at all."

The problem with using Denver as a bellwether for housing nationwide is that "we didn't have a big run-up of prices between 2001 and 2008 -- and so, consequently, we're not susceptible to the big run-down we've seen in other parts of the country," Trenka believes. "I think Denver's remained an affordable place to live through this whole ten-year period."

That doesn't mean houses in all price ranges are being snapped up, however.

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"The $250,000 or under market is extremely healthy," he points out. "There's a lot of activity and a lot of buyers looking at the $8,000 tax credit that's available to them [through November]. You're actually seeing things at one price being bid up to another, which was unknown two years ago. And if we move up one tier, to houses that are between $250,000 and $400,000, or even $450,000, that's extremely stable. But when you get up over $500,000, there don't seem to be as many buyers out there looking at those. We're seeing more buyers who are bargain hunters. They're looking for the deal."

They're also looking at attractive neighborhoods where the homes are selling at below-market prices. As examples, Trenka cites the Hunters Hill area of Centennial, where most houses are in the $350,000-$400,000 range, and much of Parker, where prices have held up well "with the exception of distressed properties -- short sales and foreclosures." As for what's doing less well, he mentions the 80202 zip code downtown, where inventories remain too high, deflating prices.

Maybe it's our fault. After all, Westword's zip code is 80203. For the most part, though, Trenka believes that "Denver's in a good spot" right now. Which doesn't necessarily mean that happy times are here again -- but real-estate-wise, they've been a helluva lot worse.

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