How to Survive the Denver Real Estate Market

Have you heard about the real estate market in Denver? It is, in short, a nightmare for anyone with a semi-reasonable budget. Looking at the numerous articles my mother has sent me, the noticeable influx of young, nature-and-beer-loving-hipsters, and the increasing crane population in the entire area, you’ll see that Denver is one of the most desirable cities right now for my fellow millennials. Unfortunately, as we all discover the charm of Denver and the surrounding mountains, getting a foothold in the housing market has become more difficult.

While some reports say that the real estate market is finally slowing down, I believe anyone with a budget under $500K will still face some competition for houses, and if you’re under $300K and want to stay within Denver in a finished house or condo (ie, not one that the listing boasts has “investment potential!”) then your choices will be quite limited. If you have a specific area you are looking to stay in, then prepare yourself for a couple of months of searching and some heartbreak along the way.  With that being said, here’s some advice from my experience navigating the Denver real estate market.

Tips to Buying a Home in Denver

  1. Hire a real estate agent, but expect to some legwork yourself: 

    While sites like Redfin make it easier to schedule your own tours with their representatives, hiring a dedicated real estate agent means you’ll have someone on your side throughout the process. With that being said, you should quiz agents on how much work they expect you to do while looking for potential houses, and how aggressive they are in a tough market. We found that cash offers were quite common and hard to beat no matter who your agent is, but it’s still worth knowing their strategies for putting together an attractive traditional, mortgage-based offer.

    We also discovered that, while we received a daily email with new and updated listings, due to having a quite large search area and budget range there was still a lot of manual sorting that we had to do as the home buyers. This may be different for some, but in order to quickly move on a house we needed to check listings daily and pick out those we wanted to see, rather than having our realtor identify specific ones that they thought we should look at.

  2. Narrow down your home search area as much as possible.

    Within our initial home tour, where we saw 8 houses in order to get a sense of what areas and types of houses would fit our budget, we had a pretty good idea of the general area we wanted to be in. We limited our search to detached homes (wanted a yard for the dog, typical millennial!) and looked primarily in NorthWest Denver and Wheat Ridge. We wanted to stay on this side of town due to it being close-ish to downtown and also somewhat convenient for a Boulder or Broomfield commute.

    We also found that areas such as Edgewater, Berkeley, Sunnyside, and Wheat Ridge had the characteristics that we were looking for such as being walkable to some restaurants and shops. Coming from the east coast we weren’t quite ready to become completely car-dependent and are glad that we made this a sticking point in terms of areas we looked at. After our initial tour we tried to focus on these areas, although did still get listings that were in different parts of town and even looked at a couple of places further out. Since we had relatively flexible schedules and wanted to keep an open mind I didn’t mind looking further afield, but if you have limited time and don’t want to sort through listings you definitely won’t be interested in, I’d narrow your search area as much as possible.

  3. Be open to a wide variety of home types and characteristics.

    The area you look in is one of the only things you can really have control of with a budget under $500K, and as your budget goes down you’ll find this becomes even more true. We looked for detached homes with a minimum of 2 bedrooms, and those were pretty much the only characteristics we could control within our price range. “Must-haves” like open kitchens and updated bathrooms pretty much disappear when you’re facing an expensive market and steep competition for homes.

    We weren’t sure going into it if we’d like a home that was completely done or if we’d be willing to do some updates. In the end, although we did bid on a couple of updated homes and saw several flipped homes (don’t get me started on the finishes and weird layouts some of those ones have), we went with a home that fit our main requirements but needed some internal updating. We felt that walkability, neighborhood, and the outdoor space were more important than having everything completely updated inside. And on the plus side, since this house definitely needed a facelift we ended up getting it under list price and without a bidding war – almost unheard of in Denver, but it had been on the market for a while (in Denver, “a while” is often just a few weeks) and the seller was very motivated. While we looked at some homes with 3+ bedrooms, we got one with 2 quite small bedrooms, one of which is more of an office area off the living room. Since we were planning to use the second bedroom as a combo guest room/office area we decided this was ok for us, but it wouldn’t have worked for everyone – another reason being open to different configurations and levels of done-ness is important!

