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Houses and trash bins are seen in Denver’s Sloan Lake neighborhood on July 14, 2022. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

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Back in 2015, the median sales price for a house in Colorado was $285,000, according to data from the Colorado Association of Realtors. Between January and September, the median price averaged $575,000. 

Housing prices are already much higher now than they were seven years ago, but combine that with today’s higher mortgage interest rates (7.1% for a 30-year fixed loan, as of Friday’s Mortgage News Daily calculation versus just under 4% in 2015) plus consumer incomes that haven’t kept up with inflation or home prices, and 2015 was a pretty sweet year to buy a house, according to the CSU’s Colorado Futures Center.

Getting back to that affordability would require an average 32% drop in housing prices to get the same share of housing stock to a price that is affordable to the median family income. And that housing price adjustment differs by county, with the value at one end needing to drop about 15% in Huerfano County but closer to 60% in Jackson County. Denver was just below the state’s average price decline adjustment of 32%.

If housing prices dropped an average of 32% statewide, Colorado’s home prices would be affordable, according to research by the Colorado Futures Center, a nonprofit organization at Colorado State University. But in some counties, home prices would need to drop nearly 60% to get to 2015 levels of affordability. Affordability is determined by looking at incomes, housing prices and interest rates. (Colorado Futures Center)

“As you can see from the report, it would take pretty considerable drops in values in order for us to get to a level of ‘affordability’ that the state enjoyed back in 2015,” said Phyllis Resnick, the center’s lead economist and executive director. “I use that word in air quotes because I don’t think people thought 2015 was a terribly affordable era. But in retrospect, it actually was because interest rates were almost historically low and the run-up in prices hadn’t happened yet.”

Affordability is also impacted by limited housing supply, added Jennifer Newcomer, the center’s research director.

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“We have stated before that we’re going to need to create a separate environment to basically bring supply at price points that have largely not been catered to for a long time (because) the current market environment is not incentivized to do anything different when it comes to new production,” Newcomer said. “We’ve noodled on this idea of supply to get us out and take us out of the challenge that launched some of the Great Recession, when we had a lot of home builders exit the market entirely.”

Increasing supply could very well provide Coloradans with more attainable housing, but this comes after last decade’s decline in construction workers, slow wage increases and the regulatory environment, though Resnick said the notion of local regulations driving up cost always make her “a little skeptical when one thing is singled out as the only reason.”

“We got into this work five years ago because we were convinced that the construction defects (law), while real, (would not cause) the housing market to correct itself” if removed, Resnick said. “All these components matter. … Labor’s expensive, materials are expensive, the regulatory environment is part of it and there may not be enough land in the condition that you need, coupled with COVID and a real constriction in what came to the market. That’s probably an unsatisfying answer, but we hope to stimulate the right conversations where people recognize that all of these issues are part of it.”

This was the first of a series of housing affordability reports from the organization. 

>> Read the housing affordability report

→ Colorado home sales slow: The median price of a house in Colorado increased 7.7% to $560,000 in September from a year ago, according to the latest data from the Colorado Association of Realtors. For the same period, the number of new houses to hit the market dropped 15.1% as the number of all houses for sale grew 46.5% to 15,822. That means there are now more houses available for sale than last year and they’re taking longer to sell — stretching an extra nine days to 37 days in September, up 32.1% from a year earlier. >> See Colorado data

In Denver County, where median sale prices grew a mere 7.8% to $605,000 in September from a year ago, it’s the first time in four years that annual price appreciation is back down to single digits. “It’s important to consider this metric as it represents that there has not been a ‘crash’ but rather a simple, ordinary correction,” said Matthew Leprino, a Denver Realtor. >> See Denver County stats

What’s Working: This is a segment from our weekly What’s Working column. Read the full column. >> Sign up for the newsletter

Tamara Chuang

Tamara writes about businesses, technology and the local economy for The Colorado Sun. She also writes the "What's Working" column, available as a free newsletter at coloradosun.com/getww....