In the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character, weatherman Phil Connors, is destined to relive the same day over and over again. Realizing his fate, Connors first feels confused, then trapped. Finally, though, he’s overcome with a sense of opportunity. (Why not eat a dozen doughnuts if I’m just going to wake up tomorrow like nothing happened?) While the mental leap from doughnuts to domiciles may seem incongruous, bear with us because Groundhog Day’s goofy premise actually provides some useful insight into the current Denver real estate market.

Last summer, the inventory of homes for sale in the Denver area hit an all-time low—about 6,400 homes on the market in June 2013. (Equilibrium is usually something closer to 17,000.) The imbalance caused, at times, a frantic market that significantly favored sellers. Owners would list their homes and immediately receive multiple cash offers higher than the asking price. Buyers tried anything to gain an edge. “I asked my clients to write letters appealing to the sellers about why they wanted the homes,” says Patrick Finney of Finn Real Estate. “Then I would hand-deliver the offers.” It was an old-school concept, says Finney, who admits he wouldn’t have thought to employ the strategy five years ago. Then again, it wouldn’t have been necessary in, say, 2009.

7,094: Number of Denver homes on the market at the start of 2014. Roughly 17,000 is ideal.

A year after the height of the frenzy, we’re experiencing something of a Groundhog Day phenomenon. Prospective buyers tuning in to the real estate scene this spring will find that inventory is still remarkably tight—in January 2013 there were 7,610 homes for sale in Denver; this past January there were 7,094—but that opportunity abounds nonetheless. “[The lack of inventory] is as widespread as I’ve ever seen it,” says Lane Hornung, founder and CEO of 8z Real Estate, who goes on to explain he is, however, hopeful the market will loosen slightly throughout the late spring and summer. “I think we’ll see move-up buyers come back to the market,” Hornung says. “Typically, they’re selling at an entry-level price—and that could free up a little bit of inventory.”

Regardless of the constricted inventory, possibilities exist in what 8z’s Ryan Carter refers to as a “smart market.” “Buyers aren’t rolling over as they had been,” Carter says. “Sellers are still buzzed from the shift in the market, and they think they can overprice a property and it will sell. But if you have a lame duck property—no garage where you need a garage, for instance—those aren’t going to get scooped up right away like they did last year.” All of which means if you’re a seller, making sure your home is in good condition before plopping it on the market is, once again, required. Conversely, if you’re a buyer: Making peace with the fact that prices are high may be a necessity, but being patient enough so you don’t pay a premium for an undesirable home is the smart move.

While Denver’s problematic inventory numbers have complicated the market, there has been one upside: appreciation. Denver homes continue to gain value at a rapid rate. “It’s staggering how great the market is,” says Your Castle Real Estate owner Charles Roberts. “There are only three neighborhoods that went down statistically.” The average Denver home gained about 10 percent in value in 2013 (even six percent is considered a good year), and 2014 looks as if it will be similarly strong. If that turns out to be the case, perhaps we, too, will decide the Groundhog Day scenario we’re experiencing isn’t so bad after all.

—Photograph by Dan Saelinger/Trunk Archive

The Classic Choice

Washington Park East

The highland neighborhood has long been Denver real estate agents’ consensus pick for the hottest area in town—but Washington Park is a close second. Like almost everywhere in the city, this quintessential Mile High ’hood took a hit at the end of the last decade. Even with cozy tree-lined streets and one of Denver’s most popular urban playgrounds as an anchor, Wash Park was down 10 to 15 percent on average between 2008 and 2012. Now, it’s rebounded. “Buyers went into a feeding frenzy last year,” says Laurie Erb, a broker with Re/Max of Cherry Creek who has specialized in Wash Park and central Denver for decades.

That activity—owed in part to tight inventory combined with the prestige of the neighborhood—has led to increased land values, particularly in the desirable pockets on the east side of the park between the 600 and 1000 blocks on Gilpin, Williams, High, and Race streets. In those areas, what was once a $550,000 lot is now closer to $700,000—and the new homes built on these spots will be easily twice, if not three times that price. But despite that increased dollar amount, “you’ll see lots of holes in the ground and lots of homes going up,” Erb says, “the vast majority of which are custom.” Bottom line: Wash Park is back.

What you get for your money: In Wash Park East, entry-level equates to the high $500s or even low $600s. (Maybe $400s if you’re willing to go for something that needs work.) For that kind of cash, you can expect a traditional bungalow with about 1,000 square feet on the main level, including two bedrooms and a bathroom, and a bed, bath, and family room in a remodeled basement. “The classic bungalow with the finished basement,” Erb says, “is hot, hot, hot.” Prices dip west of the park—from the mid-$300s up to the high $500s—where you’ll find more Victorians on smaller lots.

The School Playground

South Park Hill

Thanks to city zoning laws that restrict developers from plopping down high-rise apartment buildings or endless strips of retail, Park Hill has always maintained a strong residential vibe, which has long been a primary draw for buyers interested in this northeast Denver ’hood. Then there’s the school: Much of the neighborhood feeds into East High School, a highly sought-after choice in the Denver Public Schools system. All of which has made Park Hill a paradise for families over the past decade. “It’s always been one of the most stable and diverse neighborhoods,” says Re/Max agent Jay Epperson, who specializes in the northeast part of town. “My mom lives there; 10 years ago, they were down to three kids on her block, and now they’re back to almost 15.” What’s more, new home construction in Park Hill has surpassed pre-2009 activity. “You’re seeing scrapes that never occurred even before the crash,” Epperson says. The progression of retail along East Colfax—with additions such as Marczyk Fine Foods—has helped and, anecdotally at least, led to construction that’s pushing farther north toward still-transitioning pockets of Park Hill. Epperson rattled off three new homes in the works between $700,000 and $900,000—all north of 23rd Avenue.

What you get for your money: There’s a high end in Park Hill that you’ll rarely see in nearby areas such as City Park or Stapleton: Last year, the most expensive sale in Park Hill topped $1.5 million. Homes, however, are generally more affordable the farther north you go, with Park Hill’s sweet spot being in the $300,000 to $500,000 range. “When I think of Park Hill, I think of a modest but nice bungalow,” Epperson says. Pony up more than $450,000, and you might get a remodeled, “tricked out” version—an updated, open kitchen, a new master bath—which will be about 20 to 30 percent more expensive per square foot than what you’ll find farther east in Stapleton.

For The New(ish) Buyer 

City Park

LoHi is undoubtedly the epicenter of hipness in Denver, with young couples gathering in the ’hood for its collection of trendy restaurants, bars, and shops. But many of these one-time hipsters consider moving east as they get older and start families. In this scenario—when Wash Park, Park Hill, and Congress Park are too pricey—the enviable Denver Squares in City Park get a hard look from first- and second-time homebuyers. “East High School has such an incredible waiting list that high school boundaries have become a selling point,” Epperson says. “Two years ago, I would talk about schools but never sent someone a map. But I just had three buyers for whom we were pulling up boundary maps.” The East High School boundary within City Park generally runs along 23rd Avenue; however, the line pops north one block to 24th between York and Williams, making this stretch (located in the Whittier neighborhood) particularly desirable. (There’s also a small and advantageous East High School–zoned pocket north of 26th Avenue and east of Steele Street, technically in the Skyland neighborhood.) But schools aren’t the only reason to purchase in City Park. The central location offers quick access to downtown and I-70. And the projected completion of the East Rail Line to Denver International Airport in 2016—with its 38th and Blake and 40th and Colorado stations—may also have a positive impact on City Park and the residential areas to the north and west.

What you get for your money: More entry-level than some of the other neighborhoods on this list, City Park’s (sometimes dilapidated-looking) streets are lined with circa-1900, 1,200-square-foot Denver Squares that run from the low $300s to the mid-$400s. At the lower end of that range—you might even find something worthwhile below $300,000—you’re looking at a fixer-upper. Beyond $450,000, though, most area homes have some remodeling. And recently, in both City Park and nearby Whittier, new construction is popping up. “Like in many neighborhoods, when the crash hit and foreclosures came into play, people were sitting on land,” Epperson says. “Now, there is all kinds of new infill construction.”

