Strong finish pushes 2014 Mesa County real estate numbers higher

Annette Miller
Annette Miller
Ben Hill
Ben Hill
Dale Beede
Dale Beede
Robert Bray
Robert Bray

Phil Castle, The Business Times

A strong finish helped push year-end numbers for the Mesa County real estate market to higher levels in 2014.

What’s been a four-year trend of slow growth is expected to continue in 2015.

“I’m a little more optimistic about the next year than the last year,” said Robert Bray, chief executive officer of Bray Real Estate in Grand Junction.

Ben Hill, a broker who operates Hill & Homes in Grand Junction, said low interest rates and more upbeat outlook should help drive activity. “Everybody seems to have a much more positive attitude.”

Improving conditions should hold not only in the residential real estate market, but also the commercial market, said Dale Beede, managing broker of Coldwell Banker Commercial Prime Properties in Grand Junction. “I’m cautiously optimistic for 2015.”

Both the number of real estate transactions and their combined dollar volume increased on a year-over-year basis in December, pushing year-end totals to their highest levels in six years.

“It was a good way to go into 2015,” said Annette Miller, senior vice president of Heritage Title Co. in Grand Junction and long-time observer of the local real estate market.

Miller said 312 sales worth a collective $67.5 million were reported in Mesa County during December. Compared to the same month last year, sales increased nearly 25 percent and dollar volume increased almost 28 percent.

Two large transactions helped bolster dollar volume, including the sale of the Glacier Ice Arena in Grand Junction for almost $3 million.

The December numbers brought the year-end totals for the real estate market to 3,653 sales worth a combined $809 million, Miller said. Compared to 2013, sales edged up almost 2 percent and dollar volume increased 5 percent.

Miller said 2014 started out slowly with year-over-year declines in sales and dollar volume during the first quarter. But as the year progressed, the pace of activity increased and finally surpassed that for 2013. “It came through as it was expected to,” she said.

The year-end totals were the highest in Mesa County since 2008, although still far lower than what was at that time a robust market that preceded downturns in the regional energy sector and overall economy. By comparison, 4,459 transactions worth a combined $1.3 billion were reported that year.

While the recovery since then has been “lazy” and has lagged behind other areas of Colorado, Miller said the slow and steady growth has been more sustainable than what was a boom before a bust.

The Mesa County real estate market has grown healthier in another respect, Miller said, with a continued decline in property foreclosure activity.

For December, 53 property foreclosure filings and 21 foreclosure sales were reported in Mesa County, she said. Compared to the same month last year, filings decreased almost 9 percent and sales tumbled more than 38 percent.

For 2014, a total of 546 filings and 402 sales were reported. Compared to 2013, filings decreased more than 31 percent and sales dropped more than 32 percent, Miller said.

Sales of foreclosed properties fell to 11 percent of all transactions during 2014, just above the 10 percent threshold Miller considers indicative of a normal market.

Miller said she expects real estate activity to continue to slowly increase in 2015, although the pace will depend in part on continued improvement in the local labor market.

Bray also said he expects real estate sales and dollar volume to continue to trend upward along with prices.

Housing prices have increased between 2.9 percent and 5.1 percent in Grand Junction over the past year, according to the latest results of monthly analysis by a California-based firm.

CoreLogic reported that Grand Junction home prices rose 2.9 percent between November 2014 and November 2013. Including such so-called distressed sales as foreclosure auctions and short sales in the analysis, home prices increased 5.1 percent during the same span.

Bray and Hill both said low interest rates on mortgages have buoyed the market, but so has improving confidence among consumers and business owners and managers.

Beede said November and December were among the most quiet he’s seen for commercial real estate activity in Mesa County. But the first half of 2014 was “very strong” and, overall, the year was a busy one.

Leasing activity increased as companies moved to different quarters, both larger and smaller. Investors remained active in the market for a second straight year, Beede said.

While the construction of a new Community Hospital and completion of two more floors of the patient tower at St. Mary’s Hospital — two projects worth a combined $89 million — constitute a “shot in the arm” for the Mesa County economy, little other major commercial construction is under way, Beede said.

Some new construction could occur, though, along 24 Road north of the Mesa Mall, he added.

Beede said he’s upbeat about 2015 and what could serve as what he called a “base year” for what follows.