A changing south Denver remains a desirable area to live

Despite rising costs, residents can't see themselves anywhere else


Tim O’Byrne remembers how he and his wife were the young couple in the neighborhood when they moved into their West Washington Park home 20 years ago. He’s happy to see the demographics change as more young families move in.

With the rising home values in Washington Park, though, he’s not sure he could afford to buy his home today.

“We could sell our house and make a lot of money, but we couldn’t get back in,” O’Byrne said. “We could live like kings in Iowa.”

In the 10 years since the Great Recession, Washington Park — known in large part for its popular namesake park — and other south Denver neighborhoods have seen a huge boost in home costs. In January 2009, the median selling price for south Denver was $275,000. By June of this year, that number had jumped to $472,500, according to data from the Snyder Realty Team in Denver. But despite the expensive price tags, the neighborhoods still draw new buyers, and long-term residents say they couldn’t envision themselves anywhere else.

“It’s a combination of everything. I like the older neighborhoods, the trees,” O’Byrne said. “You can feel like you’re not in the middle of the city, but (it’s) 10 minutes away.”

A sharp rise in prices

As a real estate agent in Colorado since 2004, Platt Park resident Nancy Levine has had an insider’s view of how the housing market has changed.

Although many homeowners want to sell because of the lucrative market, she said, many also realize that selling for profit means they may have to relocate outside of Denver, where housing costs aren’t quite as high.

Levine, now a broker associate with Liv Sotheby’s International Realty, lived in Greenwood Village in the 1980s when she was growing up. She remembers her mother, also a real estate agent, talking about how she would succeed — by selling a $100,000 home.

“She literally thought that would mean she was in the big time,” said Levine, who bought her first home for $150,000 in Bonnie Brae in 1994 and whose home sales today range from $300,000 to multi-million dollar homes.

These days, finding a home near Washington Park at an affordable price for first-time home buyers can be difficult and exhausting, she said. The median sales price hovers at about $735,000. It is not uncommon for a house to have nearly 20 offers within the first week. Homes spend an average of 20 days on the market, Levine said.

On “the east side of Wash Park it’s really hard to find something that’s not really in bad shape for under $900,000,” she said. “There’s a lot of first-time home buyers that have just given up.”

While the spike in costs is universal around most of Denver and its nearby suburbs, such as Arvada, Levine said some neighborhoods west of Interstate 25 can still be in the affordable range. She shows first-time buyers homes in Denver’s Athmar and Harvey Park neighborhoods, as well as Barnum and Barnum West. Prices there sit at about $300,000, Levine said.

Amenties, development and historic value

Access to Washington Park itself is a huge draw for many residents. The 165-acre park, bounded by Franklin and Downing streets to the east and west, surrounds Smith and Grasmere lakes. It has walking paths, grilling options and space for lawn games and weekend soccer and volleyball matches. Joggers and dog-walkers can enjoy the mile-long park’s paths.

“I’ve been going to that park for 50 years,” said Kathy Newman, 73, who remembers when people could get on the Grasmere Lake’s island. “I think it’s always been popular.”

Being a short walk to the park is the number one reason Newman has lived in the neighborhood since 1990.

Retail growth in areas such as South Pearl Street, which has a bevy of restaurants and boutiques, also contributes to home values. And for many residents, Washington Park’s historic quality is a special bonus.

West Washington Park resident Mary Dreger has organized a historic home tour on Sept. 8, for instance, that is held through the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association and gives people the opportunity to see some of the Victorian, Queen Anne and bungalow-style homes in the area. Tickets can be purchased at the Washington Street Community Center, 809 S. Washington St., or they are available online at www.wwpna.org. Advance tickets are $15.

Bruce Morgan bought his home on South Grant Street 12 years ago. The home was built in 1900 in the Spanish Mission style. When the house went for sale, listed at $399,000 Morgan owned a different home at East First Avenue and Grant Street. But the new home, he decided, was his dream home.

“I was a little panicked,” he said of potentially having two mortgages to pay.

As luck would have it, his First Avenue home sold in three days.

Since moving in, Morgan and his partner John Nielsen have spent five years renovating the house. As a historic home, Morgan said they had to work with the city to have renovations approved by the Landmark Preservation office, which oversees the protection of historic properties throughout Denver. The pair added a foundation to the home, bringing out 20,000 buckets of dirt in five-gallon buckets. The project attracted the attention of the community, which cheered them on.

“It was so fun just to see the whole community get interested,” he said.

Morgan and Nielsen are still working on projects around the house. Photos of the foundation and basement project line the walls of their home, celebrating their achievement.

They love their tight-knit community, which Morgan says is what makes the neighborhood feel like home: “Our block is so much fun, the people are wild and fun and caring, and it’s such a community. I’ve never had that before.”

Tim McHugh, who lives on the eastern side of Washington Park, moved to the neighborhood seven years ago when he retired as a physician. He, too, agreed people are what make a community.

McHugh and his wife frequently visited the neighborhood before moving since their daughter lives in the area as well. McHugh said he has heard a lot of concern from fellow residents about the demolition of historic homes. But for him, it’s not the homes that make the character of the neighborhood.

“The character of a neighborhood is not just those buildings,” he said. “It’s the people in those buildings.”


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