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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fraudulent Claims of the $8,000 tax credit

I heard on NPR a few days ago that there is an enormous number of fraudulent claims for this tax credit and that the IRS is unable to challenge fraudulent claims for the $8,000 tax credit without doing a full-blown audit! No proof is required, it appears, that the taxpayer is a first time home buyer or that they have actually bought a house!

Any legislation extending the tax credit should include a provision putting some controls on this raid on the Treasury!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Technological Convergence Has Greatly Improved the Practice of Real Estate

Published in the Denver Post, Oct. 22, 2009:

It’s awe inspiring how cellular and other technologies have converged to revolutionize the practice of real estate in recent years. The primary platform for this convergence is the “smart phone” — a generic term for the BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, Palm’s Pre and similar products.

Let me paint a few scenarios, and you’ll see what I mean.

Scenario #1: I’m in my car and my iPhone rings. I push a button on my steering wheel and the caller’s voice comes across my car radio, which is silenced automatically. (This is Bluetooth technology.) The caller is a client wanting to reserve my free moving truck for later in the week. Stopping at a red light, I consult my Outlook calendar on the phone and confirm a date and time. At the next red light, I enter the reservation on my calendar, confident that it will be on my laptop next time I look at it.

Scenario #2: I have a buyer in my car and we pass a home that sparks his interest. I open the Zillow application on my phone, and it displays a satellite view of that location with a red icon for active listings and green icons for every other home. I can touch the red icon and instantly get the essential MLS information about the house. Touching the other icons gets me a similar amount of information about them, including when they sold and for how much.

Scenario #3: Another client is a flight attendant who flies internationally, so calling her on her cell phone is not practical or affordable when she’s in Rio or Paris or Hong Kong, but I can text her and get a text response the next time she’s on the ground, without worrying about what time zone she’s in. (If she had a smart phone, we could exchange email on our phones.)

Scenario #4: I come across a property that a client in New York would really like. I pull out my phone, shoot a video with my own narration, and email it to him on the spot.

There are countless other scenarios I could share. Another favorite device is my car’s navigation system. When showing homes, I can enter several addresses at a time, view them on the map, re-order them as I wish, and then let the voice guide me from one listing to the next without taking my eyes off the road to look at maps or directions.

Technology continues to make me more effective and productive — and, fortunately for my clients, I readily adopt it!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Job of a Listing Agent Is Not to Sell Your Home, But to Get It Sold

Published Oct. 15, 2009, in The Denver Post

There’s a popular misconception that the job of a listing agent is to sell your home. I beg to differ.

The real job of a listing agent — prior to negotiating a contract and representing you through the transaction — is to maximize exposure of your home to buyers and to the agents who represent buyers. Understand this, and you will find it much easier to select the right listing agent, because it’s far easier to compare the marketing skills and practices of different listing agents than it is to compare their selling abilities.

First, recognize that fewer than 10% of listings are sold by the agents who listed them. That’s why we have an MLS. Next, don’t mistake simply putting the home on the MLS (which is all many agents do) with true marketing.

True marketing to other agents as well as direct buyers begins, but must not end, with full data entry on the MLS, beyond those few fields that the MLS requires. It means, for example, putting in room dimensions and locations and using the full public remarks field to describe the home’s selling points. It means uploading ten high-quality pictures, not just one exterior picture. And it means producing a “virtual tour” using a good vendor (I prefer

MLS data entry is just the start. True marketing must include non-MLS efforts that are still targeted to agents as well as buyers, such as flyers to the agents’ offices and email addresses. The agent’s listings must be syndicated to 20 consumer sites like and, and must be man-ually entered on The virtual tour vendor will do its own syndication, so it’s important for the description on the virtual tour to be more extensive than just captions for each photo.

Then there’s, which will carry every MLS listing for free, but only in stripped down format with just four pictures and none of the public remarks from the MLS. The only way to get good exposure on is to purchase “showcase” service and then utilize it. Some companies (like mine) buy that service for all their agents, but it’s up to the agent to actually go into’s control panel and enter those enhancements.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because most listings are sold by other agents that getting on the MLS is all it takes. It takes so much more, and that should guide you in your agent selection.

How to Evaluate a Listing Agent:

Performance Criteria

Of course, you’ll want to know how many listings the agent has (and where), and this you can easily verify online. The real question, however, is how many of his listings have sold in the last 12 months and how many expired without selling. How many homes did he sell himself, including his own listings? But beware: agents know that you cannot verify this data, so you should be skeptical. If in doubt, get a different agent to obtain this data for you.

NOTE: If the agent says he or she has a buyer for your home, make him or her prove it by signing a two-day listing agreement (not on MLS).

Marketing Criteria

Do NOT ask how he will market your home. Instead, ask for the address of one or more current listings. How he markets other listings is an absolute predictor of how he’ll market yours. Google the addresses. Look for them on and and see how they are promoted compared to similarly priced homes.

On, make sure that the agent has Showcase service which allows for headlines, 25 pictures, virtual tours, video tours, extensive sales pitch, etc. If he doesn’t have those on his current listings, he won’t have them on yours.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sewage Back-Up Not Covered WIthout Separate Endorsement

Mike Bailey of State Farm tells me, in answer to a question, that sewage back-up is not covered in the standard homeowner's policy.  If you have a finished basement, you'd be well advised to pay the extra $25 or so for an endorsement adding that coverage to your homeowner's policy.  Good advice!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I learned SO MUCH from today's Tour of Solar Homes in Golden and Denver!  I'll share some of what I learned in next week's column.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Don't Miss "The Diary of Anne Frank" this weekend at Golden High School

I was blown away by how good this production was.  I happen to sit next to the aunt of the 16-year-old student, Jamie Nagode, who played Anne Frank so amazingly, and I got some inside info -- like the fact that her prom date is the boy who plays Peter in the production.  In one scene Anne and Pete share the first kiss for each of them... Their roles appear to have drawn them closer to each other.

The cast was uniformly great in their acting, and were great at staying in character while the action was elsewhere on stage.  Especially nice was the fact that they all stayed in character and on stage throughout the 15-minute intermission.  As Jamie's aunt explained, "They couldn't leave their hiding place, after all."

The audience gave Jamie in particular a standing and prolonged ovation at the end, and she certainly deserved it. 

Don't miss this production.  The last two performances are Saturday, Oct. 3 at 2pm and 7pm.  And if you do miss it, ask to borrow the DVD of tonight's performance which I ordered during intermission!

Appraisers Don't Give Value to Solar Installations -- Here's Why

I spoke today with Beth Hanlon, an appraiser active in Jeffco and the Foothills, and she said that she cannot assign more than token value (under $5,000) to a photovoltaic installation on a home, because the underwriters would disallow it.  This, she said, would apply regardless of how recent and how productive the PV (or solar thermal) array is.  For instance, I installed a $60,000 PV and $10,000 solar thermal system on my own house a couple years ago, and these two systems save me hundreds of dollars on my electric and gas bills every month. (My energy bill for this 3,600-sq.ft. ranch is about $50 per month.)  No matter, she said.  She couldn't get even a reasonable percentage of that investment approved by any underwriter.  Moreover, if the installation detracts from the curb appeal of the house, Beth will actually deduct for it.  (Since my house faces north, you can't see either of my solar installations from the front.)

If the Obama administration wants to promote clean energy such as PV and solar thermal (not to mention geothermal, which is never visible from the street and an even greater investment), it should consider regulating the valuation of these systems by underwriters.  For example, assign a reasonable life (15 years at least) to these systems, and require a minimum valuation based on its bona fide installation cost, depreciated over that lifetime. 

A homeowner who installs an energy-saving, greenhouse gas-reducing system should be able to recoup at least as much on that investment, percentage wise, as they do by updating a kitchen or bathroom!  The kind of regulation I'm proposing has the additional advantage of not costing any federal tax dollars. 

Moreover, why spend tax dollars incentivizing people to install such systems when the return on investment only applies if you keep the house forever and not if you sell it!  Under the current situation outlined by my appraiser friend, I would NOT advise anyone who isn't going to live in their house for at least 10 years to invest in a PV or solar-thermal or geo-thermal system other than just to feel good about doing so.