Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Following Backlash, Jeffco Commissioners Drop Plan to Legislate Beltway

[Published April 26, 2012 in the Denver Post]

Last week I described the effort by Jefferson County’s Board of Commissioners to introduce legislation which would create an authority with “super eminent domain” powers to complete the beltway from northeast of Highway 36 though Jeffco and Golden to connect with C-470.

This Monday, that effort was killed by the Commissioners themselves, following quite a backlash from the public and from legislators who considered the proposal a massive overreach and an unwarranted gutting of long established local powers.

Commissioner Don Rosier told me at press-time (Tuesday) that the Governor and CDOT requested that they drop the proposal and return to the negotiating table.

Prior to this short-lived effort, the Commissioners had essentially given up on forcing a beltway though Golden and had created a public highway authority to secure private investors for a toll-road north of Golden connecting Highway 93 and Highway 128 but leaving gaps south through Golden and between Highway 128 and the beltway’s current end east of the Boulder Turnpike. (Nevertheless, the Commissioners and the highway authority continue to promote their toll road as “completing the beltway,” and the press has generally picked up on that inaccurate and lame phraseology.)

The proposed legislation was perceived by toll road critics (including myself) as a desperate last ditch effort to get the beltway completed, since negotiation with Golden to drop its opposition to the toll road had backfired and even led to Golden filing suit against the use of contaminated Rocky Flats land for part of the right-of-way.

An equally questionable strategy (already in place) for establishing the “privately funded” toll road has been the use of Jeffco Open Space funds (from sales tax revenue) to facilitate purchase of the 300-foot right-of-way though Rocky Flats. Here’s how it was explained to me Tuesday by Assistant County Administrator Kate Newman:

The County gave $1.225 million in general funds to the toll road authority, which put those funds into escrow to buy the 300-foot right-of-way. Meanwhile, the County put $5.1 million of Open Space funds into escrow as its contribution to the purchase of another parcel (Section 16) to be deeded over to US Fish & Wildlife, but that fully-funded transaction only closes when and if the authority closes on the right-of-way purchase. I wouldn’t be surprised if this comingling of purposes were to trigger another lawsuit, this time over the misuse of Open Space funds.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jeffco Commissioners Ask Legislators to Create a Beltway Completion Authority With Unprecedents Powers

[Published April 19, 2012, in the Denver Post]

Democracy and due process are all good and fine, but they do have their limits, don’t they?  The three Jeffco Commissioners, fed up with Golden’s refusal to back down on its opposition to the toll road boondoggle north of town, have decided to ask the state legislature to do away with “home rule” cities’ ability to block projects within their city limits.

This is ironic, since the commissioners gave up years ago on pushing a beltway through Golden itself and merely tried to build a toll road connecting State Highway 93 with Highway 120 south of Flatirons Mall.  Having failed to bribe Golden to drop its opposition to that toll road, they have decided to get the legislature to pass a “beltway completion bill” that would not only order construction of the toll road but extend it through Golden itself.

Sen. Betty Boyd, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, has been identified as the “sponsor” of the bill, but the Senator’s secretary told me on Monday that she has not received a draft of the bill and “there is no such bill.”

Nevertheless, the full text of the non-existent bill, drafted by the Jeffco commissioners, has been released, and is even promoted in the county’s own employee newsletter, Frontline. You can find links to the bill and an interpretation of its impact on Colorado cities at www.JimSmithColumns.com.

This brash attempt to short circuit the democratic process is reminiscent of when Colorado’s two U.S. Senators passed a midnight bill without hearings which mandated construction of the “super-tower” on Lookout Mountain. Regardless of how you felt about the tower, it was shocking that two politicians could, in effect, say, “enough of this democratic crap, build the damn tower!” Our county commissioners are now trying to accomplish the same feat on the state level regarding their pet development scheme/beltway.

It couldn’t be clearer by now that completing the beltway has nothing to do with meeting transportation needs in the northwest quadrant.  CDOT’s own multi-million-dollar studies proved that.  Rather, the beltway effort has everything to do with lining the pockets of developers and those real estate professionals who will profit from their development.  If they succeed, we can look forward to the kind of sprawl that has overrun the other three quadrants of the metro area after their sections of the beltway were completed.

