A persistent gripe in developer circles is the constant upward movement of construction costs. This has been a substantial brake on the fast-moving train of new construction within the Denver market. Steadily rising payroll and materials costs have prevented new deals from penciling, which has resulted in tightened purse strings of construction lenders. More and more proposed projects are being left without financing, forcing developers to drop sites they have under contract for acquisition. Don’t cry for the down-trodden developer, though, because there is more to this story ahead.
These rising costs have made cashing out of projects a lucrative prospect for builders who brought their projects to market. As costs have risen over the past eight years in the post-2009 doldrums, we have seen the per-unit cost metric change dramatically. The two tables reflect “all-in” costs of projects brought to market over the past 10 years. This all-in cost is inclusive of hard and soft costs, as well as land acquisition costs. This cost does not include a profit incentive. The data reflects the trends on over 50 completed or underway projects in the Denver metropolitan statistical area.
The dramatic shift shown in the charts has moved the typical all-in garden apartment construction costs from a level of $135,000 to $150,000 per unit at the start of the cycle to current projects in the $210,000 to $240,000 per unit range. More dramatically, we have seen elevator-style projects shift in cost from $180,000 to $210,000 per unit to current projects under way at costs north of $500,000 per unit. This leap in construction costs has changed the value per unit landscape of the market today.