Shiny, Happy Places

Denver’s most compelling residential areas have something more appealing—and more meaningful—than uncertain appreciation values: They offer a true sense of community.

May 2011

There's an adage, usually applied to certain Hollywood supernovas, that goes: “I don’t know what ‘It’ is, but so-and-so has it.” That you-know-it-when-you-see-it charisma is what defines this year’s neighborhood guide. As anyone who lives here knows, Denver has an undeniable allure. It’s tempting to attribute that appeal to those glorious peaks we see outside almost every west-facing window, but it’s more than just the mountains. What makes our city exceptional is the city itself and its sturdy cast of surrounding neighborhoods. These urban enclaves showcase Denver’s brawny elegance with everything city neighborhoods should be: walkable, urban, and simply cool, the kind of places that feel simultaneously exclusive, yet welcoming.

But no matter how attractive our neighborhoods are, Denver’s real estate business has endured a drastic, almost violent transformation in the past several years, forcing real estate professionals—at least, the ones who have chosen to remain real estate professionals—to recalibrate how they do business.

It’s more than just figuring out the new rules for securing a loan, or finding tactful ways to tell their clients that their home isn’t worth quite that much anymore. Realty pros are realizing that the way people think about buying, selling, and staying is wildly different than it was not so long ago. “The pendulum is swinging from, ‘What is my investment going to look like in three years?’ to ‘What’s it going to be like living in this neighborhood?’ ” says Ryan Carter, a broker/owner at 8z Real Estate, who focuses primarily on northwest Denver (and lives there as well). “As a broker, my job is now about living the neighborhood’s lifestyle. Not just being a listing agent, but going out to the community events and getting involved with the neighborhood associations.”

Although buyers are still mindful of the acute financial elements of a home transaction, the questions buyers are asking today have begun to revolve around more long-term assessments of a potential home. “People are starting to understand they’ll be in a house for longer than a few years,” says Lane Hornung, 8z’s president and CEO. “They realize that if their home appreciates, great—but it probably won’t make you rich or be your ATM. They’re returning to the simpler concept of real estate being about a place to live and the community around it.”

The increased (though often misleading or incomplete) information buyers and sellers can get on the Internet has made them savvier about the business, but purchasing a home is now about more than just business. Paul Tamburello, a broker/owner at Red Chair Realty and a co-owner of the LoHi complex that houses LoLa, Vita, and Little Man Ice Cream, says factors such as walkability, access to transportation, closeness to downtown, and overall feel now play a much greater role in how people decide where to live. “There’s way more complexity to understanding neighborhoods than there used to be,” he says.

With that in mind, we present this year’s “It” places to live. In many cases, they aren’t even whole neighborhoods, but rather microneighborhoods or even single blocks. We found eight eye-catching city locales, hidden gems that truly stand out because of assets or amenities such as striking architecture; proximity to parks, restaurants, shops, or commercial districts; or active neighborhood associations.

The one thing they all share is that they’re the kind of places that make people want to move in, put down roots, and engage with the people and the community around them. In so doing, they make Denver a more connected and inviting city. “You might be here five or 10 years, so it’s nice to feel like you can extend yourself more,” says 8z’s Patrick Finney. “Get to know your neighbor—what a concept.”