  4. Get ready to act fast if you want to buy a home in Denver

    The number one thing we heard about this market was that we’d need to be ready to act fast if we saw something we liked. To demonstrate – we saw one house the day or day after it was initially listed. Within an hour of seeing it we decided we wanted to make an offer, only to discover it was already under contract. Once it sold we discovered it went for $20K over asking price. This was not an uncommon situation for houses in the areas we were looking in.

    Before you even start looking at houses you’ll need to get pre-approved for a mortgage with a bank or mortgage broker. Since you’ll get a sense of what the monthly payments will be with all the additional fees for various house prices, this also helps in figuring out your realistic budget. Once pre-approved, be ready to write an offer immediately if you see a house you like. Houses that know they will sell would often have a deadline for reviewing all offers, but if an offer is good enough it’s possible they would take it before the deadline. On the flip side, being the first offer can backfire if it encourages subsequent offers to go above asking price. This is an area where an experienced realtor who develops a relationship with the selling agent can help, although when faced with cash offers above asking price it may not make a difference. Which brings us to…

  5. Be prepared for some heartbreak.

    Even if you’re extremely diligent about looking at listings and seeing homes quickly, you will probably experience some heartbreak. If a house seems like it would be perfect for you, chances are there are several other home buyers thinking the same thing. We made 3 offers on houses, pulling out of the first one ourselves as we felt the sellers were asking too much (they eventually got what they wanted), getting beat on the second, a thoughtfully updated and seemingly perfect-for-us house, with an all-cash offer well over listing price, and getting our offer accepted on the third.

    Making offers and going back and forth with sellers and other bidders is stressful, but from what we’ve heard we were actually quite lucky – in Denver it’s not that unusual for people to make 10+ offers before getting one accepted. We heard of one house that had over 40 offers on it. With that level of competition, it’s impossible for many buyers to even get in the middle of the pack, let alone win!

    So, be prepared for some stress and heartbreak. We were pretty upset after losing out on the updated house to a cash offer, but looking back are glad that we ended up with a house at the lower end of our budget that allowed us to do some updates ourselves. We even took inspiration from that house when updating our own kitchen, so in a way it was a blessing in disguise.

In the end, we got a nice house in an area we liked and are happy with the decision, although it hasn’t been without some stress along the way as we have gone through the renovation process. I’d say the most important lesson is to be open – whether it’s to condos instead of houses, new builds, or an area slightly outside where you thought you wanted to be. The house we got is in a small neighborhood that we had no idea existed during much of our search, and we’ve loved it so far. Luckily, being Denver, even small neighborhoods have local breweries!

Next up – our renovation process. The good, bad, and asbestos-y parts.





One Day No Knead Bread

Homemade bread is  delicious, decadent and sometimes elusive thing. I love fresh bread, an hour or two out of the oven, crusty and still warm enough to melt butter. That crunchy crust combined with a soft, chewy crumb is pretty hard to beat. But I grew up in a household that valued toast above bread: Toast with butter and marmite for breakfast, baked beans on toast, leftover Bolognese sauce on toast. Toast has become trendy in recent years, but to me it has always been a staple. However, for truly good toast you need to start with good bread.

I have recently forayed into breadmaking and experimented with traditional bread, no-knead bread, sourdough, and even homemade English Muffins. Although I do enjoy spending a couple of days making a delicious sourdough, sometimes I just don’t want to wait that long or put that much effort into something that will inevitably disappear in a few days. This bread started as one the first ones I tried making, from a Food52 recipe that itself was adapted from the wonderful David Leahy’s no-knead method. The first time I tried it, I was blown away with the simpleness of making it and chewy crumb paired with a crunchy crust. Although it had good bubbles within the bread, the shape had stayed quite flat when I turned it into my Dutch Oven to cook, so it wasn’t ideal for making sandwiches. I also wanted something that could be made in one day, so if you thought “I’m craving homemade bread” in the morning, you could be eating some in the late evening or next day without having to spend more than 15 minutes of time on it.

no knead breadFinally, I wanted a bit of that whole wheat tang and a bread that rose up into a nice dome when cooking. The result is this recipe, which is simple at it’s heart but includes a couple of extra steps to ensure the loaf is well shaped. I’ve found this recipe extremely flexible: I can leave it to rise all day at work, or start shaping at 4 or 5pm for a loaf that could be ready just in time for dinner. I have used both all purpose and bread flour and found each to work, although if you plan to bake more bread I highly suggest picking up some bread flour. Above all, this should prove to you that baking bread doesn’t need to be difficult or time-consuming, and provides you with something healthier than store-bought stuff that you can brag to your friends about all the knead bread

One Day No Knead Bread

Equipment: Large mixing bowl, bench scraper, Dutch Oven.

120 grams (approx 3/4 cup) whole wheat flour
280 grams (approx 2 cups) bread flour or all purpose flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
300 grams water (approx 1 1/4 cup) + a little more if needed

(Note: if you don’t have a kitchen scale, I highly recommend getting one for baking. They are not expensive, vastly improve measurements, and reduce the number of dishes you have to wash.)

Bread baking morning: Mix the flour, yeast, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and mix – dough should be loose but not too dry. If it’s not coming together at all, add extra water a tablespoon or two at a time until it comes together.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and/or a dish towel. I usually do both. Place in a warm spot to rise. If your kitchen is quite cold, you can very briefly turn on your oven (for 2 mins or so) to heat it up a bit and then turn it off and place the dough in there to rise for 6-10 hours,

Bread baking afternoon/evening: When the dough has about doubled and is dotted with bubbles on the top, tip it out onto a well-floured counter. Bring the four sides of the dough together in the center by bringing the bottom part closest to you into the middle, then the top, and then the sides. Flip the dough so the seam side is down and let rest until it has puffed up a bit more, about an hour.

About a half hour before you plan to bake, preheat your oven to 500 and place a dutch oven in it to heat up. If your dutch oven has a plastic knob (cough, Le Cruset I love you except for this annoying detail), it can be screwed off and filled with foil.

Once the dough has puffed up, shape it by taking a flexible dough scraper and placing it under the far left edge of the dough, then gently dragging it to the right and towards you to create a dome on top of the bread. Continue to do this, moving the bread in a circular motion towards you for a few turns so the shape tightens.

Lift bread onto a cut out parchment round slightly bigger than the dough. Put a couple of slashes in the top with a sharp knife or lame (a razor for this exact purpose).  Carefully remove dutch oven from oven, take off top and lift parchment and bread into the dutch oven. Cover and put in oven.

Bake for 20 minutes uncovered, then remove cover and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes until crust is deep golden brown. Take out of dutch oven and place on a rack to cool. Try resisting to cut into it for an hour or two so the bread cools down and the starches set. Enjoy fresh with your toppings of choice!

An introduction

Hi there, I’m Roxie. Welcome to Salt, Flour, Butter, where I’ll share recipes, stories, successes and failures as I aim to cook more food from scratch and take on projects like bread that I have experimented with before but not fully dedicated myself to. I’m not trying to cut all processed or packaged food out completely, but do plan to make the vast majority of my meals with elements that I’ve made from scratch. Projects like bread, bagels, pasta, ricotta, and pie will be showcased here, along with the finished meals I make with my homemade building-blocks.

This is definitely not a diet blog, however I believe that by making things myself I will eat more healthily: Since I’ll be making all my bread myself, I will both savor what I do make more and cut down on eating bread for the purpose of just filling up. I’ll also likely eat less sugar, since many sauces, pastas, and more include added sugar. I already eat a lot of vegetables but I’m excited to try new dressings and sauces to go with them. Don’t worry, I still plan to make some kick-ass lasagnas, meat dishes, and cookies to balance it all out.

Why am I embarking on this time-consuming goal? Maybe it’s because I had a rough 2016 and wanted some sort of New Year goal that wasn’t so strict or un-fun I’d abandon it in 3 weeks. Maybe it’s because in 2017 I’m finding myself searching for distractions that aren’t checking social media or the news, and cooking calms me down after a long day at work. Or maybe it’s because I love food, have wanted to try my hand at more homemade projects for some time and thought this would be a good motivator.

I’m not sure yet exactly how far I’ll take this – will I find myself spending weekends trying to perfect something, or wandering the aisles of the grocery store trying to find fresh goat milk? Only time will tell. Whether you also want to  step out of your cooking-comfort zone or just want to read along, I hope you’ll join me for the adventure!