Where can teachers afford a single-family home in Denver? A map

Based on sale data from the Denver Assessor’s Office, our Chart of the Week shows where homes have sold in Denver County for $242,000.

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Green Valley Ranch. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  green valley ranch; residential real estate; denver; denverite; colorado; kevinjbeaty;

Green Valley Ranch. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Buying a home in the Denver metro area takes lots of time and consideration, especially if you’re a teacher.

For example, Northglenn middle school teacher Ali Helfand started the house hunting process about three years ago. After about two and half months of actively searching for a single-family home in the Denver metro area, she’s still coming up empty handed.

“I feel like I’m lucky because we have a conventional loan, we’ve saved a decent downpayment, we’ve also had the benefit our having our parents give us some money to help us out,” she said. “We’re competing against people with FHA loans, who are even, I would say, unluckier in the market.”

Helfand might be a smidge luckier than even the average teacher. With a median salary of $53,400 in 2016, Denverite estimates that the maximum home price affordable for a teacher with no debt and a 20 percent down payment is $242,000.

Based on sale data from the Denver Assessor’s Office, our Chart of the Week shows where homes have sold in Denver County at that price. Darker purple areas are where more homes affordable to teachers sold so far this year.

Helfand’s budget is a bit higher than the average teacher, but not by much. She and her boyfriend are looking for a single-family home with a garage. But between the two of them, she’s basically working with two teacher salaries.

Her budget is $250,000 to $350,000, and at the upper end, Helfand would need a roommate to help handle housing costs. Her current situation isn’t much more affordable.

“The biggest part of our need to move is that we have just been renting and renting is really hard, we’ve had our rent raised substantially since we moved here,” she said.

The available housing market is already tight, but Helfand feels her options are especially few.

“In practice, actually finding a house, the options feel very limited just because we’re not lucky to be strong enough to have a cash offer,” she said.

But despite her housing struggles, Helfand doesn’t regret her career choice.

“I don’t feel bad for myself, I love my profession,” Helfand said. “It’s a really important profession and if the compromise is that I’m priced out of the market or it takes me a while to find a house, then so be it.”

For teachers who want to live in the communities they teach, being priced out is a problem. But it also could have at least one upside: not running into students.

“I would prefer to not live in the community that I teach just because I like to have the work-life balance,” Helfand said. “Turns out when you teach 180 kids, and they all have parents and siblings, you just sort of run into them all the time.”

Methodology: These calculations are premised on the median salary for teachers in 2016, per a Redfin calculation using Bureau of Labor Statistics. That salary is $53,400 annually.

There are a lot of calculators that aim to calculate what priced home is affordable based on salary, all with varying degrees of specificity. I adhered to the federal affordability standard, and included estimated costs for property tax and homeowner’s insurance. I used Live Urban Real Estate’s estimate to roughly estimate property tax, HSH.com’s estimate for local mortgage interest rates and a median home insurance cost from the Colorado’s survey of Denver.

From there, it was a matter of determining what price of house was affordable on that salary. In general, these calculations tended towards an ambitious best-case scenario. I assumed a homebuyer could put down 20 percent of the home price and had no other debts. The 20 percent down payment isn’t a hard and fast rule for would-be homeowners but has long been held as a standard.

All that means that I determined $242,000 was the maximum home price that a teacher could afford. That’s much higher than Redfin’s 2016 estimate, but their calculations assumed a 10 percent down payment. What people can afford depends on a lot of variables.