Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Looking Back: Here Are Some 2013 Columns You May Have Missed

[Published Dec. 26, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]

Thanks for reading my weekly “Real Estate Today” column. Often the columns are dated because they are about the real estate market that particular week, but other columns retain their usefulness months later. That’s why I archive all my columns at http://www.JimSmithColumns.com, where you can find the following “evergreen” ones:  
Jan. 3 — Don’t Believe Reports that the Mortgage Interest Deduction Will Be Eliminated
Jan. 10 — ‘Above & Beyond’ Services Can Set Apart a Full-Service Real Estate Agent

Jan. 17 — The Art of Giving and Requesting Good Feedback on Real Estate Showings

Feb. 28 — An Unwary Buyer Could Be Blindsided at Closing and Lose Earnest Money

Apr. 18 — How Buyers Can Make Their Offers More Attractive Than Competing Offers

May 23 — Mold - The Hidden Danger in Homes and What You Need to Know About It

May 30 — Confidentiality Reduces the Effectiveness & Enforcement of Realtor Code of Ethics

June 20 — Do You Think Real Estate Agents Are Overpaid? Much of the Time We Work for Free

June 27 — Here Are Some Typical Questions That Buyers and Sellers Have About Closings

July 11 — Metropolitan Tax Districts Add Hidden Cost to the Price of Many Homes, Especially in New Subdivisions

July 18 — Trulia & Zillow Are Great, But Not for Finding Homes That Are Currently for Sale. Where Should You Look Instead?

July 25 — New to Colorado? Most Real Estate Transactions Here Are Done Without the Participation of Lawyers

Aug. 1 — There’s So Much More to Buying or Selling a Home Than Getting It Under Contract (Keep That in Mind When Considering Sale by Owner.)

Aug. 8 — Momentum Builds for 5 Jeffco Commissioners Elected by District, Not Just 3 Commissioners Elected at Large

Aug. 15 — What Qualities Make Some Real Estate Agents More Successful Than Others?

Aug. 22 — Client Is Glad She Decided Against Trying to Sell Home by Herself. Here’s Her Story.

Aug. 29 — 18 Questions to Ask When Interviewing an Agent to List Your Home, So You Select the Best One

Sept. 12 — The Effects of Construction Defect Lawsuits on Building of Condos (Explains Why Most Multi-Family Construction Is Now of Rentals)

Sept. 19 — Recent Floods Blindsided Uninsured Homeowners, But Does It Need to Be That Way?

Sept. 25 — Declining Membership Points to a Slow, Steady Decline for Realtor Associations

Oct. 17 — ‘Credit Repair’ Services Can Actually Lower Your Credit Score, Not Raise It (Use a Mortgage Professional Who Will Advise You for Free to Help You Qualify for a Mortgage)

Oct. 24 — Your Home’s Under Contract — What Should You Expect Between Now & Closing?

Oct. 31 — Mastering the Art and Science of Getting Your Way When Negotiating Inspection Issues

Nov. 7 — The Year-End Rush Is on for Agents to Take Soon-to-Be-Outdated Mandatory Class (Agents Should Take This Class in January!)

Nov. 14 — Here’s Some of What I Learned at This Year’s Realtor Convention & Expo

Dec. 12 — Our Recent Sub-Zero Cold Spell Demonstrated Value of Weatherization

Dec. 19 — The Pros & Cons of Putting Your Home on the Market During December

Do you have a topic suggestion? Call me!

Home Sales Surged Last Week, The Week Before Christmas

[Published Dec. 26, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section]

In my Dec. 19th column I wrote that December can be a good time to put a home on the market. Statistics have reinforced that statement, as last week turned out to be one of the busiest December shopping weeks in local real estate history.
My attention was drawn to this by what happened in our hometown of Golden. At the beginning of the week there were only 15 listings in the entire City of Golden — a shockingly low inventory — but by week’s end that count was down to 11 listings, because two listings had been added, but six listing had gone under contract!
Searching the full MLS, I discovered that just over 1,000 listings went under contract last week, and 165 of them had been on the MLS for a week or less. Just as impressive, 67 of the listings sold last week had been on the MLS six months or more. So, yes, buyers are buying homes — even “stale” listings — during late December! By comparison, I counted only 613 sales that resulted from contracts written during the same pre-Christmas week in 2012. Even allowing for contracts that fall or for duplicate listings, this is a huge year-over-year increase.


For additional comparison, during the 3rd week of June last summer, 1,716 listings went under contract that subsequently closed successfully. Even if we adjust last week’s contracts downward to allow for fallen contracts and duplicate listings, that still means that the week before Christmas saw more than half as many sales as in mid-June.


Another 208 more listings went under contract on the Sunday and Monday before Christmas this year. Last year, 83 homes went under contract (that subsequently closed) on the Sunday and Monday before Christmas (which fell on Tuesday last year).

This Week’s Featured New Listing: Solar-Powered Lakewood Home

[Published Dec. 26, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]
Enjoy Small Electric Bills in This
Solar-Powered Lakewood Home!
 

Built in 2006, this modern home at 2475 Balsam Street gets most of its electricity from the sun.  It has 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and 1,688 sq. ft. plus an unfinished 852-sq.ft. basement. Best of all, it sits in a quiet cul-de-sac several blocks west of Wadsworth and a couple blocks south of Crown Hill Cemetery. You won’t find a quieter location that is still convenient to downtown Denver and all highways. With its mature landscaping front and back, you’ll enjoy entertaining in the fenced backyard with its Trex deck and fruit trees (peach and cherry). Inside, you’ll like the hardwood, tile, and carpeted floors.  All appliances are included, too — washer, dryer, and French door stainless steel refrigerator. The hot water heater and forced air furnace are both high efficiency, too.  Call me for a showing!

 



Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Pros & Cons of Putting Your Home on the Market in December

[Published Dec. 19, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section]

Is it a good idea to put your home on the market during the holidays?  The answer may surprise you.

The main reason not to market your home at this time is likely a personal one — you want to enjoy the holiday season without the distraction of allowing agents to show your home. You do more entertaining at this time of year than at other times, and you don’t want to accommodate showing requests that conflict with your family’s holiday activities.

Heaven forbid that you get an offer to buy your home with a late December closing and move!  And who is house hunting now anyway?

Those are just a few of the arguments I hear against putting a home on the market, and they probably account in part for the seasonally low number of listings at year-end.

My response to those points, however, is that you are more in control than you think. Just because an agent asks to show your home at an inopportune time doesn’t mean you have to grant the request or lose that showing  Don’t just decline the showing — give the showing agent an alternate time that is more convenient for you.

This is when it is particularly useful to have a live-action video tour of your home. Just last week I received a showing request for a time that was inconvenient for my seller. I asked the showing agent to have his client view the 10-minute video tour that totally simulates an in-person showing of the home.  (I made such a tour for my new listing posted below.)  This can produce one of two results: 1) “This home is just what my buyer is looking for,” in which case my seller is happy to grant the showing, or 2) “My buyer realizes this is not the house for them,” in which case my seller is spared a non-productive showing!  Either result is okay.

As long as you don’t fear marketing your home at this time of the year, you can use it to your advantage.  People need to buy homes year round.  The limited inventory at this time of year makes supply and demand work in your favor.

Yes, there will be fewer showings, but the flip side of that is that only serious buyers with an immediate need to buy will be looking at homes at this time of year. Isn’t it nice to think that you’ll only be accommodating showing requests for people who actually need to buy a home?

Sellers also need to remember that everything in a contract is negotiable, including dates. If you receive an offer specifying a closing date that is inconvenient for you, you can counter the date, not just the price. Better yet, if their inconvenient closing date is so important to them, use it to get a higher price. Wouldn’t you move on Christmas day if it meant you could get $20,000 more for your home? You might be able to extract a big monetary premium by not countering on the date. This is when you need a good listing agent who can assess what is a good bargaining chip to get you the best deal.

People are under the impression that there is a “buying season” in real estate. While it’s true that families with school-age children generally prefer to move when school is out, other buyers are being transferred, changing jobs, getting divorced or married, losing a job or family member or experiencing a multitude of other events which require them to buy or sell at any given time of year. 

Knowing that people need to move year round, putting your house on the market when there’s so little competition might just be the strategic thing to do.

2nd Featured Listing: 2479 Hazel Court in Highlands

 

Enjoy All That Highlands Offers in
This Updated 1890 Denver Square!

Old world charm meets tasteful remodeling in this home at 2479 Hazel Court. The preserved features include original hardwood floors, exposed brick, ornate heat registers, stained glass windows, antique hardware and heavy wooden pocket doors in the parlor. No driveways here — the garages for these homes all face the alley. I grew up in a house like this on Capitol Hill and loved it! This is an updated version of that home. There are two garages (the original 1-car  garage and a newer 2-car garage) and kitchen and bathrooms feature era-appropriate updates. Clawfoot tub meets slab granite and stainless steel! Walk to Bronco home games!  It has four bedrooms, two full baths and 2,166 sq. ft. above grade, plus a partial basement.  It is listed by Mike Phelps, but I can show it to you.  Call me at 303-525-1851.
 

This week's featured listing: 225 Kimball Ave in Heritage Dells


This is the Mountain View You’ll Wake Up to
in This Updated Heritage Dells Home!

Heritage Dells is that 1980’s neighborhood backing to Apex Open Space Park, The trailhead is a short walk from this 2-story home which itself backs to a greenbelt. Above is the view from the master bedroom. Below that window is the oversized Trex deck where you’ll enjoy watching the elk and other wildlife which frequent this quiet locale away from highway or other noise.  Take a simulated video tour of this home at http://www.HeritageDellsHome.info , then call me for a showing. This is a brand new listing, going on the MLS today!  The address is 225 Kimball Ave.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Realtor.com Cancels Its ‘AgentMatch’ Experiment


In my Dec. 5th column I described the effort by Realtor.com to rank Realtors based on their past sales numbers.  I wrote that I would be surprised if the effort survived its beta test because of the angry reaction of NAR members.

Last week realtor.com announced that it was abandoning the effort.

Yes, it would be nice for prospective sellers to be able to identify the most successful listing agents when they want to list their home. For the most part, they have to rely on what the agents they interview say about their level of success in listing and selling homes.

There is, however, one Realtor-supported website which rates listing and selling agents based on surveys sent to clients after each transaction. That website is www.RatedAgent.com. 

Participation in this service is strictly optional, so you only see agents who have agreed to have surveys sent to past clients.  You’ll find all the agents from Golden Real Estate on this website, showing not only an actual rating (mine is lowest at 4.76 out of 5), but also the answers to 15+ survey questions and free-form comments.

 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our Recent Sub-Zero Cold Spell Showed Value of Weatherization

[Published Dec. 12, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]

Now that our spell of exceptionally cold weather is finally over, what did we learn besides the fact that Peyton Manning can play in cold weather?

For Rita and me, that week of sub-zero nights really demonstrated the value of home weatherization.  That’s because in 2012 we spent $10,000 on weatherizing the 2002 home we had purchased backing to Lookout Mountain. It was primarily because of that investment in weatherization — not just our solar PV system and air source heat pump — that I put our house on that year’s Golden Tour of Solar and Sustainable Homes.

This week I’ll describe the weatherization of our home in case you have decided based on last week’s cold spell that your house would benefit from a seriousimprovement in insulation.  The work was performed by Bill Lucas-Brown of GB3 Energy Solutions. I got to know Bill and his wife when I sold them a home in downtown Golden and he described his work.

What exactly did Bill’s company do that made such a difference? First, we had Bill perform an energy audit on our house, which included a blower door test. A blower door test depressurizes the house by installing a strong fan in a doorway which sucks the air out of the house. With the fan running, it’s possible to identify the places in the house where outside air leaks into the house.

In our case, Bill found that the molding around our windows needed caulking and that the can lights in our ceilings were not sealed which was allowing air to leak into our attic.

In addition to the blower door test, Bill used an infra-red camera to determine which areas of the exterior walls were poorly insulated and which electrical outlets in those exterior walls might need sealing.

From his energy audit Bill gave us a list of things we could have him do, and we agreed to everything on that list. Among the items were: conditioning of the crawl space under the front section of the house, sealing and insulating the rim band (where the floor joists sit on top of the concrete foundation), blowing in 180 bales of additional cellulose attic insulation, caulking around windows, and insulating the walls and attic of our attached garage.

We trusted that such a massive increase in insulation would make our home more comfortable in the winter, but after last week’s cold spell, we have a genuine appreciation for the effects of GB3’s work.

These improvements are detailed in a YouTube video which I made with Bill shortly after the work was completed. (I created videos describing all the homes on the 2012 tour of solar & sustainable homes, including our own.) I have put a link to that video at www.JimSmithColumns.com in case you’d like to see what Bill’s company did for our home that made such a difference in the past week.

