Why Colorado Is One of the Worst States for First-Time Home Buyers

Why Colorado Is One of the Worst States for First-Time Home Buyers
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The Denver-area housing market remains so hot that bidding wars and above-list sales have become commonplace — and not just here, but in other parts of the state, too. These factors and others help explain why a recent survey deemed Colorado to be among the worst places in the country for first-time home buyers.

The ranking places Colorado in the ten worst states for those just venturing into the housing market. The complete roster is on view below, and as pointed out by Bankrate data analyst Claes Bell, each entry was judged on five major criteria: housing affordability, the job market for young adults, housing market tightness, credit availability and home ownership by individuals age 35 and under.

The first of these elements was huge in Colorado, Bell says: "Affordability is an issue. If you look at the percentage of household income for those 25 to 44, folks in Colorado will be paying a higher percentage than in a lot of other states."

Likewise, Bell goes on, "market tightness is the other big issue in Colorado. There's just not a large percentage of homes for sale compared to other states, based on census data, and it doesn't look like the situation is going to improve" in the immediate future.

Why not? "It appears that the number of households is growing much faster than the amount of housing stock," Bell replies. "A lot of people are moving into the state, and the number of new homes at this point isn't keeping up with that."

As the many construction projects currently under way in Denver demonstrate, plenty of developers are attempting to address this situation — but Bell sounds a note of caution.

"There's always a risk of overbuilding," he allows. "We saw this in the housing crisis, where a lot of builders became overextended, seriously strapped and, in some cases, not able to complete projects."

click to enlarge An image from our recent slideshow "Real Estate Porn: Inside Ten Recently Sold Homes in the Denver Metro." - SCOUT REAL ESTATE GROUP
Scout Real Estate Group
Bell doesn't think "builders are anywhere near that" in Colorado at present — but many appear to be focusing on the sort of projects that may be out of reach for novice home buyers.

"In a lot of areas, starter homes aren't being built at the same rate as higher-end housing, and a lot of builders are concentrating on the top of the market instead of entry-level homes a lot of first-time home buyers are looking for," he says, adding that this scenario "is part of a national trend." The simple reason: Costly homes are typically more profitable than modestly priced ones.

Colorado's fiery economy is helping to inspire plenty of people to come here, and Bell doesn't see a reversal on the horizon. "One of the indicators we used for this survey is the unemployment rate for those aged 25 to 34, and in Colorado, that number is below the average for other states. So it appears that the state has had strong job growth, and there's no reason at this point to believe that's going to change."

On top of that, Bell maintains, "high housing costs tend to bleed over into other areas of the economy, including rent prices. You'd expect that rents would be high, and that represents an additional obstacle to first-time buyers, because that makes it harder for them to save for a down payment. So it's a catch-22. It's an expensive rental market, and the high rents themselves keep people in the high-rental market longer."

Nevertheless, Bell sees the flow of people relocating in Colorado continuing.

"You would think that people would look at high housing costs and think twice about moving to a place," he acknowledges. "But that hasn't happened in San Francisco and some of these other super-high-priced markets. It may be that housing starts will catch up with demand, or demand for housing falls a little bit and the market turns around. But I don't think that high housing costs are going to be a huge deterrent for people. They haven't been in other places with much worse affordability issues than Colorado."

Keep reading to see the complete list of the best and worst states for first-time home buyers.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts