The General Assembly Allows the Regulation of HOA Managers to Lapse

Real_Estate_Today_bylineIt was a good day for Colorado’s 1.9 million HOA members on July 1, 2015, when all HOA managers were required to be fingerprinted, educated about their functions, and licensed by the Division of Real Estate.

However, like all such laws, the Community Association Manager (CAM) program had a 3-year sunset requirement, meaning that it had to be studied by the Department of Regulatory Affairs (DORA) for its effectiveness and renewed (or not) by the General Assembly (Colorado’s legislature).

So, DORA submitted its analysis of the program, recommending that it be renewed and improved, but on April 10, 2018, the Senate Committee on Finance voted 3-2 to “postpone indefinitely” (i.e., kill) HB18-1175, the bill to renew the program for another five years. It was a party-line vote, with all Republicans voting against renewal and both Democrats voting for renewal.

In DORA’s report recommending renewal, it was noted that, because the law was only two years old, “there is little data to rely on in determining how much harm related to management activities exists….”

“However, two Managers and one Management Company have already been disciplined for misconduct related to management activities. All of these cases were related to theft of association funds. Additionally, many of the complaints received by the Division and reported during the sunset review reflect the findings of the 2012 sunrise review [which suggested the law].

“Community Association Managers have access to association funds, which is often in the millions of dollars. An association relies on these funds to ensure the common areas, facilities and, in some cases, buildings are well maintained, and the loss or mismanagement of these funds can be devastating to a community. As a result, the owners may suffer large assessments in order to bring the reserves up to an amount necessary to pay for the daily operation of the community, which may include water bills, trash removal, landscaping and professional services, not to mention necessary upkeep such as repainting buildings, replacing old roofs, repairing driveways and any emergency situations that may arise.

“Ensuring Community Association Managers do not steal or mishandle association funds is an important reason to regulate the industry. The Division has the ability to audit the business records of Community Association Managers, and through these audits, the Division may uncover misconduct….

“In fiscal year 16-17, the Director issued one cease and desist order against a company and 11 cease and desist orders against individuals, and revoked one individual license.”

[End of excerpt from the DORA report.}

Colorado is known as a low-regulation state. In other words, if regulation is not deemed necessary for the public safety, the default is to not regulate an industry.

Mortgage brokers, for example, were not even registered in Colorado until the mid-2000s, and it was another couple years before they were fingerprinted and required to take classes and pass a state exam in order to be licensed. Prior to that, a felon who had studied up on identity crime while in prison could claim to be a mortgage broker as soon as he was released and begin taking financial information and Social Security numbers from unsuspecting homeowners or home buyers!

HOA members were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the state decided to license Community Association Managers in 2013, with full implementation by July 2015, and they should be concerned that a Senate committee killed renewal of it.

The actual end of the program doesn’t happen until July 1, 2019, which means the 2019 session of the General Assembly could pass a renewal of the CAM program in time to avoid a lapse in regulation.

 

Stop the Madness! We Should Never Allow Driverless Cars and Trucks

Real_Estate_Today_bylineFirst, let’s distinguish between “driverless” and “self-driving” cars. My Tesla is self-driving when I employ its autopilot features, but I must keep my hands on the steering wheel. “Driverless” means there’s no driver — also called “autonomous” cars.

I have driven over 75,000 miles using Tesla’s self-driving features, giving me plenty of time to imagine what it would be like to have the car drive itself without me ready to take control at any moment.

Tesla’s current autopilot features are two-fold. First, there is “traffic-aware cruise control,” which maintains a safe distance from vehicles ahead, including braking to a full stop when necessary. It also reads speed limit signs and alerts me when I’m going over the speed limit by an amount I specify. Then there’s “auto-steer,” which reads the highway lines and keeps the car centered in its lane.  The car will change lanes if I use the turn signal — but only if it’s safe and doesn’t involve crossing a solid line.

In my experience, these “driver assistance” features make for safer driving.  When auto-steer is used, the car reminds me to keep to my hands on the wheel.  The car will sound an alarm and display a message if it hasn’t sensed my hands on the wheel for a minute or two. If I ignore the instruction to put my hands back on the wheel within a minute,  auto-steer is disabled and I can’t use that feature again until I stop and put the car in Park.

DSC_0016I think it’s just fine that Tesla continues to improve the car’s driver assistance features, but I’m convinced that going full-driverless would be a big mistake. Accidents involving self-driving cars have recently made the news, although it has been reported that in each accident another, human-controlled car was at fault. In one video you can see a car careening diagonally towards you from across the highway.