The Wash Park Alternative

Platt Park North

To start the year, inventory in the northern half of Platt Park was as tight as just about anywhere in the city, which should’ve widened the eyes of any on-the-fence sellers in this laid-back but attractive neighborhood. What’s more, the shops and restaurants along the charming retail strip of Old South Pearl Street between East Louisiana and East Iowa avenues have finally—finally!—finished something of a game of musical chairs. Izakaya Den is situated in a new, stunning location (check out the rooftop patio) adjacent to Sushi Den; and Session Kitchen, a gastropub with a killer tap and cocktail list, landed in the former Izakaya Den space. Also: Construction of the aptly named Tavern Platt Park began at the beginning of the year. All of this comes with comparatively lower average sale prices than the west side of Washington Park, which is just a few blocks away. And it’s the lower prices that have kept developers from scraping lots in Platt Park—like they’re starting to do north of I-25 in Wash Park—and building vastly more expensive homes. “There isn’t a lot of speculation yet in Platt Park,” says Erb. “A builder needs to make his profit, and that’s a harder sell there.”

What you get for your money: Platt Park shares many of the qualities you’ll find on the west side of Washington Park, including similar average prices in the mid- to high $400s. The price ceiling in Platt Park is about $800,000, which will get you new construction or a fully remodeled floor plan with perhaps some additions. More typically, you’re looking at a Victorian in the $400s, which might offer two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a partially finished basement at somewhere around 1,500 square feet.

Strategy Session

Tip Line

Advice on how to be a smart buyer or seller in the current Mile High market. 

Buyers Be Aware

1. Come Prepared
Yes, there’s opportunity in this market, but sellers still have the upper hand. “This is not a gentle market for a buyer,” Hornung says. “You’re going to have to figure out answers to questions like, ‘How am I going to compete with an all-cash offer?’?” Talk through the scenarios with your agent. And before you jump at anything, make sure you’re committed. “A good buyer writes a really tight professional contract—10 days for inspection, 20 days for loan, closing in 30 days—that doesn’t have a lot of addendums,” Roberts says. “Be that good combination of a buyer who presents himself or herself as professional, who is serious, and who isn’t going to waste the seller’s time.”

2. Be Flexible
Fixating on a single neighborhood (“I have to live in Park Hill!”) isn’t a prudent strategy in this market. Instead, focus on price, amenities, and wild-card details such as commuting distance; then, consider multiple areas that may meet those needs—thus expanding your options in a limited-inventory market. “A smart buyer,” Carter says, “will look at his needs as opposed to his wants.” For example, you may be looking for a sizeable yard and two-car garage, but perhaps a postage-stamp lawn and one-car detached garage would suffice. Or maybe you’d love to be five minutes from downtown, but really, 10 or 15 would be just fine.

Smart Sellers

1. Lose the Ego
Don’t get caught thinking Anything will sell in this market. Yes, sellers are at an advantage in Denver right now, but this year’s market differs from last year’s in that buyers are being pickier. “Buyers are willing to pay a premium, but only on a premium product,” Carter says. “They won’t overpay if you have a property that’s not worthy.” In other words, make sure your home is in excellent showing condition and priced appropriately. And consider working with buyers on things such as the closing date. Also: Be patient. The first offer isn’t always the best. And in this market, you can be certain there are more on the way.

2. Understand Linked Transactions
Perhaps the worst part of being a seller in this market is facing the prospect of, once your home has sold, becoming a buyer. What do you do once you’re on the other end? More frequently, real estate agents are linking transactions—a scenario in which you don’t close on a sale until you’re concurrently closing on your next purchase. Which means you can comfortably search for a new home while you’re still living in your current place. Then, once you’ve found something, you can simultaneously pull the trigger on both the sale of your home and the purchase of the new one. “I’ve seen six-way linked transactions,” says Hornung, who explains that a market starved for homes can require some of this deal-making to loosen things up. “I think it’s what’s needed right now, and the consumer is starting to understand that.”