I emailed and called Sen. Boyd’s office asking the Senator for comment on the bill prior to deadline, but she never called me -- and still hasn't two days later.

Friday, April 13, 2012

15-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Hits New All-Time Record Low

[From Realty Times this morning]

In Freddie Mac's results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey®, average fixed mortgage rates declined for the third consecutive week on the heels of a weaker than expected employment report. The 30-year fixed averaged just above its record low while the 15-year fixed averaged a new all-time record low of 3.11 percent breaking its previous low of 3.13 percent on March 8, 2012.
Full Story: http://realtytimes.com/rtpages/20120413_freddierate.htm

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Radon Gas in Your Home -- Its Risks and Its Mitigation

[Published April 12, 2012, in the Denver Post]
During the current legislative session the risks of radon gas in our homes and what to do about it was raised when two state legislators put forth a bill — killed in a House committee — to require sellers to test for radon before putting their homes on the market and to provide those test results to prospective buyers.

The bill’s sponsor described radon as “a radioactive gas that kills hundreds of Coloradans each year due to lung cancer.” I have seen no studies, however, that provide reasonable documentation of this claim. With so many other contributing factors to lung cancer, how do you prove that someone got lung cancer specifically because of exposure to radon in their home?

Regardless of the validity of the danger, requiring sellers to provide test results would only endanger Coloradans further, which is why I testified against it. The bill would have allowed sellers to buy a $10 radon kit, place it anywhere in their home and mail it into a lab for analysis, then provide the report to prospective buyers as an indicator of the radon level in their home.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that seeps out of the ground virtually everywhere. As such, we are exposed to it in highly dispersed form every day when we are outdoors. The danger comes when it seeps from the ground into your home, where it is contained instead of being dispersed into the atmosphere. If the level is high enough, it could certainly pose a health risk, especially to children who sleep in or spend significant time in that area.

A proper test for radon is done with an electronic device, placed by a professional in the lowest living area of a home, which samples the air once an hour for 48 hours. If the device is unplugged and moved, or if windows and doors are left open during the test, it will be obvious in the print-out. Such a test costs $100 to $150, but it is virtually tamper proof. Every buyer should pay for such a test instead of depending on a seller’s $10 test. Tests provided by sellers would only result in fewer buyers spending money on a valid test.

If radon is shown to be above the EPA’s “action level” of 4 picocuries per liter, mitigation can cost $800 to $1,200, depending on the home. The process involves installing a constantly running fan which sucks air from the gravel bed under your home’s concrete slab and expells it at the roof line. Cracks in the concrete slab are also caulked and sump pits sealed. If the home has a crawl space, ventilating it (which also controls humidity and mold accumulation) can also reduce the radon level.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

If you don't think the housing market is improving, ask any Realtor!

[Published April 5, 2012 in the Denver Post]


At the end of every month I run a count of active and under contract homes on Metrolist, the Denver MLS which also displays listings from the other two MLS’s serving Colorado’s Front Range. I post my findings on my blog (see previous posting), but this week they deserve mention in my column, too. 

The trend since I started doing these reports last October has been steadily up, depleting available listings faster than would-be sellers can replenish them.

Back in October, 23.9% of all unsold listings on the three MLS’s were under contract. The remaining 76.1% were available.  Today, 44.1% of unsold listings are under contract, leaving only 55.9% available to purchase. In other words, the single biggest contributor to the shrinking inventory is that buyers are snapping up listings faster than new ones can be added.

Everyone in our little office is busier than they’ve ever been.  We have far more buyers and sellers under contract than we have active listings.  It’s common to have other buyers competing with our buyers for listings. Just last week, I submitted a full price offer for a client on a home, and even had an additional provision that she would exceed any competing offer by $1,000.  We lost to another buyer who offered a cash closing in 6 days at $5,000 over asking price.  That’s the kind of market we’re experiencing now.

The supply vs. demand ratio is so unbalanced right now, that homes are selling for more than they might appraise for based on last year’s sales. This is not necessarily a problem, since appraisers do give some weight to the offer itself when determining value.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Percentage of Listings Under Contract Surges Ever Higher

I have just completed my end-of-month analysis as of March 31st, based on data from Metrolist but including listings from all three Front Range MLS's.  Here are the shocking statistics: