Yes, the Russians Wanted Trump Over Hillary, But Their Real Goal Is to Divide Americans

By JIM SMITH

Prompted by last week’s election results and the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, I’m taking a break once again from writing about real estate to write about politics. But my intention is to be more educational than partisan. Once again, as in my June 26th column, I am speaking only for myself and not for Golden Real Estate or its wonderful — and largely apolitical — broker associates.

As a professional journalist myself (trained at the Washington Post during the turbulent summer of 1968) and educated about the Soviet Union in boarding school as a student of the Russian language, I know something about what led up to the 2016 election that I don’t feel has been adequately conveyed by the media.

In addition to learning the Russian language from my prep school teacher, a Dutchman, I also learned about how the Soviets used information to control their own population, and how they used it to influence people of other nations. My education even included subscribing to the Soviet newspaper Izvestia, which probably put me on a CIA watch list back in the 1960s.  I also traveled to the Soviet Union in 1978 as a tourist and again in the 1980s three times as part of “citizen diplomacy” groups sponsored by the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue in Bellingham, Washington. After the fall of the Soviet Union, I made one additional visit to Russia, this time as a tourist, to Vladivostok, the Pacific naval port which is also the terminus of the famed Trans-Siberian Railroad.

From these and other experiences, I learned about the KGB, in which Vladimir Putin served with distinction, leading to his selection to succeed Boris Yeltsin as President of Russia. I’m speaking up now, because, unless you watched the excellent 2-part series “Putin’s Revenge” on the PBS program Frontline (Google it), you may not fully comprehend how the Russians impacted the 2016 election or recognize the activities they continue to engage in today.

I never worried that Russians colluded with the Trump campaign or tried to hack actual voting, because I knew that their tactic is to manipulate minds. It was the Russians who invented the terms “disinformation” and “kompromat” (compromising material).  I learned those terms in Russian class in the 1960s.

The widespread adoption of social media, such as Facebook, supercharged the Russians’ ability to influence “low information voters” — voters who aren’t well enough informed to detect fake stories intended to influence their beliefs and voting behavior.

The Frontline program showed how Russia’s Internet Research Agency has used social media to fire up both sides of any issue which has the potential of creating social and political division in America. They would seize on issues and events that were already dividing America, such as the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, and create social media posts both promoting and attacking what was happening.

Think about any event that happened in the past several years — such as the killings of blacks by white police officers, but also anything that would stir up the far right and/or liberals — and you can be sure that some of the social media postings appealing to each extreme were created by Russians working in the St. Petersburg, Russia, office of the Internet Research Agency.  Such postings then triggered other events — think mass casualty events — which in turn were exploited using additional postings. It’s a never-ending vicious circle. The Frontline program gave examples.

America is not the only target of Russia’s meddling with public perceptions and opinions. Russians are even more keen on breaking up the European Union and NATO.  Without a doubt, they did the same kind of meddling in European countries to stir up, for example, division over the influx of Syrian refugees.

The Brexit vote in England was probably influenced by a Russian disinformation campaign in that country.  And that makes sense, because what would Russia like more, given Putin’s commitment to making Russia great again, than to see the European Union weakened? Russia’s Internet Research Agency is probably at work stirring up nationalist feelings in every European country. Promotion of nationalism in America also serves Russia’s interest because it serves to weaken NATO and draw us out of other international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The bottom line, as I see it so clearly, is that President Trump has served as a useful tool — without actual “collusion” — for the aggrandizement of the new Russia under Vladimir Putin. And everything that Trump does to further divide Americans against each other, whether promoted or not by the Internet Research Agency, serves to weaken the United States’ position in the world, which, almost by definition, strengthens Russia’s position in the world.

In one of my “citizen diplomat” trips to the Soviet Union, I was struck by the fact that attractive young women were inexplicably introduced into some of the social events for our largely male delegation. When I heard about the “dossier” with compromising videos of Donald Trump the businessman with prostitutes — for whom I’d wager he did not pay — I suspected immediately that it was true. This and other “kompromat” could serve to keep our President from doing anything adverse to the Russian government.

It doesn’t matter whether the campaign to weaken the First Amendment by creating mistrust of mainstream media with the “fake news” label is inspired or promoted by the Russians. Trump is doing a good enough job at that, and it does indeed weaken our society and ultimately our standing in the world, which must warm the hearts of our adversaries. The trade war with our allies and other countries — except Russia, it should be noted — can’t hurt in that respect, either.

Ultimately, I have great faith in America, and I am heartened that one house of Congress will soon be under Democratic control, providing a check on the Republican Senate and the Trump administration. A crucial role of Congress is to provide oversight of every department and agency and to hold the administration accountable — something that the Republican Congress has declined to do lest it impact their individual political futures. Impeachment of President Trump is not necessary, however deserved it might be on constitutional grounds. It is sufficient just to have one house of Congress holding the rest of our government accountable for its actions.

Changing topics, it is common knowledge that more than 80% of the tax breaks in the Trump tax bill went to the very rich, with some relief to the middle class thrown in to garner popular support. Overlooked, however, is the impact on the non-profit sector. I’m concerned that Americans will donate less money to worthy charities as we approach the holiday season because of the doubling of the standard deduction. That one provision takes away the tax advantage of supporting charitable causes for a large number of taxpayers, but it is not being discussed.

I’m not letting it affect my own giving, but I worry that it could affect others’ giving, and I’m looking forward to some entity doing a statistical analysis of the tax bill’s effect on charitable giving this year and next.

 

Why Use Facebook Messenger?

Perhaps I’m showing my age, but I just don’t understand why some people choose to communicate by Facebook Messenger instead of email. I get emails that so-and-so has sent me a message on Facebook, and I have to login to read it.

Wouldn’t it make more sense — and be more considerate — to send the message in an email?  Someone please explain this to me!

While on the topic of email, I find Windows’ default typeface (10-pt. Calibri) hard-to-read. I have changed that default to readable 12-pt. Georgia.

If you use Outlook, you can change your email defaults at File>Options>Mail>Stationery and Fonts.

 

Senior Homeowners Are at Risk of Being Conned/Scammed Out of Their Home

Real_Estate_Today_bylineAlthough I’ve written on this topic before, it certainly bears repeating. If you are a senior citizen living in a home you own — perhaps free and clear — know that you are the target of some less-than-honest speculators.

I was reminded of this risk when a friend who does home health care for seniors visited me last week. She recounted how one of her clients keeps getting phone calls and letters from people offering to buy her home “as is, for cash, with no real estate commissions to pay.” My friend fears that this elderly widow may be taken in by an offer to sell her house for less than it’s really worth.

This fear is understandable because, to a trusting and unwary senior, the pitch can be appealing.  Unfortunately, it’s almost certain that any such offer is based on an expectation of buying at a bargain price and selling for much more. Such people only want to buy your home because they can flip it quickly for its real value. They count on you not knowing your home’s true value.

Many senior citizens who receive such solicitations don’t have the internet access or computer skills to perform even a rudimentary value check on their home. The speculators behind such solicitations know this. 

Let’s say you purchased your home decades ago for $30,000 or less. An offer of 10 times that amount might be very appealing.  But what if your home is actually worth far more than that?  Imagine if you sold your home to someone for $300,000 only to discover later that he sold it quickly for $400,000 or more without making a single improvement?   Would you feel short-changed?  You probably would – and rightfully so.

You’ve probably read stories or seen television coverage of young women who marry, or at least befriend, very elderly men, investing a decade or less of their young lives in order to inherit a lifetime’s accumulation of wealth upon their “loved one’s” death. Even some paid caregivers, who have ostensibly dedicated their lives to caring for the elderly, have been known to put forth a loving and compassionate front, only to manipulate their charge in such a way as to gain access to his lifetime accumulation of wealth.   

A few years ago, I was asked by a surviving sibling to sell her deceased brother’s home, only to discover that her brother, who suffered from dementia, had been convinced by his caregiver to add her to the title of not only his home, but also his car and his bank accounts. Sadly, the sister had no legal recourse – although she fought mightily – and was ultimately forced to take the home off the market, whereupon the erstwhile caregiver promptly listed and sold the home, pocketing the proceeds. She had already drained the bank accounts.

