I knew it was coming.
My wife and I rent a small house in my landlord’s backyard, and I knew it was only a matter of time before they decided to sell the house we rent.
My snowbird landlord comes back to Colorado Springs for a few months when it’s warm. Unfortunately, they’ve been coming home to project after project. This year, a large tree in their backyard blew over and damaged property during a wind storm. Last year, their basement flooded with half a foot of water.
Sure enough, they came home this year and decided to sell their house. I don’t blame them. It’s a great time to sell your house in Colorado Springs.
But I won’t lie, I started to panic. While it’s a great time to sell your house in this market, it’s not so great to be looking for new housing.
What can we afford? Will we have to downsize or move to another city?
I’ve learned a lot about the housing market in Colorado Springs through this experience, so here are seven things you should know about buying a house in Colorado Springs:
1. Time is of the essence
Since we had a month-to-month lease, we only had about thirty days to go through the entire process—find a realtor, get prequalified, find the right house, go through the closing process, pack and move.
That’s not enough time. It can take a month to find something, let alone go through the month-long closing process.
If you have someone you can stay with until you find a place, that’s terrific. But if not, there aren’t many options to fill the gap between being displaced and finding a new place to call home.
And it’s hard to find something because the few houses listed for less than $300,000 are a hot commodity and only stay on the market for a few days (they’re usually listed Thursday night and sold by Monday morning). You have a small window of time to see the house, get your ducks in a row, and make a competitive bid on the property before a competitor swoops in and gives the seller an offer they can’t pass up.
2. There are few affordable options
As we started looking for a house, I couldn’t believe how expensive everything was. The median price for a house in Colorado Springs right now is just above $250,000. When I did a quick search on Realtor.com, there were barely fifty homes listed for $180,000 or less in Colorado Springs.
Houses that sold for about $180,000 just a couple years ago are now selling for a quarter of a million dollars. Prices are expected to rise at least another 5% by this time next year. That will bump the median cost of housing to almost $265,000 in Colorado Springs.
If interest rates remain the same, a household would have to bring in a gross income of about $62,000 to afford the median housing cost in this area next year. Considering that the median household income in Colorado Springs is only $56,000, it will be interesting to see what happens.
3. Help’s available if you have fair credit
Like most millennials, my wife and I didn’t have a lot of cash sitting in a savings account to help cover closing costs, a down payment and all the expenses involved with moving. Thankfully, there are county, state, and federal mortgage programs available for down payment and closing cost assistance.
But you need a credit score of 620 or higher to qualify for these programs and many of the grants they offer. The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) and El Paso County’s Turn-Key mortgage programs can really help if you don’t have the cash to cover the minimum 4% down payment for a conventional loan. Odds are you’ll also need extra cash to cover closing costs in this market.
4. Help’s available if you have bad credit
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provides home loans even if you have bad credit. There’s a catch, though: You need a 3.5% down payment if your credit score is at least 580 or 10% down if your credit score is lower.
So, you’ll need anywhere from $8,750 to $25,000 in cash to cover the down payment on a $250,000 home.
Short on cash? There’s still a chance you can buy a home. FHA loans allow borrowers to receive gifted money to cover the down-payment. So, if you have good relationships with family, friends or a church, doors open that would otherwise be shut.
But if you have bad credit and no one’s willing to gift you nearly $9,000, you may have to find someplace to rent (more on that later).
5. Good offers aren’t always the best offers
Finding the right house for your family takes time. And just when you think you’ve found the one, don’t be surprised if the seller doesn’t accept your offer. In fact, it might happen more than once.
The first house we found, we offered up to $10,000 above the listed price of the home. Didn’t get it.
A week later, we made an offer on a one-bedroom house that was sitting on the market for a month. We offered their asking price. Out of nowhere, another buyer offered a better price and our house search continued.
After almost a month of searching, we bent over backward making an offer on a third house before we were finally under contract.
6. The best offers are going to cost you time and money
You wouldn’t believe the offer we had to make to finally win the bidding war that takes place on homes for sale in Colorado Springs:
- We offered $11,000 over the listed price
- We covered all closing costs
- We let the seller stay in the house for 30 days after closing without paying rent
Right now, the sellers say, “Jump!” and the buyers reply, “How high?”
There are too many buyers and too few affordable houses available. So, sellers receive multiple good offers on their house and you have to make competitive offers to be the best.
U.S. News and World Report ranks Colorado Springs as the 11th best place to live in the U.S. and the second most desirable city to live (Honolulu was ranked first, of course). Therefore, locals looking for affordable housing have a ton of national competition, not to mention the droves of competition from people who can’t find affordable housing in America’s second-best place to live, Denver.
7. Renting isn’t necessarily more affordable
The average rental rate in Colorado Springs right now is about $1,100 and the median rental rate is about $1,500. Renting was once a more affordable alternative to buying, but as you can see, rental rates are almost the same as a typical mortgage payment on a $250,000 house.
According to the Gazette, “Many apartments being built are demand driven, amenity-filled projects that command top dollar, which contributes to higher rents.”
It’s estimated that the vacancy rate in Colorado Springs right now is about 5%. So, for every hundred apartments, there are only five vacant and available—if you can afford them.
And the city’s supply of affordable rentals is low. The Apartment Association of Southern Colorado’s executive director, Laura Nelson, explains:
While the city wants more affordable housing, every time somebody goes to build one, the neighborhoods come out and have a big fit. Everybody wants it, but they don’t want it in their neighborhood.
Lack of affordable housing causes homelessness
As I went through the process of finding a new place to call home, it didn’t take long to see how quickly you could find yourself homeless in this market.
I’ve heard multiple stories about families that listed their house, taking advantage of the market, but then they couldn’t find a new place before closing. They had to put everything in storage and move in with friends or family for a few months until they found something.
Thankfully, my landlord changed their closing date to October, otherwise, my wife and I would have been in the same boat.
The Gazette reports that “Rents now have set record highs for eight consecutive quarters and have increased for 29 straight quarters on a year-over-year basis.” Housing and rental prices are only going up, and there’s no sign of stopping.
Life can change in the blink of an eye, and you never know when you’ll have to look for a new place to live. Losing a job, a spouse, or having deteriorating health can result in needing to find a new housing situation. Being evicted, having your rental sold out from underneath you, or not being able to afford the new rates can spell disaster.
When you lose your housing and you can’t find something else affordable, you don’t have a lot of options. And unless you have the resources and relationships available to buy some time, you can easily slip into homelessness.
And this market makes it almost impossible for homeless people to find affordable housing so they can get back on their feet. Vouchers for housing are available, but there aren’t enough units available for those vouchers. There are long waiting lists and small lotteries.
The housing and rental market in Colorado Springs has very few affordable options. Even buyers that can afford this market are having a hard time finding something in a timely manner. A seller’s market is bad news for a buyer. It’s really bad news for a buyer with minimal resources.
It can be difficult to find a good apartment or home for your family when you can’t afford to make the competitive offers the current market requires. When time is of the essence to find new housing after an unexpected life event, becoming homeless isn’t a far-fetched possibility.
Learn more about how you can get involved and help your homeless neighbors find housing. If you need help finding housing or if you are experiencing homelessness and need shelter, learn more about Springs Rescue Mission’s programs.