Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sellers Are Afraid to Sell Their Home and Not Find a Home to Buy

[Published May 1, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section]

I hear it repeated by one would-be seller after another: “I want to sell my home but I’m afraid that if I’ll sell my home I won’t be able to find a replacement home. I don’t want to be homeless!”
 


In fact, after I upload this column on Tuesday, I’m meeting with such a seller whose home just went under contract.  Now they need to buy their next home before closing!  (They are looking for a 3-bedroom ranch or patio home up to $350,000 that is west of Wadsworth Blvd. between Jewell Ave. & 80th Ave.)

There are a variety of ways that a buyer’s agent can succeed at this task — besides publishing the buyer’s search criteria in a newspaper column!  Here are some of the techniques which agents (including me) use to get the job done for their buyers.

1) Sending eflyers to other agents describing their buyers’ needs.

2) Sending letters or postcards to homeowners in a subdivision saying, “I may have a buyer for your house — call me!”  (This is a really effective approach if you’re telling the truth and not just fishing for listings. What I like to do is to include a picture of the buyer’s family in front of a recognizable park or sign in the neighborhood to show that I’m not bluffing.)

Mailings like this can be highly targeted, because it is possible for agents with MLS access to download from public records such details as style (ranch vs. 2-story, etc.), size, year of construction, etc.

3) Contacting agents whofarmthe targeted area or who at least have a history of selling homes in that neighborhood.  Without access to the MLS, you can’t search sold listings and see who sold them, so you need an agent for this approach.

4) Find an active playground and strike up conversations with the adults about your home search. It helps to have your own child with you!

Here at Golden Real Estate we have added a “Buyer Needs” page to our website, http://www.goldenrealestate.com, so that sellers can see whether their home matches what one of our buyer clients is looking for. This page lists the agent to contact if you want further information.

Some MLS’s, I’ve been told, allow agents to list buyer needs, which would be really helpful, but I’m not aware of any plans for our MLS, Metrolist, to include that feature.

Here are some other points that I make when talking to a seller who faces this dilemma and is holding his or her home off the market because of it.

1) You may feel helpless as a buyer — especially if you have lost bids for houses already — but you are definitely in the driver’s seat as a seller.  If you price your current home right (i.e., low enough to attract multiple offers quickly), you will be able to select the buyer with the most flexibility regarding closing date. Your agent could say to such a buyer’s agent, “Your buyer can have this house if they agree to postpone closing up to “x” days to fit seller’s need to find a replacement home.”

2) At Golden Real Estate, our agents use our free moving truck as a bargaining chip in winning a bid for their buyer, by offering totally free or nearly free moving for the seller, even though they’re not our client.

Act Quickly to Snare These Hot New Listings from Golden Real Estate

[Published May 1, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]

 
733 Ridgeside Drive, Golden
$300,000
 
This home may not be available by the time you read this ad, but check its web page just in case — www.GeneseeHome.info. It went on the MLS Sunday evening and already had an offer coming in 24 hours later!  The home features two master suites on the top floor and a finished walk-out basement.  Instead of backing to other buildings, this townhome backs to a stream with ponds in it. The subdivision’s major amenities — its clubhouse and pool — are about 100 yards from the front door!  There are also two tennis courts for the exclusive use of residents. You can take a narrated YouTube video tour of this home online at the above website. Listed by Jim Smith.

 
12416 Dexter Street, Westminster
$269,000
With just under 2,000 square feet of living area, this 3-bedroom, 3-bath home built in 2001 is in the Meadow Park subdivision. Just listed by broker associate Mark Spencer, it can be toured online at www.ThorntonHome.info.
14541 W. 56th Place, Arvada
$695,000
This 5,764-sq.-ft. home is unique among Candlelight Valley homes for having both an attached 3-car garage and a detached 2.5-car garage/workshop. This is a beautifully updated home! Tour it online at www.CandlelightValley.info. Listed by Jim Smith.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Conversation About ‘Coming Soon’ Signs Continues Among Realtors

[Published April 24, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section. An abbreviated version also appeared in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers.]

This is a conversation that never goes anywhere meaningful or effective. Why? The answer is rooted in concerns about interference in contracts and denying the stated wishes of sellers.

First some background information. Because of the current real estate market in which any well-priced home sells with multiple offers very quickly, it has become increasingly common for listing agents to keep listings off the MLS in hopes of selling the listings themselves and making double the commission.  (Otherwise they’d have to share their commission with a buyer’s agent.)

There are valid reasons, of course, for using “Coming Soon.”  I use it frequently to alert buyers to a home and build interest in it while I finish shooting the pictures or editing my video tour. I don’t want to list a home until I have pictures for the MLS and a brochure for the brochure box.

Some agents, however, will install “Coming Soon” signs in front of houses with the intention of attracting unrepresented buyers and “double-ending” the transaction, thereby depriving other real estate agents of the opportunity to sell the property and earn a “co-op” commission.

At Metrolist’s Rules & Regulations Committee meeting earlier this month, over an hour was spent discussing possible actions that could be taken to reduce the number of listings which are sold without ever going on the MLS.  The conversation generated no solution.  In my experience it never does.

It was suggested that there be a rule that all listings must be entered in the MLS within a certain number of business days after any sign is put in the ground.  But it’s possible for the Seller to sign a listing agreement with the additional provision, “Seller instructs Broker to keep listing off the MLS.” How can the MLS go against the wishes of a Seller as embodied in a signed contract?  Then again, what if it wasn’t the Seller’s idea?  What if the listing agent, hoping to double his commission, convinced the Seller to sign a contract with this provision?

That led to the suggestion that the contract contain a bold-face notice to sellers: “Seller has been advised that by keeping this property off the MLS, he is limiting the exposure to many buyers and may sell his property for significantly less money.”  But contract language is the province of the Colorado Real Estate Commission, not the MLS.  Again, no action!

And so the conversation goes — around and around without ever producing an idea that can actually be implemented.  I have witnessed this same debate more times than I can count — at Realtor Association board of directors meetings, Metrolist, the Real Estate Commission itself (which also took no action), and elsewhere.

From Columbine Hills to Arvada, Golden Real Estate Lists Some of the Best Homes!

[Published April 24, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]

Yes, there are still affordable homes in the metro area, and here are two good examples. They were put on the MLS this week and they should draw lots of interest by showing agents as well as open house visitors this Saturday.

The house on the left is at 8021 S. Kendall Blvd. in Littleton, just a few blocks north of Chatfield Reservoir and its great bicycle paths.

There are 1,000 square feet of living space on each level of this bi-level home. On the upper level are two bedrooms, a full bathroom, kitchen, living room and dining room. Downstairs is a master suite and L-shaped family room, plus the new boiler and hot water heater. Yes, this home features baseboard hot water heating, powered by a high-efficiency boiler.

The quarter-acre lot features a fenced back yard with storage barn and play structure which are both included. See a slideshow of pictures plus a narrated video tour at this home’s web page, www.ColumbineHillsHome.info.

The house on the right is at 6593 Independence St. in central Arvada. It’s a 1,673-sq.-ft. home with 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a 225-sq.ft. sunroom. Many of the critical systems in this 1974 home are quite new, including the roof (2010), the sewer line (2012) and central air conditioning (2013).  See a slideshow of still photos plus a narrated video tour at its web page, www.ArvadaRanch.info.

Both these homes are being held open on Saturday, April 26, from 1-4 p.m. Sellers will wait until Sunday to decide among the offers re ceived.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

HDR Imaging — Raising the Bar on Real Estate’s #1 Tool, Photography

[Published April 17, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section. An abbreviated version also appeared in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers.]

Survey after survey has proven that the number and quality of photographs makes the biggest difference when it comes to marketing real estate listings. There is wide variation in what listing agents are willing to spend on this important aspect of their marketing.  At one end of the spectrum are agents who use their smartphone or a point-and-shoot digital camera. At the other end are agents who hire a professional photographer to shoot still photos, and even a videographer to create a video tour.

For Golden Real Estate, I’ve chosen to do both tasks in-house and have, over time, increased the quality of our equipment.  After starting with a point-and-shoot camera, I upgraded to a Nikon digital SLR with a wide angle lens and flash attachment for interior pictures and a couple telephoto lenses for exterior views such as of mountain peaks and city lights.

Then I discovered HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range photography.  At last November’s Realtor convention in San Francisco I invested in a system which adds this capability to our Nikon camera.

Below are matched photos of the same scenes. Both were shot with the same Nikon camera, but the first one of each pair was created without applying HDR technology. 

Each HDR photograph is a software-generated composite of multiple exposures, with the software choosing the best exposure for each element of the photograph. As a result, I obtain both good outdoor views through windows and perfect “lighting” on each interior element.

There is no flash used with HDR.  Instead, the camera, mounted on a tripod, takes nine separate exposures using only available light.

At first, I figured that HDR imaging was only necessary for scenes which include a window, but I’ve come to realize that all interior and even some exterior scenes can benefit from this process. Although the difference in the windows is most striking, notice the extra detail obtained from interior elements such as furniture and light fixtures.  To help you more fully appreciate the quality of the HDR photos, see the pictures below.

It takes special equipment and software to take these pictures. It also takes some training, so instead of just making the equipment available to all our agents, I made the decision to have the staffer who has mastered the process take the photos of each agent’s listings, at no cost to them.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 Recently I discovered that the same technology can be applied to video. How does it work? The video camera, which records, say, at 30 frames per second, underexposes and overexposes every other frame. Software then processes the resulting file, creating a similar HDR effect frame by frame. I’m looking into acquiring this technology for Golden Real Estate to further enhance the video tours we already create for all listings.

Just Listed: Mutli-Unit Horse Property on Half-Acre Near Light Rail!

[Published April 17, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]

 
1365 Garrison Street, Lakewood
$399,000
 
It you like historic homes with lots of character, look no further than this Jeffco home! 

This home is just a half block from the new Garrison Street light rail station. It’s a horse property — one-half acre with pasture, hay barn, loafing shed and a 2-car garage for your horseless carriages!  (Did you know? Lakewood has the largest horse population of any city in America!)

It has been a 3-unit rental and you could keep it that way, but it flows well as a single-family home, as you’ll see if you view the narrated YouTube video tour which I created for it at http://www.JeffcoHorseProperties.com.

The home has its modern side too, with solar panels on the south side which help to heat the house in the winter. (I explain how they work on the video tour.)

Slab Granite Isn’t the Only Upgrade for Countertops

[Published April 17, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section]

As an active Realtor, I show lots of homes to lots of buyers throughout the year, and although I’ve seen a lot of slab granite countertops, occasionally I also encounter many less common — and very attractive — alternative materials.

Despite granite’s near-universal appeal, I’m a big fan of Corian countertops, especially when they have integrated kitchen sinks with no seams to catch dirt.  Another nice thing about Corian is that it is American made — including in Denver — and not shipped from distant continents. In addition, I find it easier to clean and maintain. 

I’ve seen some other beautiful materials used, including quartz, glass & concrete.   Combined with great interior design, backsplashes, accent walls and stainless steel appliances, the effect can be stunning. In researching this article, I did a web search for “sustainable countertop choices” to see what’s available that doesn’t consume as much energy to create, ship and install.  There are many choices of “green” countertops, as described on the website http://www.HouseLogic.com.  That article describes countertops made from recycled paper using low-VOC resins, reclaimed wood countertops, and recycled glass-and-concrete countertops. [Pictured above: Icestone, a product made from 100% recycled glass in a cement substrate.]

Search the web yourself, and you’ll discover there’s a world of alternatives to slab granite countertops, one of which might be right for you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Choosing the Right Lender Is As Important As Choosing the Right Realtor

[Published April 10, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section. An abbreviated version also appeared in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers.]

Unless you’re an investor, you probably don’t have a lot of experience with multiple lenders (or real estate agents) to guide you in selecting the lender who can serve you best.

I recommend that you choose your Realtor first (and not an agent who is a non-Realtor) and get a referral of the best lender for your particular situation.  Make sure it’s an agent who has done a lot of transactions, so he or she has had the opportunity to observe and evaluate multiple lenders.

Here is some of the advice I give to buyers. If they have already selected a lender — perhaps one they have used before, or a bank with which they have an existing relationship — I recommend that they talk to a mortgage broker so that they get the best possible deal.

How loan officers are compensated is a complicated business, and you need to be sure that the loan officer is putting your interest ahead of his own compensation.

You may think that interest rates are pretty uniform, but loan officers earn different commissions based on what interest rate and what loan product you select. This was one of the reasons for the housing crisis in 2008, because a loan officer could earn much more if he or she put you in a subprime loan even if you qualified for a conventional loan.

Many of those loan officers have changed professions by now. Nevertheless, it’s a good practice to have one loan officer evaluate the product and rate you have been offered by another loan officer.

I don’t have one loan officer I recommend. Instead, I have a stable of loan officers from which to choose based on your particular need or scenario.  One is particularly good at improving credit scores to help a marginal borrower qualify for a mortgage. Some specialize in first-time home buyers and are certified to sell you a loan which, for example, can rebate 20% of your loan interest for the life of the loan. (This is the “MCC” program which has an income limitation and is limited to first-time buyers and veterans.)

A consistent piece of advice I give, besides talking to more than one loan officer, is to consider a mortgage broker as well as your banker, even though you feel “known” with him or her.  First of all, your banker, unlike a mortgage broker, may not be available after business hours. Secondly, a bank can only sell its own products.  What if you’re a teacher or police officer, and another lender has a program for you? 

Or what if you want to buy a condo, and the condo you want is “non-warrantable” because the complex has over 50% renter occupancy or fails to meet some other approval criteria? Here is where I favor banks, because some banks have what are called “portfolio” loans — loans they don’t sell to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and that don’t have to be FHA or VA approved.  Often these loans are done to satisfy a federal anti-redlining law from the 1970’s, the Community Reinvestment Act.  I can point you toward a couple banks that are most active in satisfying that requirement to lend money in their depositors’ community.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

You May Leave Money on the Table if You Sell Without Listing on MLS

[Published April 3, 2014, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section. An abbreviated version also appeared in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers.]

Because of the incredibly low inventory of homes for sale, homeowners all across the metro area are getting postcards or letters from real estate agents who say they have a buyer looking for a home like theirs.

Sellers whose homes failed to sell last year are being contacted by other agents claiming to have a buyer looking for a home like theirs, asking if they would accept a full-price offer at last year’s listing price.

How should you respond if you receive such an inquiry and do indeed want to sell?

You are better served by giving other buyers an opportunity to compete for your home, since accepting last year’s unsuccessful listing price could cause you to sell your home for less than it is currently worth.

Regular readers will recall my example a few weeks ago of a house in Golden which was on and off the MLS for four years without selling and was listed again this year for $5,000 more than last year and immediately received three competing offers above that higher price. (I represented the successful buyer.)

My advice, if you are contacted by an agent with a buyer, is that you list your home with me or some other agent and get your home on the MLS as soon as possible. This is the only way that you can be sure to get the highest price and best terms for the sale of your home.  By doing so, you will also have an agent negotiating on your behalf.

The agent who brings you an unsolicited buyer should be happy to get the typical 2.8% commission he would receive on a listed property. Having an agent on your side of the transaction will, of course, add to your commission cost, but listing commissions are far more negotiable than you might think.  Be creative!

Your listing agreement could spell out different commission rates for different circumstances. You could even have an arrangement where the listing agent’s commission is partially based on how much more money you get over the originally offered price.  If you haven’t already selected a listing agent, do consider us at Golden Real Estate.

What about “for sale by owner” (FSBO)? Many sellers think that because of this hot seller’s market, you don’t need to have a listing agent, but in fact you need an agent even more when you’re likely to attract multiple offers.  First of all, you must get your home the widest possible exposure, and only a competent listing agent can get you that. And, second, you need an agent to help you identify the best buyer and negotiate with that preferred buyer’s agent on your behalf.  You don’t want to be the only party without professional representation.

As I’ve said before, you can’t underprice a home in this market, but you definitely can overprice it.  The market will bid up the underpriced home, but an overpriced home can sit on the market with few showings and no offers while homes all around it are selling.  I know it is tempting to say, “Let’s test the market with a high price,” but that approach can backfire.  Again, you need the advice of an agent who is “in the thick of it” in this complex seller’s market.

Time and again, I see sellers who interview multiple agents and select the agent who suggests the highest listing price. Select your agent based on how they market the house and the quality of representation he or she will provide in the transaction.