Our gas bill isn’t in yet, but last December’s gas bill was only $30 higher than our gas bill in July. It must be attributable to weatherization.

We were so pleased with GB3’s work on our home that I also hired the company to weatherize Golden Real Estate’s office. They conditioned that crawl space in the same manner as at our home and blew additional insulation into the attic.  As a result, our office was also nice and cozy throughout last week’s cold spell.

Contact information for GB3 and the other vendors is displayed on that video.

Inventory of Listings Drops Drastically

[Published Dec. 12, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section]

Typically, the number of houses on the market drops during December, but this year’s drop was three times last year’s drop.

At the beginning of December last year, according to Metrolist statistics, the number of listings was 10% lower than the number of listings at the beginning of November.

This year, I have calculated the drop at 30%. 

The low inventory of homes for sale has been a subject of press coverage for over a year, but the number of active listings now is less than half what it was in July and 45% lower than it was in January 2013.

In the City of Golden, we’re down to just 14 active listings, compared to 25 or 30 earlier this year. The total number of MLS listings is under 10,000 — lower than at any time since 2008, which is as far back as Metrolist displays statistics.

Is December a good time to put your home on the market? It certainly is when there are so few homes to compete with.

Personally, I have carried 10 to 20 listings consistently since starting Golden Real Estate seven years ago. Today, I’m down to just one listing, and I am expecting competing offers for it by the time this column is published on Thursday.  This drought of listings is unprecedented for me personally and for the MLS generally.

 

FHA Lowers the Maximum Loan Amount for Jeffco to $391,000

[Published Dec. 12, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section]

Beginning in January 2014, the maximum size mortgage which FHA will insure has been adjusted downward.  The maximum amount varies from county to county, being highest in counties like Boulder where home prices are highest.  For the other Front Range counties, including Jefferson, the new maximum was reduced from $417,000 to $391,000.

FHA loans are attractive to first-time home buyers and others because they only require a 3.5% down payment, although there are lenders who will write non-FHA loans that are equally or more attractive.

Since the maximum amount for a conventional loan is also $417,000, I have asked the lenders I work with whether that limit will also be dropping, but the response I have received so far is that there are no such plans.  When the loan amount on a home purchase exceeds that limit, it is classified as a “jumbo” loan, which has traditionally carried a higher interest rate.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Percentage of Listings Under Contract Up Slightly Overall as Total Inventory Plummets

Look at this!

While the percentage of listings under contract has fallen in some areas and risen in others with a slight increase overall, the number of homes on the market has fallen by 30% from the end of October to the end of November. (See bottom lines of this table for inventory numbers.)  In 2012, the drop in active listings from October to November was only 9%.


Here is how the buyer activity has changed over the past three months by price range:

Realtor.com Creates a Major Uproar Over Its Agent Rating Beta Test

[Published Dec. 5, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section. A slightly abbreviated version also appeared in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers.]

Realtor.com, which is owned by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) but operated by a for-profit company called Move, Inc., has dipped two big toes in the turbulent waters of providing agent ratings to consumers, and I wonder whether it will end up abandoning the effort under the fire it is receiving from NAR members.

Rating agents has a long and troubled history, because the truth is that the vast majority of agents, including those of us who pay $500 per year in dues to be members of our local, state and national Realtor associations and thereby call ourselves Realtors, are not doing nearly the business we’d like prospective clients to think we’re doing.

The average NAR member earns less than $40,000 per year in gross commission income, and I’m told that a large percentage of us didn’t have a single closing last year.

The numbers speak for themselves.  There are, I've been told, 17,000 members of Metrolist, Denver’s MLS, and there were only 48,823 transactions in the first 10 months of this year in which those 17,000 agents shared an estimated $750 million in commissions.  That averages out to roughly $44,000 in gross commission earning per agent — before splitting 26% on average with their brokerages and before paying their automotive, cell phone, and numerous other expenses. 

However, that’s the average, not the median agent income. Since the vast majority of that $750 million in commission income was earned by the top 10% of agents, the median income is far less than that figure suggests.

What this means is that the majority of NAR members are understandably furious that the organization to which they’re paying $500 in dues would allow the operator of their website to feature agents who are top producers so that those top producers get more business and other NAR members find it even harder to get a piece of the commission pie.

