Reader Asks: Should I Spend Money on Home Staging?

There are two kinds of home staging: 1) vacant home staging where you rent furniture and accessories; and 2) rearranging your furniture and other “stuff” to make the home show its best.

The jury is out on the former (which can cost a lot of money), but the latter is essential and doesn’t need to cost you anything. At Golden Real Estate, we provide staging consultations free to our sellers. One of our broker associates, David Dlugasch, is a Certified Home Stager®. Like all our associates, I can give general advice on staging your home, but I hire David to provide a full staging consultation free to my sellers.

Property Tax Is the Original ‘Wealth Tax’

Like you, perhaps, I was surprised and not quite sure what to make of the proposal from more than one presidential candidate to impose a wealth tax, not simply an income tax, on the super-rich. 

Then it occurred to me that it’s really nothing new. Homeowners already pay a “wealth tax” in the form of  property taxes, but it’s not a graduated tax paid only by the super-rich, as proposed by Elizabeth Warren and others.

Thanksgiving’s Here, and We at Golden Real Estate Are Thankful

Some weeks I struggle to come up with a topic for this column, but not so this week. Allow me to share some of the ways in which our broker associates, my wife and I are all thankful.

First, Rita and I are so thankful to be Americans. In school I studied many languages — French, Russian, Latin, Greek, German and Japanese — and I have traveled extensively around the world, although not so much recently. I attended my sister’s wedding in Sweden, attended “citizen diplomacy” conferences in the Soviet Union, and visited Beijing right after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre (and twice since).

I have visited and marveled at Japan and its culture more than once. I visited the Russian port of Vladivostok (the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway) on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. I remember noting that pay phones there were free because Russian coins were essentially worthless due to inflation, and that most of the cars on the road were right-hand drive Toyotas and Nissans purchased used from nearby Japan.

Rita and I particularly like France and Italy and long to return there again soon. We enjoyed a week in London following a two-week Atlantic crossing on Cunard’s Queen Victoria with stops in  Bermuda and the Canary Islands. When and if I retire from real estate, we look forward to more international travel. 

Every trip is great, but we are always happy to be back in America and especially in Colorado. We are, as I said, thankful most of all to be Americans — and Coloradans.

Part of being an American is the opportunity to participate in our capitalist free enterprise system. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I like to say that, except for my stints at the Washington Post and the New York Post, every paycheck I’ve ever received was signed by me. I remember when I visited the Soviet Union in 1978 learning that Russians could be self employed but only the state could have employees. I realized then that the freedom of enterprise was the core freedom I value most.

Nearly every real estate agent is self-employed, even if they work for a brokerage. I suspect that 95% or more of all Realtors are independent contractors (1099 workers) responsible for their own taxes and expenses (phones, cars, computers, software, etc.) and receive no benefits of any kind. The dropout rate among new agents is as high as 90% and those who make it five or more years have demonstrated a fortitude that deserves respect. I am thankful for Golden Real Estate’s seven top-producing, highly-experienced broker associates whose cell numbers I am pleased to list below.

Next I am thankful for the readers and other members of the public who recognize that we are professionals, not just entrepreneurs, and that we earn what we charge by providing an invaluable service for one of life’s most significant financial transactions. Not everyone sees our value or respects what we provide, so we thank you.

Not every licensed real estate agent is a Realtor — that is, a member of the Realtor association.  Everyone who joins a Realtor brokerage like ours must join the Realtor association and pay Realtor dues, which run about $500 per year. But there are non-Realtor brokerages such as HomeSmart Cherry Creek Properties, Redefy, and Trelora Colorado, whose agents don’t pay Realtor dues and don’t have to abide by the Realtor Code of Ethics. I’m thankful for all those firms, like ours, that have chosen to be Realtor brokerages.

Why? Because the National Association of Realtors (NAR) lobbies for your property rights, not just the interests of its members. For example, when the Trump administration tried to dilute the capital gains exemption for home owners ($250,000 single and $500,000 married), it was NAR which lobbied successfully against that change. I could cite countless other examples where NAR’s lobbying efforts have benefited home owners and all those agents who don’t pay NAR dues. To me it’s a matter of professional and corporate responsibility to support NAR with our dues. So, yes, I am thankful for NAR, even when I gripe about dues increases!

Like everyone in our profession, I have individual clients — buyers and sellers — for whose friendship and patronage I am grateful.  You know who you are! You have not only granted me the opportunity to be of service, but you have allowed me to learn new things from every transaction. Perhaps you have introduced me to a new service provider such as an estate sales company, a roofer or plumber, or just a great new restaurant! As I have said many times, judge us agents not by our years in the business but by the number of transactions we have completed, because that’s our most valuable continuing education program.

I’m also thankful for my colleagues from other brokerages. Real estate is different from many other professions because of the tradition of “cooperation and compensation” embodied in our shared multi-list service, aka “MLS.” Some people compare us to car salesmen, but consider the following scenario: You go to a Ford dealership and describe what you’re looking for. The salesman realizes that the right vehicle for you is not a Ford but another brand, so he shows you other cars on his computer and then takes you to those dealerships for a test drive, knowing that he can write the purchase contract and get paid for selling you another dealer’s car just as he can get paid for selling a car from his own dealership. That’s how real estate works, made possible by the MLS.

You’d be impressed to see how agents share the keys to their success with each other. I recall once when I made a presentation at a Realtor meeting on how to shoot and edit video tours of listings, happy to have others do videos for their listings, even though video tours are a point of differentiation for us at Golden Real Estate.

So I’m thankful for how the real estate business works and for the many Realtors whom I consider friends, not just competitors.  If I or one of my Golden Real Estate broker associates is not the perfect agent for a given buyer or seller, I don’t hesitate to recommend one of them.

Lastly, I’m thankful for the Denver Post and four Jefferson County weekly newspapers which publish this column. Remember, you can also receive it by email, so just send me an email with your request.  Several years of prior columns are online at JimSmithColumns.com.

Our Broker Associates:

Jim Swanson — 303-929-2727

Carrie Lovingier — 303-907-1278

Kristi Brunel — 303-525-2520

Chuck Brown — 303-885-7855

David Dlugasch — 303-908-4835

Andrew Lesko — 720-710-1000

Carol Milan — 720-982-4941

High-Tech, Low-Tech and No-Tech Ways to Make a Home More Senior-Friendly

Most seniors would like to age in place — that is, to stay in the home they know and love instead of relocating into assisted living. At the same time, there are practical considerations, especially if a senior lives alone.

There are no-tech and low-tech ways to address the issues associated with aging in place.  What’s new and perhaps less known to you are the high-tech and “smart home” solutions that are becoming more and more common. But let’s talk first about those better known no-tech and low-tech solutions.

The common no-tech solution is, of course, to have a caregiver who either lives in or visits you on a schedule. This, however, can be very expensive, unless you’re lucky enough to have a loving family member or two who can serve that function, perhaps trading free rent in your home for assistance with household chores, such as cooking and laundry.

The ideal home for aging in place, according to Jenn Gomer of CarePatrol, has a main-floor master bedroom, main-floor laundry room and a walk-in or roll-in shower — typically a ranch-style home with few or no stairs, although there are 2-story homes with main-floor masters and main-floor laundry. Ideally, the home should be close to at least one family member or friend on whom you can count in a pinch. 

If a senior has a fall or is hospitalized, Jenn suggests meeting with an occupational therapist, who can look for trip hazards and suggest grab bars or railings where they could be beneficial. However, multiple falls should be seen as a warning sign that you may need to change the home environment.

Jenn encourages her clients to be open to getting outside help with difficult activities. For instance, if you have a bad knee and your laundry is in the basement, consider allowing a friend or family  member to help with laundry or getting an outside home care service to assist. Installing laundry hook-ups on the main-floor is another option, if practical.

A classic low-tech tool is the medical alert button you wear on your person. The original product was introduced by Life Alert Emergency Response in the 1980s, but there are numerous other companies now offering such a product.

Another challenge can be grocery shopping, but one low-tech option nowadays is to order groceries online or by phone and having them delivered, rather than going out on icy sidewalks and parking lots. 

If adapting your multi-level home into one that works for you is not practical, Golden Real Estate’s agents can help you find a home with one-level living.  In addition to identifying currently available homes that meet your needs, we can alert you every time a new home matching those needs comes on the market

Golden Real Estate can make a senior’s move easier by providing totally free moving from his or her current home to their new home, or to a senior community if that’s their choice. (Jenn Gomer can help with that.) We have our own trucks and movers and provide you with free moving boxes and packing materials, including wardrobe boxes and bubble wrap. You just pack and unpack, and we can even find someone to assist with that. (If you know someone who would like to be on our call list for moving or packing assistance, let me know.)

Patio homes, typically ranch-style homes with exterior maintenance done by an HOA, are few and far between, but if they’re out there, we can find them within 15 minutes of them going on the market.  I just sold one this fall.

We’d love to live in a patio home with grounds maintenance handled by the HOA, but we have the equivalent of that at less expense by hiring someone to mow our lawn in the summer and do spring and fall yard clean-ups. It’s great!

Regarding making your current home more senior friendly, Rita and I love the stair elevator which we have on the stairs to our basement in our ranch-style home. We got a great deal on a used one, and they’re easy to install, assuming you have a straight staircase. The seat and armrests fold up when not in use, so they can work on any staircase that is at least 3 feet wide. Rita and I are still quite mobile and don’t need to use our stair elevator currently, but we like knowing it’s already in place for when the need arises. Meanwhile, it’s handy for transporting cases of wine and other heavy items to and from the basement.

If you have stairs with landings and turns, custom-made stair elevators can be purchased, but they get pricey. I can recommend some vendors. For those straight staircases, I can help you find a used one and someone to install it.

A senior friend who lives alone buddied up with a neighbor and texts that neighbor every morning when she gets up. If she forgets, the neighbor texts her asking if she’s okay. Also, that neighbor and two others have keys to her house.

Now, let’s talk high-tech solutions. For such devices, you need to have a smartphone and have internet and Wi-Fi installed in your home.

As a matter of personal safety, I think everyone should consider a video doorbell. When someone rings the bell, it sounds as usual in your home, but it also rings on your smartphone, with a video of the person ringing the doorbell and the ability to converse with him or her. The device can also alert you when there is motion at your front door, and the video is stored online where it can be shared with police. The best part of such a video doorbell is that you don’t need to be home, you only need to have your smartphone with you. The visitor has no way of knowing that you’re not home. Simply having a video doorbell is a good crime deterrent, because thieves recognize it. We bought our video doorbell from www.Ring.com.

There are so many other Wi-Fi connected devices that you can install in your home which alert you on your smartphone. You can even buy Wi-Fi-connected “smart outlets” which make any non-internet connected lamp or appliance controllable (and easily monitored) on your smartphone. I suggest viewing all the many different devices available from various manufacturers at www.SmartHome.com.

Development Opportunity in Downtown Golden

This 0.46-acre parcel at 623 14th Street in downtown Golden is a great development opportunity, whether or not you scrape the historic 2-story, 1,940-sq.-ft. building on the corner (barely visible through the trees in this aerial photograph). It is listed by Jim Smith at $996,000. There are 2 lots to this listing — a rectangular lot with that 1867 building (zoned commercial), and a triangular lot behind it. The vacant lot has a wind turbine and an electric vehicle charging station on it. This property has a storied history in the development of renewable energy and would make a great renewable energy sustainability plaza, but the buyer is free to develop it as he sees fit. What is required is to maintain access via easement to the garage and carport of the adjoining property. Visit www.HistoricGoldenHome.com to view a narrated video tour and drone video, then call Jim Smith at 303-525-1851 for more details and to arrange a private showing.

National Association of Realtors (NAR) Bans Pocket Listings

During its annual convention earlier this month, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) voted to ban the practice of pocket listings. Pocket listings are listings which are withheld from the MLS, thereby denying other Realtors (and agents who are not Realtors) from showing and selling the listings. The rule goes into effect on January 1, 2020, but NAR is giving MLSs until May 1st to fully implement it.

Regular readers of this column know that I have long decried the practice of selling listings without putting them on the MLS. Doing so increases the chances of the listing agent “double-ending” the sale, resulting in twice the commission, but it also runs the risk of netting less money for the seller, thereby violating the ethical and legal requirement that listing agents work in the best interest of their sellers instead of themselves.

Perhaps you saw me quoted on page 10A of last Thursday’s Denver Post as welcoming this new rule. As I stated to reporter Aldo Svaldi, the only way to guarantee the highest price for our sellers is to expose their listings to the full market of potential buyers, which is only done by putting the home on the MLS. When the listing agent convinces a seller to accept an offer before their home is put on the MLS, there is no way of knowing how much money the seller will “leave on the table.”

The purpose of an MLS is to provide “cooperation and compensation.” Members of an MLS must allow (cooperate with) any other member of the MLS to sell their listing and makes it known how they’ll be compensated — in our market, typically 2.8% of the sale price.

The new policy, called “clear cooperation,” is spelled out in the following motion passed by a 91% to 9% vote of the NAR board of directors:

“Within one business day of marketing a property to the public, the listing broker must submit the listing to the MLS for cooperation with other MLS participants. Public marketing includes, but is not limited to, flyers displayed in windows, yard signs, digital marketing on public-facing websites, brokerage website displays, digital communications marketing (email blasts), multi-brokerage listing sharing networks, and applications available to the general public.”

I can provide an example from my own practice. In November 2018 I listed a home for $1.1 million. Even before I put it on the MLS, a close friend of the seller said he would pay full price. The seller wanted to accept it, but my advice was to consider the friend’s offer the “opening bid” and to proceed with exposing the home to other buyers by putting it on the MLS.

Five days after putting the home on the MLS, bidding had driven up the price significantly and it sold (to the same friend) for $75,000 above full price. The seller was delighted, and so was the buyer, who only asked that his friend match the highest bid.

I could easily have made a quick commission and saved myself the chore and expense of marketing the home and managing competing offers, but I would have been violating my duty to the seller and, it turns out, cost my seller a lot of money.  I particularly like that, when all was said and done, the seller netted the full listing price, even after deducting commissions and the other costs of selling!

It will be interesting to see how this rule against pocket listings is implemented by MLSs and how effective it will be. One work-around we can expect is that listings will go on the MLS with the notation that “showings begin on such-and-such a (later) date.”

One of our broker associates, Chuck Brown, attended the NAR convention, including a panel of the titans of real estate — from Realogy, RE/MAX International, Zillow, Opendoor, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, and others — and they, unlike the board of directors, were mostly against the new policy on pocket listings.  Zillow and Opendoor, in particular, say they’ll continue to list properties as “coming soon.”

Clearly the new rule will restrict but probably not eliminate the practice.  REcolorado’s Rules & Regulations Committee, on which I have served for over a decade, will discuss it on Dec. 10th. Expect a follow-up on this subject!

Price Reduced on Home in Golden’s Foothills

5771 Bear Paw Road, Golden CO 80403 – Just reduced to $899,000

You won’t believe the mountain and city views (all the way to DIA) from this beautiful log home in a gated community, nestled on 35 acres just 14 miles from downtown Golden, with easy access to Denver, Boulder and Eldora Ski Resort. (You can be on the slopes in 30 minutes!)  Now priced at $899,000, this peaceful, furnished retreat is one of a kind.  Complete with a plow truck and camper for extra guests or rental, all you need to do is move in!  Buyers who offer full price and close before the end of the year will receive a free 1-year home warranty.  There will be no open houses. Schedule a showing with your agent or call Kristi Brunel at 303-525-2520 or Carol Milan at 720-982-4941 for an exclusive private showing. You can find more pictures and view a drone video tour of this listing at www.FoothillsHome.info.