Funky and Fun

Sunnyside East

Five years ago, real estate agents and developers touted Sunnyside as one of the best investments in the Mile High City. If you went all in, it’s a risk you’re probably pleased you took. “Sunnyside has done incredibly well over the past five years,” says developer Paul Tamburello, whose work has shaped much of the northwest side of the city. “The income numbers in the neighborhood have gone up substantially.” In some ways, Sunnyside still seems like a good bet; it offers more upsides than just about any other neighborhood in central Denver, Tamburello says. Average prices on the east side of the ’hood, according to Your Castle’s statistics, sit just below $300,000, a figure that’s among the lowest in the heart of the city but is catching up to its trendier neighbors. Sure, you might be getting a fixer-upper, but you’re also a dozen blocks from the ultrahip restaurants and bars in LoHi. Sunnyside is zoned mostly for two-story development—as opposed to the three- and five-story buildings you’ll find in Highland and even along Tennyson Street in Berkeley—which helps the ’hood maintain a single-family, residential feel. “Sunnyside is a very stable, great residential community,” says Tamburello, who has six commercial projects going in the area, “but always make sure you understand the zoning in your immediate area,” he says. “There are people in Highland who have $750,000 condos across from apartment buildings—they clearly didn’t do any homework.”

What you get for your money: Sunnyside has a mix of architectural styles (bungalows, Denver Squares, and some townhomes) and a demographic blend (mature families, couples with babies, young professionals, and empty nesters). For $300,000, you might find a 1,000-square-foot bungalow with two beds, a bath, a small yard, and a garage—but it’ll require some sweat equity on your part. For between $400,000 and $600,000, some of the older homes have been renovated and may have open floor plans and a master bath.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Highland Central

The rise of highland—a dramatic real estate revolution that began just a decade ago—has now spawned a New York City–esque five boroughs on that side of the Mile High City. In addition to LoHi and West Highland, there’s Sunnyside, Berkeley, and Sloan’s Lake—all of which have their own distinct feels. However, they all share at least one thing in common: a smokin’ hot real estate market courtesy of a lively core that blossomed around the intersection of 32nd and Lowell (aka Highland Central). “All these other areas are feeling this sort of bump,” Carter says. And, lately, even neighborhoods beyond Denver’s western border are benefitting from that so-called Highland bump. “It’s bleeding west of Sheridan,” real estate agent Patrick Finney says. “Lakewood, Edgewater, Wheat Ridge—people can afford those spots and still be close to all the fun stuff.” After all, who wouldn’t want to live in a quaint Victorian and be near swanky cocktail joints and hip restaurants—such as the newly opened Matador or the second outpost of Pinche Taqueria—that populate the area around Highlands Square? And just when it seemed like the Highland neighborhood couldn’t get any hotter, it’s planning to. The next coolest neighborhood in Denver might just be the as-yet-to-be-nicknamed spot between LoHi and the new Union Station. If anything could stoke the Highland flames hotter, being within a short bike ride of the finished Union Station development might just do it.

What you get for your money: It’s darn near impossible to get into Highland Central for under $400,000, but options really open up between $400,000 and $600,000. In this price range, would-be buyers are looking at Craftsman bungalows, Denver Squares, Victorians, or attached, newer-construction duplexes; levels of renovation greatly vary, but you can at least expect a garage. If you have the resources to go above $600,000, you can get just about whatever you want—if you’re willing to keep a hawkeye on inventory, which is currently superlow.

Seller’s Market

Congress Park South

Two years ago, Congress Park residents succeeded in their fight to keep Walmart from anchoring the proposed redevelopment of the former University of Colorado medical campus at Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. After that, Trader Joe’s came along and suggested a store in a nearby location at Eighth and Colorado, which received a much warmer welcome from Congress Park’s broad mix of families and young professionals. The popular California-based grocery chain opened earlier this year on Valentine’s Day and has already been a boon to the area. “I think what that’s going to do is help fortify the slightly weaker part of the neighborhood, the eastern boundary by Colorado,” says Denver real estate agent John Sullivan, who has worked in the neighborhood for decades. While Congress Park is sometimes thought of as a two-part neighborhood divided by being north or south of 11th Avenue, Sullivan views it as three microneighborhoods: Sixth to Ninth, Ninth to 12th, and 12th to Colfax Avenue. On the southern end, Sullivan notes, “Cherry Creek is a big part of what makes Congress Park attractive.” Between Ninth and 12th, there’s a premium on blocks closer to the park. And the improvements to the nearby stretch of Colfax, such as the addition of Sprouts at Garfield Street, have increased the desirability of the northern end of this popular urban district.

What you get for your money: Congress Park isn’t an entry-level neighborhood, so finding something sub-$300,000 is a fantasy unless you’re looking at a duplex. The $400,000 to $600,000 range gets you a single-family home with 1,000 square feet or so and a small yard. At the higher end of that range, you will find open kitchens, renovated baths, more square footage, and two-car garages. For more than $600,000, you can spread out over at least 2,000 square feet of renovated space.

The Pseudo Suburb 


Call it what you like—Wisteria Lane, Pleasantville, or simply the ’burbs—but Stapleton offers a real estate option you can’t find anywhere else in Denver: plenty of square footage at a reasonable price in new-build homes that are only 10 to 15 minutes from downtown. These selling points have drawn families—from nice homes in City Park, Alamo Placita, and Wash Park—to the 12-year-old neighborhood sandwiched between Park Hill and Aurora’s Anschutz Medical Campus. It’s hard to argue that a home in Stapleton doesn’t get a buyer serious bang for her mortgage buck, but like any neighborhood, there are downsides. Although homes in Stapleton have a Mile High City address, the bars and restaurants of central Denver can seem distant and the charm of the city’s classic neighborhoods is definitely missing. “The reputation is that you’re out there with your minivan, two kids, and a dog, but that isn’t the case on my block,” says Epperson, who has lived in the area for 10 years. “In Stapleton, it’s old versus new. There are just some people who grew up in Denver who will always believe going to Stapleton is going too far east.” Of course, these are the same people who are willing to pay $620,000 for a 90-year-old, semi-refurbished, 1,500-square-foot home in Wash Park while $525,000 will score a brand-new, 2,400-square-foot beauty with granite countertops, a master suite, and a two-car garage and a finished basement “out east.”

What you get for your money: Stapleton offers new(er) construction that can range anywhere from income-qualified $100,000 homes to $1 million-plus properties. On the low end, “there are small condos and what are called urban estate homes,” Epperson says. In the $300s, buyers can get two stories, but likely no basement. By the time you hit $600,000, you can get 90 percent of the housing stock in Stapleton and close to 2,500 square feet plus a finished basement.

A Buyer’s Story 

Results May Vary

Who knew buying a home could be so…easy?

Don’t hate me. In this thankless Denver real estate market—where low inventory triggers bidding wars, buyers visit dozens of homes before finding anything they’d even consider living in, and seemingly secure deals fall through for reasons both legitimate and mystifying—I looked at exactly one property during the first week of January—and had the keys to it by Valentine’s Day.

How was this possible? This past fall, my girlfriend, Dana, and I decided we wanted to buy something. For a few months, she made MLS and Craigslist searches a daily hobby, and she quickly grew concerned about the uninspiring options in our mid-level price range (under $350,000).

Then in December, I stumbled upon a promising place, a loft condo in a converted church between Baker and West Wash Park. Unfortunately, it was already under contract, and we moved on. Then right after New Year’s, the seller’s agent emailed us to say the deal had fallen through. We scheduled a showing, loved it, and made an offer.

We didn’t have a traditional real estate agent. Instead, we used Scott Peterson of Counsel Realty Group, who’d earlier helped Dana with some work-related legal services. Peterson is a licensed real estate agent, but he typically doesn’t find properties and schedule visits; you bring the home you want to him. And because he usually just charges a flat fee of $1,600 for buyers and $1,100 for sellers, unlike traditional agents his main concern isn’t his commission. Instead, he focuses on getting a deal done. Given that we were first-time buyers, his wealth of knowledge about contracts and real estate transactions couldn’t have been more valuable.

The other smart thing we did was shop around for a mortgage broker. Although the selling agent recommended a few, the brokers had a pushy, unpleasant vibe. So we kept looking until we found Patrick Forrestal of Meyers Funding. Unlike several other brokers I queried who either couldn’t or wouldn’t try to secure us a loan—our building has a co-insurance quirk that makes some lenders leery and was the reason the earlier deal failed—Forrestal quietly and easily secured the loan with more than a week to spare before closing.

More than anything, our relatively painless experience taught me this: Only work with people who make you comfortable, and ignore the Chicken Littles who try to scare you into a commitment. Although I’d like to attribute our success to karma or clean living, the truth is we just used common sense. We didn’t panic, we didn’t settle, we didn’t overextend ourselves, and we didn’t let anyone else dictate terms. It sounds simple, but it’s now clear to me that a lot of folks make buying a house much harder than it should be.
—Luc Hatlestad

Where Diversity Rules 

Capitol Hill

Whether you examine Capitol Hill through the lens of price, architectural style, demographics, or blend of retail, it’s easily one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the Mile High City. “You can have an apartment building and a million-dollar mansion on the same block,” Carter says. At the beginning of the year, those mix-and-match blocks happened to have more inventory than just about any other neighborhood in Denver—though 3.7 months is still well below the optimal six-month figure. Along with the assortment of architecture comes a mix of residents—from young hipsters who are happily renting, to families and retirees who have made the decidedly urban area home—and a satisfyingly varied lineup of restaurants, bars, and shops. Walk a few blocks along Colfax in Capitol Hill and you might pass a dive bar, a bank, a hotel, a medical marijuana dispensary, a pizza joint, another bar, a bookstore, and, yes, the gold-domed Capitol building. What’s more, Cap Hill continues to attract new businesses. Portland’s ridiculously popular Voodoo Doughnut recently opened just past Downing on the corner of Colfax and Humboldt Street. And the folks from the Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe are planning to open the Lost Highway Brewing Company at Colfax and Pearl Street this spring or summer.

What you get for your money: Capitol Hill has one of the largest—if not the largest—concentrations of entry-level priced condominiums in central Denver. There is a wide range of condo options under $300,000 between 500 and 1,000 square feet—with one or two bedrooms, a bathroom, and maybe a parking spot, which is key in this car-clogged corridor. Worth noting: “HOA condo dues can be high in this area,” Carter says, “particularly in older buildings that require more maintenance.” North of $400,000, you’ll start to find single-family dwellings with 1,000-plus square feet. The priciest options in Capitol Hill (upwards of $900,000) are typically located closer to either Cheesman Park or Governor’s Park.

Hey, Big Spender

Cherry Creek

Over the past two years, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained about 3,000 points—not a bad post-2008 rebound. “Wealth is being built because of the stock market,” says Your Castle’s Charles Roberts, who explains this scenario often translates into increased interest in Denver’s pricier enclaves. Which is exactly what’s happening in Cherry Creek—in both its residential and more commercial areas. “There’s a massive amount of development occurring,” say 8z’s Carter. And this development spans all areas—office space, retail, condos, townhomes, and single-family dwellings. In fact, most of the properties in Cherry Creek are now new: “Much of the turn-of-the-century architecture has been redeveloped over the past 30 years,” says Carter, who adds that builders are once again scraping lots in Cherry Creek. They’ll pay $750,000 to knock down an old bungalow and construct a custom home that might ultimately sell for three times that amount. It’s no surprise, then, that the neighborhood’s prices mean the remodeled ranches and posh townhomes are populated by more mature families and wealthy retirees. Still, the area has a youthful vibe thanks to well-regarded Bromwell Elementary and the boutiques and restaurants that live between East First and East Fourth avenues and Josephine and Steele streets. Here’s the problem, though: Even if you have the dough to get into Cherry Creek, a look at the housing stock illuminates Denver’s inventory dilemma particularly well. At the end of 2009, there were 350 listings for sale in Cherry Creek; at the beginning of this year, there were fewer than 50.