We all have been taught the importance of driving defensively. What such videos demonstrate is that a self-driving car can’t drive “defensively.” A human driver could have seen those other cars coming and taken evasive action. A human could detect a ball coming into the street and look for a child chasing it.  A human could detect another driver driving erratically and know to keep a safe distance while perhaps contacting the police.

Current self-driving software depends on lane painting. More than once my Tesla’s auto-steer function has attempted to follow lines that would have taken me into oncoming vehicles if I hadn’t reacted immediately.

How would a driverless car negotiate an intersection when there’s a power failure and the traffic lights are dark?  How would it react to a cat, squirrel or debris on the roadway? How about potholes?  A lot of day-to-day driving entails making eye contact with other drivers and responding to other drivers doing unpredictable or illegal maneuvers.

What about an alternate merge where two lanes reduce to one lane?  Or an on-ramp where only one car should proceed on each green light – and merge while accelerating?

Would the driverless car slow down when a deer has finished crossing and look for others that may be lurking nearby, possibly obscured by foliage?    Would a driverless car be able to follow the hand gestures of a traffic cop or someone guiding cars into a grassy field for parking at a social event?

You may recall that the recently suspended driverless experiment was being conducted in Phoenix.  Why?  Probably because their roads are never covered by snow and are rarely obscured by rain.  How is a driverless vehicle going to negotiate a snow-packed roadway or visually detect black ice?

The number of possible hazards and surprises is so great that no geek in Silicon Valley would be able to tweak the software into predicting and handling all of them. As I drive my Tesla using auto-steer regularly, I have experienced numerous such scenarios, which is what inspired me to write a column on his subject.

Now, let’s talk about trucks. A couple of years ago, a self-driving Budweiser semi made a run from its Ft. Collins brewery to Colorado Springs — with CDOT vehicles and State Patrol cars surrounding it for safety. A trucker was in the cab for safety, but can you imagine that a driver might ever not be needed to monitor that truck’s operation?  Remember, airplanes can fly and land themselves on auto-pilot, but the FAA requires at least one pilot to be in his or her seat at all times — and pilots don’t have to watch for cars, pedestrians, animals, bicycles and potholes, or even other airplanes most of the time.

Truck drivers are known for their diligent communication and service to fellow truckers and motorists. They contribute to keeping our highways running smoothly, sometimes coming to the aid of fellow truckers or motorists. Let’s keep them on the job, and give them improved driver assistance features to make their driving safer, versus endangering the rest of us by removing them from their trucks.

Comment below to share your own thoughts on this topic.

 

2-Story Ralston Valley Home Just Listed by Susan Dixon

13375 W 72nd CirThis beautiful home at 13375 W. 72nd Circle, listed at $427,000, boasts a professionally remodeled kitchen, with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. The open floor plan includes a vaulted ceiling with a stairway and balcony overlooking a spacious great room with a fireplace. This home is perfect for social gatherings, with the indoor space extending outdoors to a large deck with a hot tub. The fully finished basement adds plenty of useable space, including a bonus room, full bathroom and two rooms that could be used as office, den, exercise room or nonconforming bedroom. The good sized yard is completely fenced and offers plenty of space to garden, play and socialize. Mature trees surround the property and give shade and comfort to the home.  You can see more pictures and see a drone video of this home on its website,  www.RalstonValleyHome.info. Call Susan at 720-982-0803 for a private showing.

 

Come to Golden for Our Annual Community Garage Sales May 12

Each spring we sponsor a community garage sale in two of Golden’s high-end neighborhoods — the Village at Mountain Ridge west of Hwy. 93 in north Golden and Stonebridge at Eagle Ridge off Heritage Road in south Golden. Together there are 540 homes, and about 40 of them will be participating. See their addresses and a description of what each is selling at www.GoldenGarageSale.com. Directions to each subdivision are on that website. It all happens this Saturday, May 12th, 8 a.m. to noon. The rain date is next Saturday, May 19th.

 

As Warm Weather Arrives, What Are the Different Ways to Cool a Home?

Real_Estate_Today_byline      I’m not in the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) business but I do have a pretty good understanding of the different methods of cooling a home, so I thought I’d review them this week.  I welcome input from HVAC experts, so maybe I’ll have an update/correction for you next week.