IRES, the MLS which serves northern Colorado, including Boulder, is one of two MLS’s nationwide which have allowed realtor.com to use MLS data to feature the top 16 producers in any given neighborhood where they have listings. To see how it works, go to http://agentmatch.realtor.com and enter any northern Colorado address, neighborhood or city.  You’ll see how many current listings each top producer has in that area, how many of their listings sold in the last six months, their ratio of listing price to sold price, and average days on market.

It’s pretty cool and, yes, pretty helpful to sellers who want to find a good and successful listing agent for their area. However, I’ll be shocked (and impressed) if this effort lives beyond its beta test.

This Week's Featured New Listing: Affordable 2-Bedroom Lakeshore Village Condo—Just $155,000

[Published Dec. 5, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]


4385 S. Balsam Street, #11-203
Denver CO 80123
 
This 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo with vaulted ceilings, just listed by broker associate Mark Spencer, is located in the 120-unit Lakeshore Village complex, just south of Quincy Avenue and just west of Wadsworth Blvd. Formerly a rental, it is in very good condition, ready to be your primary residence or investment property. It is in building 11, which is at the far end of the complex, away from any highway noise and close to Lakeshore Village's primary amenity, its swimming pool and clubhouse. The unit comes with a private 1-car garage plus one reserved parking space -- and there's lots of guest parking! Take a narrated video tour at http://www.GreatGoldenHomes.com, then call Mark at 303-842-4480 to set a showing.

Jefferson County Deserves True Representative Government

[Published Dec. 5, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section]

Jeffco is governed by three commissioners. Our state constitution allows counties to have five commissioners once their population exceeds 70,000.  Jeffco has eight times that population, but, unlike other large counties, has not exercised that option.

The current Board of County Commissioners have declined to put the proposition on the 2014 ballot despite its obvious benefits, among them:

First, because all commissioners are elected at large, incumbents face few challenges, since any challenger has to run countywide. In the last election one commissioner was unopposed!  Term limits are not a problem. We have seen commissioners resign so their party could appoint a replacement and the term limits start over for the new commissioner!

Second, under the state’s “open meetings” law, a quorum of any body cannot meet privately. With only three commissioners, two are a quorum, so they can’t even talk to each other — legally.

A grassroots group has formed to put a citizen initiative on the ballot to have the county governed by five commissioners, each elected from a specific district.  The organization is Jeffco5, and their website is www.Jeffco5.com. Please visit their website and get involved. Their next meeting is this Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Golden Public Library.
 
Here's additional information from Jeffco5Grassroots:
 
The timeline is tight, and anyone who is willing to help with petitions beginning Jan 7 should e-mail Bernie at mttop@aol.com.  This is a huge undertaking...the Commissioners have not 'listened' to our plea to let the voters decide!  We need you!  If you BELIEVE we would have better representative government with a Board of 5, check out our web page at www.jeffco5.com and e-mail Bernie if you can help.  Include your contact information as well as the neighborhood you live in!  Do YOU feel represented?
Jeffco5 Grassroots Proposal:
   Should the board of County Commissioners of the County of Jefferson, State of Colorado, be increased from three to five members?
   - POPULATION: Jeffco has over 540,000 folks...more than 10% of the State of Colorado, similar to the entire State of Wyoming.
   - FIVE COMMISSIONERS: El Paso, Arapahoe, Weld and Adams have already moved to have 5 commissioners!
   - NONPARTISAN: This proposal is about transparency, communication and responsible government, not politics.
   - REPRESENTATION: Five Commissioners would each represent a smaller constituency so could be more responsive.
   - LET THE VOTERS DECIDE: The current Commissioners can pass a resolution to place this proposal on the ballot for the regularly scheduled 2014 election for very little cost.
   CALL OR WRITE YOUR COUNTY COMMISSIONERS TODAY AND ASK THEM TO PLEASE PUT THIS PROPOSAL ON THE BALLOT IN 2014: LET THE VOTERS DECIDE!!  The commissioners can be reached at: (303) 271-8525, or by email at commish@Jeffco.us.
   Visit our website (http://www.Jeffco5.com) or email us at karenoxman@aol.com  303-913-9827. We are also on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/Jeffco5grassroots.  
   Write a letter to the editor of your local paper
   Share this information with your friends and neighbors!