Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More on Flood Insurance

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

Last week I wrote about flood insurance. Here’s an important fact you may not know: flood insurance, if you have it, does not cover damage to a finished basement if it floods.  It will only cover basement appliances, such as furnace and water heater, which serve the above-grade floors. You might want to keep this in mind before finishing your basement!

Signs Point to a Slow, Steady Decline for Realtor Associations

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

By JIM SMITH, Realtor

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of using a Realtor — that is, a member of a Realtor association — instead of a real estate agent who is not a Realtor.
 
In researching that story, I was shocked to discover exactly how many agents have quit their Realtor association, primarily to save the $500 in annual dues.  According to Metrolist, which is Denver’s MLS, over 20% of MLS members are non-Realtors, and that number is growing every year.
 
Three metro area Realtor associations merged a couple years ago to fight the problem of growing expense and shrinking membership.  The new organization is called the Denver Metro Association of Realtors.  The other metro area Realtor associations are the South Metro Denver Realtor Association, the Aurora Association of Realtors, the Douglas-Elbert Realtor Association, the Boulder Area Realtor Association and the Mountain Metro Association of Realtors. 
 
By joining any of these local Realtor associations, an agent also becomes a member of the Colorado Association of Realtors (CAR), and the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which in turn are losing members at a fast pace, making one wonder whether NAR, CAR and the local associations are ultimately going to disappear.
 
Consider what we would lose if there were no Realtor associations. First, recognize that real estate is essentially a lonely business.  There are a few “teams” out there, but for the most part every agent is a sole practitioner. We set our own hours, work primarily at home, and have little opportunity to mingle with and learn from others in the same industry — that is, except for the Realtor associations, which provide marketing sessions, conventions, continuing education classes and trade shows, not to mention email newsletters, blogs, calls to action, and the highly informative Realtor magazine.
 
Being an associate at one of the franchise firms like Coldwell Banker or Keller Williams does provide that important mentoring and co-learning and even direct training, but a growing percentage (over 25% by my estimate) are lone eagles or independent brokers.
 
CAR and NAR provide essential lobbying service at the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. Legislators would be at a loss when evaluating real estate legislation if it didn’t have our paid lobbyists bringing our perspective to their deliberations. These lobbyists don’t just protect the interests of practicing real estate agents (both Realtors and non-Realtors), they also protect the interests of homeowners and would-be home buyers.
 
Ours is not a simple business to understand. Without the input of our lobbyists, law-makers might abolish VA and FHA loans, which enable the purchase of homes with zero to 3.5% down payment respectively. They might abolish the mortgage interest deduction, which contributes so much to making home ownership affordable — a recognized and worthy public policy.
 
As I wrote two weeks ago, we real estate professionals need to support our trade association — not only for our good, but for yours, too.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Floods Can Blindside the Uninsured, But Does It Need to Be This Way?

[Published Sept. 19 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]

Many homeowners and renters who suffered losses in the recent flooding have discovered that their homeowners or renters insurance did not cover them.  They may have already known as much -- but they also knew they weren’t in a flood zone, so why have flood insurance?

If you purchase a home in a flood zone (as determined by FEMA maps) and apply for a federally insured mortgage, you are forced to buy flood insurance. 

However, what if you buy a home that is not in a flood zone?  Your lender does not require you to buy flood insurance, but then the unthinkable happens.  The rule is that if water touches the ground before entering your house, the damage it causes is not covered by the standard homeowners insurance policy.  Only if water enters through the roof or a wall are you covered.  But I have a modest proposal.  I propose that if you are not in a flood zone, your homeowners or renters insurance should cover flooding if it is through no fault of the policyholder.  An example of homeowner-caused flooding would be if the homeowner left a hose running and it flooded the basement.

Such a change, I believe, would be fair, because it would be a rare situation that a home not in a flood zone would experience flooding.  Even with the recent losses in our northern counties, surely the major insurance companies could more easily absorb those claims — as they do with covered disasters such as wildfires — given how all losses are spread out over millions of policyholders.  I think most policyholders would be okay, if necessary, with paying a few dollars more per year to have fellow policyholders and themselves covered in such unforeseen disasters.

The insurance industry is unlikely to institute such a policy change by itself, so maybe it would have to be done through legislation. If so, I hope that some legislator will sponsor such legislation.

Be on the Lookout for Mold

[Published Sept. 19, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]

Another issue we should all be more aware of following such a wet period is mold.  Earlier this year, on May 23rd, I devoted this column to the subject of mold. You can read that column at www.JimSmithColumns.com.  The bottom-line message of that column was that mold, which flourishes on organic material (such as lumber and drywall) that remains moist for a long period of time, can cause symptoms which are typically misdiagnosed as other ailments.  The result is that you might continue to live in a toxic environment (your home) for months or years, treating what you think is fibromyalgia or some other disorder when in fact your symptoms would disappear if you mitigated the mold in your house -- or moved to a non-moldy home. 

Symptoms can range from exhaustion, rashes, aches and pains to almost anything else.  If you find these symptoms are reduced when you leave your home for a weekend or vacation, that should be your first clue.  Check your crawl space for moisture, look up at the joists to see if there are black spots on them.  You may have a mold problem, not a health problem. Call me at 303-525-1851 if you want help finding a professional to screen for mold or for more advice on this topic.


This Week's Featured Listing -- Solar Powered Home in Fairmount

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


5476 Joyce Court, Golden

This home has both a 9.2-kW photovoltaic system and a 100-gallon solar thermal system, resulting in monthly gas & electric bills under $100 year round! Located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, it has nothing but high-end details, from the epoxy-floor garage to the three master suites and Brazilian cherry hardwood floors. There's an elaborate water feature in the front yard and a plumbed gas connection on the patio for a BBQ. 4-car garage, 2-car carport, and 2-car gravel parking space (also suitable for large RV). Concrete curbing is around the lawn and larger trees. It has a 10-zone sprinkler system serving the half-acre lot. Best of all, there is no HOA or HOA dues of any kind. The owners are Jim & Rita Smith.
Take the video tour, then call Jim at 303-525-1851 for a showing!
 

What Does It Cost to Move?

Hiring a moving company, even to move locally, can be quite costly, starting well over $1,000. At Golden Real Estate, we can help you eliminate or at least reduce that cost.

In 2004 we purchased a Ford E350 box truck, and since then hundreds of clientsand non-clients who purchased one of our listings have saved over $250,000 by using this truck instead of hiring movers or even renting a U-Haul.  The truck is equipped with moving blankets and an appliance dolly, and we also provide free moving boxes, packing paper and bubble wrap (which we accept for re-use by future clients).

When not in use by clients, we make the truck available to community organizations and non-profits, such as the Christian Action Guild and the dozen or so Jeffco churches which provide temporary shelter to homeless families under the auspices of Family Promise (formerly Interfaith Hospitality Network).

The truck is used every 2 or 3 months when our “Styrofoam Corral” fills with polystyrene, and we take a truckload of the stuff to ACH Foam Technologies in Denver for recycling.

Buy or sell with Golden Real Estate, and you can use the truck too!

Chevy Volt update -- on my last tank of gas (8.3 gal.) I traveled 3,216 miles (388 mpg)

That was Sept. 2nd.  My previous fill-up was July 7th, when I had traveled only 2,734 miles. (325 mpg)

My lifetime average (over 22,000 miles) is 230 mpg.  I have only burned 99 gallons of gas since June 2012 when I took delivery.  I still have 70% of my oil life left, so my first oil change will be at about 75,000 miles... The downside is that I have to buy my own windshield washer solvent, instead of Grease Monkey topping it off every 3,000 miles.

Since my home and office are both solar powered, I hardly paid anything for the electricity I used.

Most Chevrolet dealers have a Volt you can test drive...  That's what sold me, and I'm so glad.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Westword Draws Attention to Effect of Construction Defects Suits

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

For several years, it was nearly impossible to sell a condo at the downtown Golden complex known as Millstone at Clear Creek. The reason was that the condo association was embroiled in construction defects litigation against the builder and its insurance company. 

Those claims have been settled now, but until that happened, the only way to sell a condo at Millstone was to find cash buyers.  That’s because mortgage companies typically refuse to lend to a condo buyer when the HOA is involved in litigation — even as a complainant. The result is that the existing units can only be sold to cash buyers.  When you realize that condos are one of the favored — i.e., most affordable — options for first-time home buyers, you can see why it would be important to reduce the number of such lawsuits.  So far, the state legislature has been unsuccessful in dealing with this problem, and the result is that virtually no condo projects are being built currently.

Westword, the Denver arts and entertainment weekly, made this topic their cover story for their Sept. 5-11 issue, under the title “Design Flaw: Have Construction Lawsuits Killed Denver’s Condo Industry, or Is That Just a Bill of Sale?” You can find the article and follow-up blogs on this complex subject at www.Westword.com.

According to that very long and detailed article, virtually all multi-family construction has switched to the building of rental apartment buildings instead of condos.  From a public policy standpoint, this is not good because home owners create a more stable and diverse community base than do apartment renters.

Here in Golden, we have two multi-family projects getting under way. Both of them would have been condos in the past but both are to be rental apartments. The developers will tell you that it’s just too risky to build condos because of the threat of construction defect claims.

In many cases there are very serious defects, and the HOA will search out a contingency law firm — there are three big ones in the metro area, one of them two blocks from Millstone in downtown Golden.

These firms operate on the same basis as personal injury lawyers — no upfront charge for anything, and the law firm keeps one-third of any award plus all expenses, which can bring the net down to half the final award or even less.

If an HOA doesn’t seek out a construction defects law firm, it will probably get cold calls (after the HOA is set loose from the builder who controls it initially) from such firms asking, “Do you have any problems with leaks or other defects? We can send in some inspectors at no cost to you and see whether you might have a claim. We are very successful at getting money for construction defects. What do you say?”

This Week's Featured New Listings

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

 
2100 Iris Street, Lakewood 80215
$574,900
 
You'll love the one-of-a-kind, magnificent open floor plan of this 3-bedroom, 5-bath custom-built home with its 4,000 finished sq.ft., top-of-the-line design, d├ęcor and construction.  The 17’ x 27’ gourmet kitchen has granite tiles and a 6-burner Thermador gas cooktop. In addition to the 14’x28’ master bedroom upstairs, there is a second 14’x20’ master bedroom on the main floor. The 21’x21’ loft offers scenic views, making a great home office or play area. The ready-to-finish basement is framed and plumbed for a second kitchen, another bedroom and home theater or den -- there is already a full bath. Other features include slate and bamboo floors, a wood-burning stove, solar-ready construction, newer roof and energy efficient windows, Rinnai hot water heater, covered porch, 3-car garage, and two sheds. From this prime location in the Morse Park area, you can walk or bike to Crown Hill park and nature preserve, RTD light rail, Whitlock Rec Center, Morse Park (tennis/pool), and Lakewood’s main library. You're just minutes by car from Belmar, Colorado Mills, Golden and downtown Denver. There are no covenants, so bring your RV, boat and other toys! Priced to sell, this exquisite home won't last long! Take a narrated video tour of it (simulating a showing) at www.LakewoodHome.info then call me for a real-life showing! This home is not quite ready for showing, but call now anyway so you can be among the first to see it! Remember, if you buy this or any Golden Real Estate listing, you get free use of our moving truck & free moving boxes!
 
31041 Haldimand Drive, Conifer
$369,000
Endless possibilities with this south facing 3,634 square foot rustic home. Great access to Hwy 285 and an easy driveway. It features a 3-BR, 2-bath main house as well as a mother-in-law style apartment or guest suite that has 2 bedrooms and 1 bath above the garage. There is a very bright solarium added in 1996 which has a kitchenette, full bath, and is perfect for an office/studio/workshop or entertaining. It is situated away from the main home and has special glass and skylight screen to prevent the sun room from getting too hot. The wrap around decks showcase beautiful rock outcroppings. For a showing, call Carrie Lovinger, 303-907-1278.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Should You Really Care Whether Your Real Estate Agent Is a Realtor?

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

By JIM SMITH, Realtor
 
Last week, I gave you 18 questions you might ask when interviewing an agent to list your home, but I forgot the one question which could prove to be the most important: Is he (or she) a Realtor?

This question may puzzle you. “Aren’t those terms synonymous?  Isn’t every licensed real estate agent a realtor?”  (Notice the lower case on “Realtor.”)

For decades the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which owns the trademark term “Realtor,” has been fighting a losing battle to educate the general public and even its own members that only members of NAR can call themselves “Realtors” and that “Realtor” is a trademark (like  “Kleenex”) that should always be capitalized.

NAR also owns the website www.realtor.com, but contracts with a for-profit company, Move, Inc., to operate it.  This website used to be the number 1 real estate website, but I’ve read that recently it has lost market share and is now behind Trulia and Zillow.

I have frequently reminded sellers of homes that a big reason to make sure your listing agent is a member of NAR — that is, a Realtor — was because only Realtors’ listings are uploaded to that all-important website by Metrolist, the Denver MLS. .  That argument, however, is about to go away, since the NAR Board of Directors has made changes to its operating agreement with Move, Inc. to make it more competitive with Trulia and Zillow, which carry non-Realtor listings and even “by owner” listings.  Metrolist has confirmed to me that they will start uploading non-Realtor listings to realtor.com “soon.”

Since the recent market downturn, and even before that, NAR and its local Realtor associations have been bleeding membership, as agents by the thousands (hundreds locally) have given up membership in NAR  to save the $500 cost of annual dues.

So why would it still be important for you to ask your agent if he or she is a Realtor — i.e., a member of his local Realtor association and therefore of NAR?

You can find my answer to that in my August 15th column, in which I described the qualifies of successful agents — one of them is to be a Realtor.  I didn’t say that specifically. What I wrote was that a successful agent “gives back” by supporting his trade association (NAR) as well as joining service clubs and chambers of commerce. Successful agents do this not because of what’s in it for them — a specific monetary payback — but because it’s the right thing to do.

What our Realtor associations do actually benefits the consumer as well as their Realtor members. It is NAR which has a major lobbying presence, for example, in Washington, DC, to make sure that Congress does not tamper with the home mortgage interest deduction, which is so important to all homeowners. NAR also led the fight to keep banks out of the real estate brokerage business — important to its members but which would also have had serious ramifications for the general public.  Our Colorado statewide and local Realtor associations also actively lobby the state legislature and city councils on real estate issues that truly matter to all homeowners.

Since it’s safe to say that the most likely reason an agent would NOT be a Realtor is to save $500 per year, you should ask yourself, “Do I want to entrust the marketing of my house to an agent who needs to scrimp on expenses such as his NAR membership?”  If he (or she) scrimps on his membership in and support of the trade association which is fighting to preserve the American dream of home ownership, what expense will he scrimp on in marketing your home?  Photographs? Video tours? Postcards and emails to buyers and agents? Advertising?  Think about it -- you really should care that your agent is a Realtor!
 

This week's featured new listing: Golden Home Backing to Open Space

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

 
390 Mesa View Way, Golden
$695,000
View a Narrated Video Tour at www.MountainRidgeHome.com
 
Located at the top of Golden's premiere subdivision, the Village at Mountain Ridge, this 4-bedroom, 5-bath home boasts 4,400 sq. ft. of living space, a 5-car, 1,044-sq.-ft. garage, and a professionally landscaped 0.29-acre lot backing to Mt. Galbraith Open Space Park. You won't find a more beautiful location for your next home. The interior finishes are superb -- granite countertops, stainless appliances, designer paint scheme, main-floor study opening to the wrap-around deck, walk-around gas fireplace, gorgeous climate-controlled wine cellar, and so much more. The Brazilian cumaru (teak) hardwood floors even extend out to the covered wrap-around deck, which itself measures 1,130 sq. ft. Upstairs, the master suite features his & her walk-in closets and opens to a wood deck which provides shade to the flagstone patio below and overlooks the terraced backyard and the mountainside beyond. In the past three years only two other Mountain Ridge homes backing to open space have come on the market, so act quickly if that's what you're looking for. 
 
 Open this Saturday, 1-4 p.m.