The most widely adopted method of cooling — what everyone calls “air conditioning” — involves a compressor-based system of refrigeration using the same technology as your kitchen refrigerator. A refrigerant (formerly Freon, before it was outlawed by the EPA) circulates within tubing from inside the home to outside and back again, absorbing and releasing heat in the process. Outdoors, the refrigerant cools and then re-enters the home, and the cycle repeats.

In a typical installation, the chiller (or “evaporator”) is positioned within a forced air furnace which functions as the air handler to move household air across the coils containing the refrigerant. As the refrigerant cools the air, it absorbs heat and then flows to the outdoor compressor where the refrigerant is forced back into its chilled state, releasing that heat to the outdoors. This is similar to your kitchen refrigerator, except that your refrigerator releases the heat into the kitchen (behind the refrigerator) instead of outdoors.

In homes without a forced air furnace, the A/C system requires its own air handler to take in air from the house, chill it, then distribute it, usually via its own ductwork. One such application would be a home with hot water heat and, thus, no ductwork that could be used for air conditioning. In such a home, the A/C compressor might be roof-mounted, with the air handler and ductwork located in the attic.  Some ducts distribute the chilled air to one or more rooms, while other ductwork returns air to the air handler. The cooled air will naturally settle downward, cooling lower floor(s) without ductwork.

A/C compressors, however, require a lot of electricity, making this the most expensive method of cooling. In a dry climate like Colorado, an economical option is evaporative cooling. It requires no compressor, just a fan, a membrane through which to pass water and a water pump. You may know this as “swamp cooling.”

If you’ve noticed how even a slight breeze cools you off when you’re sweating you’ve experienced evaporative cooling. Water, it turns out, is a good refrigerant, absorbing heat as it evaporates, but it can only evaporate effectively when the humidity is low. That’s why you don’t hear of evaporative cooling being used in Houston, New York, or any other locale where high humidity makes it harder for air to absorb additional water through evaporation.

A swamp cooler, which is usually roof or window mounted, draws in hot outdoor air and passes it through a water-saturated membrane.  It then directs that cooled air into the house. For a swamp cooler to be effective, one or more windows have to be opened a few inches to allow air to escape, because, unlike with a compressor-based air conditioner, the swamp cooler is pumping air into the house instead of recirculating air that is already in the house. If leaving windows open makes you feel insecure, there are ways to secure a window so that it is open the optimal four inches but can’t be opened any further.

On the negative side, an evaporative cooler requires more maintenance than standard A/C and uses lots of water. Those membranes absorb dirt and dust and need to be rinsed or replaced twice a season or more, which can be tricky when the unit is  roof-mounted. Also, you have to winterize and de-winterize the outdoor units. On the positive side, it is healthier for you (and your wood furniture) to live with the 30% or higher humidity created through evaporative cooling than the 10% or lower humidity created by air conditioning.

A whole house fan is a great complement to either method of cooling.  Before turning on the A/C or swamp cooler when returning to a very hot house, you can use a whole house fan to quickly flush that heat out of your house by leaving a lower door or window open and turning on the whole house fan located in your uppermost ceiling, such as a second floor hallway. You might also use the whole house fan (on a low setting) at night instead of air conditioning when the outside temperature is below, say, 65 degrees, leaving a window cracked to bring in that cool, fresh air.

A third method of cooling is the heat pump or  mini-split system.   We installed such a system at Golden Real Estate, which I described in detail in my January 4th column.  You can find that column online at www.JimSmithColumns.com.

Mini-split systems combine the low maintenance of a compressor-based air conditioning system with the energy savings of a swamp cooler (but without the swamp cooler’s water consumption). Like A/C compressors, mini-splits have SEER ratings but, whereas high-efficiency A/C systems have SEER ratings under 20 at most, you can find mini-splits with SEER ratings of 30 or higher. And a mini-split also functions as a ductless heating system during cold weather.

 

 

Hardwood Floors Are Popular, But Some Condo Owners Are Having Second Thoughts

A client of mine fell in love with a condo, in part because of its hardwood flooring.  But within weeks of moving in, he’s now thinking of selling.  Why? Because the hardwood flooring in the unit above him appears overly effective at transmitting the sound of both human and canine footfalls.  Apparently the neighbor below him has noticed the same thing and has complained about the sound my client makes when he and his dog move about on their hardwood floors.

This raises an interesting question: Is there a reasonable way to construct a building’s floors so as to mitigate the transmission of sound from hardwood flooring?