What you get for your money: You might find a smallish condo or two (700 to 1,500 square feet) in the northern portion of Cherry Creek that fall in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. But the $600s are where the inventory opens up. Either way, you can expect a parking spot. The rare single-family home in Cherry Creek runs more than $1.5 million. For that price, you can get three bedrooms, three bathrooms, more than 3,000 square feet, and a location that’s closer to the shops along Second and Third avenues.

The ‘Burbs

Rockin’ The Periphery

Thinking about hitting the suburbs to escape Denver’s tight real estate market? Think again. 

The real estate trends in the suburbs look a lot like the scene in Denver: tight inventory and high demand. In fact, in some cases, the market in the ’burbs is just as intense as it is in the city. “A lot of [would-be sellers] stayed put for the past six years because the recession and foreclosure crisis drove down prices,” says Mick Madsen, a broker associate with Re/Max professionals, “but they’ve been rising again for more than two years.” Here, a look at what your money gets you in four Denver suburbs.

Louisville has landed on numerous nationwide “best places to live” lists, which has sparked bidding wars that are normally only seen in places like San Francisco and New York City. Here, $400,000 will score you a 2,000-square-foot fixer-upper with three bedrooms and three baths. You won’t find granite countertops or stainless steel appliances at that price, but it does get you easy access to Louisville’s charming Old Town and its highly rated school system. Get more for your dollar a few miles southwest in Superior, where the same price is good for up to 2,700 square feet of newer construction with a modern floor plan—and you’re still inside the Boulder Valley school district boundaries.
Hot Spot  Anything within walking distance to Louisville’s town center—with its trendy restaurants, breweries, boutique shops, and prices starting at around $550,000—is at the top of most buyers’ lists.

South of Denver, inventory of mostly 1980s-era homes is still low, but new construction is underway. Prices range from $250,000 to over $1 million, but for a median price of around $400,000, buyers can expect a 2,000-plus-square-foot two-story or ranch-style house with three or four bedrooms and as many baths, and often a basement.
Hot Spot  The sought-after BackCountry development—with its outdoor amphitheater and private hiking trails—is one of only two new construction ’hoods left in Highlands Ranch. Prices in the gated community range from the low $500s to custom homes as high as $2.5 million.

Head west of Denver and the first ’burb you hit is Lakewood. Which makes this town—with its proximity to both the Mile High City and the mountains, the new West Rail Line, and median home prices around $350,000—appealing to Denverites who can’t find their ways into the central Denver market. Inventory is low in Lakewood, but the average price buys a single-family ranch, bungalow, or two-story home, often built in the past 30 years, with three bedrooms, two baths, and up to 2,000 square feet. Oh, and a good-size yard and a garage.
Hot Spot  Kawanee Gardens, with its alluring proximity to Edgewater and Sloan’s Lake, has about two months of inventory and has seen prices appreciate by more than 25 percent in the past year.

This longtime bedroom community for Denver has come into its own in recent years, thanks largely to its charming Olde Town district. Median prices are still mostly south of $300,000, though inventory is well under one month in many parts of town. If you can afford something between $350,000 and $400,000, in general you’ll get a detached one- or two-story house, usually with a garage, three bedrooms, two or three baths, and about 1,750 square feet.
Hot Spot  Prospective buyers are drawn to the happening town center, which offers a hip mix of restaurants and bars—and brick ranches from the 1960s and 1970s.