If you are a senior, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of this issue. Get your relatives and heirs involved before you respond to any solicitation you receive. If you don’t have relatives or heirs, try reaching out to  Colorado Housing Connect at 844-926-6632 or Mpowered at 303-233-2773. If their counselors can’t provide the advice or help you need in this regard, feel free to call me, because I will be continuing to research this topic after the deadline for submitting this column to YourHub.

If the solicitation involves real estate, reach out to me or to a real estate professional you believe you can trust. If I’m not the best Realtor to help you, I’ll refer you to one who is.  A good real estate professional can determine pretty quickly whether the offer is in line with the market or if someone is trying to con you into selling your home for less than its real-world value.  At a minimum, if you decide to participate in a private, off-market sale of your home, let me or that other trusted Realtor provide you with honest, professional representation.

An example of that occurred just last week, when a reader asked me to assist him in selling his home for $275,000. I advised him, after performing a quick value check, that he could easily get $350,000 for his home. He told me that he and his wife were okay with getting less than full value because they were happy to help a friend. I sensed that this couple was of sound mind and not being scammed, so I agreed to handle the sale as a transaction broker for a nominal fee.

I’m glad this couple called me and that I was able to serve them.  Their situation, along with the caregiver scenario above, was the inspiration for this week’s column.  I fear that far too many of our elderly neighbors are being conned or cheated out of a significant portion of the value of their homes, and I want to do my part to minimize the damage inflicted upon them.

As an aside, if you are a senior considering the option of selling your home and moving into a senior community, the choices can be as confusing as they are plentiful. Any Realtor can help you sell your home, but when it comes to choosing the best senior community, we like to refer seniors to a woman who has made it her career to learn about all such communities in the metro area and can help you select the best one for you.

Call me at 303-525-1851 to arrange a meeting that includes you, that woman, and myself or one of our two broker associates who earned the Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation through extensive training in the real estate needs and concerns of seniors.

 

 

3-Bedroom/2-Bath Pleasant View Home Just Listed by Carol Milan

1310 Nile StThis large tri-level home at 1310 Nile Street is in the community of Pleasant View, about 3 miles from downtown Golden. The large corner lot is zoned R2 for potential future development. This home has over 2,100 square feet, ready for you to bring your updates for instant equity. It has a covered patio, attached garage and a walk-out lower level. The home has three bedrooms and two full bathrooms. It was built in 1954. You can find more details and magazine-quality photos and experience a narrated video tour of the home at www.PleasantViewHome.info or by clicking on thumbnail below.  Then come to the open house on Saturday, November 10th, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.   You can reach listing agent Carol Milan at 720-982-4941. 

 

Just Listed: Historic Downtown Golden Home with Accessory Dwelling Unit

1110 12th StreetOn the outside, this home in Golden’s 12th Street Historic District retains all the charm from when it was built in 1913, but come inside and you’re firmly in the 21st Century!  The owner did a gut-rehab in 2006, which included a rear addition with gourmet kitchen on the main floor and a gorgeous master suite upstairs. They also built a 3-car garage on the alley with a high-end Accessory Dwelling Unit above it. How high end? Think hardwood floors and hot water heat for starters — just like the main house. The tenant pays $1,800 per month, which further justifies the $1.1 million listing price. Visit www.HistoricGoldenHome.com for more details and to see lots of magazine-quality photos of this home inside and out and to view a narrated video tour of this home inside and out (also linked below), then call your agent or Jim Smith at 303-525-1851 to schedule a private showing. Or come to the open house on Saturday, November 10th, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  The address is 1110 12th Street, close to all that makes Golden a great place to live, work and play!

Back on the Market: The Finishes in This Golden Ranch Will Blow You Away!

Screenshot_from_videoThis home at 19054 Eagle Ridge Drive is just 100 yards from my own home in Stonebridge at Eagle Ridge, the subdivision west of Heritage Road at the foot of Lookout Mountain.  It is priced at $950,000.  It was built with the same floor plan as my house, but what the owner has done is so stunning and beautiful that I had to Facetime Rita before leaving the listing appointment to show her what was possible for our house! I thought we had an open floor plan, but they took it to a whole new level, and I love it! Moreover, the hardwood floors, the kitchen upgrade, the metal railing around the stairs to the walk-out basement — it all works so beautifully. You really have to visit this home’s website, www.StonebridgeHome.net, to look at the narrated video tour (with drone footage) and the still pictures to get a feel for it. You’ll then call your agent or me to demand a private showing! Here are the raw facts: There are two bedrooms on the main floor, both with huge walk-in closets and en suite bathrooms, and two more bedrooms and a second family room/home theater with a fabulous wet bar in the walk-out basement.  You can see the front patio in the picture; there’s an expansive deck (partly covered) with patio below in the back. Separate HVAC systems serve each floor. There are 4,714 finished square feet.  Call your agent or Jim Smith at 303-525-1851 for a private showing.

 

Are You Ready to Take Full Advantage of the Winter Home-Selling Season?

[This column appeared only in the Denver edition of YourHub.]

Real_Estate_Today_bylineAs the weather turns colder, the real estate market can actually get hotter for sellers. However, since few sellers are aware of this dynamic, let me explain.

The internet has changed the way home buyers shop, making the residential real estate market far less seasonal than it used to be. In the past, buyers would tell an agent what they’re looking for and wait to see what the agent turned up.  Those days are behind us.  Buyers now have a variety of tools by which they can perform a home search online, contacting their agent as they identify properties they’d like to see. Consumer-facing real estate websites also offer email alerts based on geography, price and other criteria.

A hybrid option, made possible by MLS improvements over the years, is for the buyer’s agent to set up an email alert within the MLS. This option has the advantage of the search being far more specific, since agents can search every MLS field, not just location, price range, bed/baths and a few other fields.  Buyers can choose to receive their MLS alerts monthly, daily or even as soon as a new listing is entered on the MLS by the listing agent.  When a buyer receives an alert on a home that checks enough of their boxes, he or she can call their agent and request a showing.

While a buyer might do less active searching on the internet as winter sets in, the MLS alerts keep coming on their own.  This allows a buyer to respond quickly should the “perfect” home hit the market.  (If you haven’t asked your agent to set up such an MLS alert, ask him – or me. It’s a free service to us and you and takes little time to set up.)

Experience has shown me that, if a buyer were to get an MLS alert the day before Christmas with a new listing that sounds perfect, he or she would pick up the phone to wish his agent “Merry Christmas… and by the way, did you see that new listing?  When can I see it?”

What this means for sellers is that you shouldn’t withhold your home from the market just because winter’s approaching. Don’t think that spring and summer are the “selling season.”  Homes sell year round more than in earlier times, and, because many sellers aren’t aware of that and wait for spring, the opportunity for your home to get more attention increases. Put your home on the market in the depths of winter and if you’ve priced it right (not too high), you’ll be amazed at how many showings you will have and how quickly it will sell. Why? Because there’s little else out there!

My own research shows that homes take longer to sell in December and January than in June and July — almost double — but median days on market have stayed under 20 through every winter since 2014. That’s still a very good environment for selling a house, and the showings you get in  mid-winter are higher quality. People who are house hunting in the winter are, for the most part, serious buyers and not “lookie-loos.”

Yes, families with young children might prefer to move during summer vacation, but they are not the majority of home buyers anymore. Consider these other buyers: baby boomers looking to downsize, millennials looking to start a family, and employees facing mid-winter job relocations.

Seniors facing a knee or hip replacement six months from now want to sell their 2-story home and buy a   ranch-style home with no stairs without waiting for spring. Ditto for women who are three months pregnant. They want to move now into a home with more bedrooms, not wait until they’re eight months pregnant or until after the baby is born.

Yes, the market is slowing, but we’ll continue to see quick sales with multiple offers on homes that are priced properly this winter, just as we did last winter. If you fail to price your home right, you’ll think I misled you, as your home sits on the market for weeks or months with few showings and no offers. I’ve written columns on how to price a home properly in the past. Find them at www.JimSmithColumns.com, or call for a free consultation with me or one of our nine excellent agents.

It’s all about supply and demand. There are just as many buyers in the winter, but there are far fewer listings to choose from, which makes it a great time to put your home on the market. Some of those buyers tried all summer to buy a home and lost out to other bidders. They are not going to stop looking just because the days are getting colder and shorter.