During my decades in Colorado Springs, I’ve seen our city go from boom to bust half a dozen times. I’ve seen banks fail and developers go broke, flee and leave their lenders and investors holding the bag. I’ve see other stricken developers man up, refuse to declare bankruptcy, pay their debts and get back in the game. I’ve had to sell properties for less than I paid, and watch my bank accounts tumble slowly into the red.
I wasn’t smart enough, agile enough or lucky enough to do what many of my contemporaries managed to do — build a portfolio of investment properties that would keep me solvent and prosperous in my dotage.
On the other hand, my failure to do so means that the next recession won’t much matter. My nonexistent tenants won’t stop paying the rent, my nonexistent properties will never need repair, my nonexistent mortgage payments will never be late and I’ll coast through old age. Along with some of my geezer homies, I’ll head up to Cripple Creek on the second Wednesday of every month to celebrate the electronic transfer of that month’s Social Security check.
On the other hand, our other sources of income might suddenly dry up in a recession, forcing me to abandon my occasional forays to the Creek.
So when will the local economy go bad? Here’s a set of predictive indicators derived from experience; ignore them at your peril.
Local unemployment rate: The lower, the worse. Our current 3.6 percent rate means full employment and then some. Such rates are seen at the boom’s peak. As unemployment climbs after a bust, marginal businesses fail, frustrated job seekers leave town and the economy worsens.
Real estate professional in-migration: Booms attract real estate salespeople, who tend to show up with few assets and outsized ambition. Too many people chasing too few sales and listings will also tend to amplify a downturn, as the sales force shrinks and newcomers head elsewhere.
Too many boom believers: If there are any nattering nabobs of real estate negativity in our city, they’re keeping quiet. The current boom benefits almost everyone, so why make waves? When even the most persistent pessimists have surrendered to optimism, it’s time to worry.
Neighborhoods protest new development: Glancing at the Nextdoor social networking app this morning, there were dozens of alarmed posts about two projected Westside residential developments. In tough economic times, developers are seen as risk-taking, job-creating entrepreneurs. In boom times, they’re demonized as greedy, neighborhood-destroying profiteers. In every previous economic cycle, community disgust with excessive development has signaled recession.
Feckless government policies: Lax savings and loan regulations in the 1980s led to imprudent lending practices and the spectacular collapse of the local commercial real estate market. Now, we have international economic instability as tariffs replace free trade and the European Union seems ready to dissolve. Add our bitterly divisive national politics to the mix, and the future seems scary. Those factors may inhibit business growth and investment nationwide.
Omnipresent Amazon delivery trucks: Every local Amazon purchase means money spent elsewhere. As ever, this puts the squeeze on brick-and-mortar stores. Amazon’s not the villain, just one of the online players. But, as I’ve found to my dismay, once you go Prime, you never go back!
The 2020 elections: Either the often-erratic President Trump will be elected or the Democratic challenger prevails. In either case, investors and business owners may have cause for worry. It’s too bad that the three sensible westerners in the Democratic race (Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock and John Hickenlooper) appear to have no shot at the nomination, although good ol’ Joe Biden is now ahead in the polls. But given that the gaff-prone Biden is well into his 70s, he may falter and open the door to Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. We’ll see, but the possibility of a radical Democratic nominee could spook businesses nationwide.
In his campaign speeches, former Gov. Hickenlooper has often noted that, under his watch, Colorado boasted the No. 1 economy in the nation. Yup, we’re No. 1! But pride goeth before a fall — remember Super Bowl 50, when the victorious Broncos became the No. 1 football team in the nation?
We haven’t made the playoffs since. Sic transit Gloria mundi — and maybe you should think about selling your investment property now, while the market’s still hot. n CSBJ