I Love to Write About Real Estate, But This Week It’s Personal

By JIM SMITH, Citizen

I’m writing this week’s column from the woods near Kalispell, Montana, where we are visiting Rita’s sister and her husband. Although I usually write about real estate, that topic is not top of mind for me this week. Instead, I’m going to write about what’s really top of mind for me these days — Donald Trump and the decline and fall of the America in which Rita and I grew up.

I’m paying for this ad space personally. That’s why I removed all branding in the printed versions.  The opinions I express herein are not those of the brokerage I own and manage.  None of my broker associates were consulted about its content and I know that at least one would disagree with what I write below.

What’s really on my mind as Rita and I take this 10-day road trip to Boise, Seattle and now Kalispell, listening to the national news and conversing with friends and relatives, is the sad state of our republic.

Since I am also writing this on Father’s Day, I’m also thinking about my late father, Abbott Smith, an old-school proper New Englander to whom integrity was everything. I can still hear Dad saying, “Just because other people steal apples doesn’t make it right for you to steal apples.”  I got my values from him.

Dad would be appalled that we have a president who, under the tutelage of his one-time lawyer, Roy Cohn, practices the principle that if you tell a lie long enough people will believe it. Also, that you should never admit you’re wrong. (Google the two names together or click here to learn about Cohn’s influence on Trump.)

Rita and I left on our vacation about the time that President Trump negotiated with his “new friend” Kim Jung Un after insulting his fellow G-7 leaders, including the prime minister of our country’s strongest ally and trading partner, Canada.

It was clear to me years ago that Donald Trump is a narcissist and bully, whose only interest is self aggrandizement and self promotion, even when it violates the emoluments provision of our Constitution. My lifelong Republican father would be turning over in his grave if he knew not only what Donald Trump is doing and saying but, worse, how the elected members of the “Grand Old Party” — most of whom at one time proclaimed “Never Trump!” (Google that phrase or click here to read the very long list) — have snapped into line with Trump because they think that’s how they can maintain what’s most important to them — their re-election.

How much further down this road must America go? The President, who says that military exercises with South Korea were “costing us a fortune,” ordered a military parade that will cost millions of taxpayer dollars that would be better spent on almost anything else. He was inspired by a parade in France, but such parades are really the trademark of Russia, China, North Korea and other dictatorships.  What’s next?  Oversized wall-mounted portraits of him in Washington DC?

Rotary’s “4-Way Test”

Every Tuesday we begin our breakfast meeting at the Rotary Club of Golden by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Rotary’s 4-Way Test. I can’t picture this president beginning cabinet meetings with this declaration of “the things we think, say or do”:

  • First, Is It the Truth?
  • Second, Is It Fair to All Concerned?
  • Third, Will It Build Goodwill and Better Friendships?
  • Fourth, Will It Be Beneficial to All Concerned?

 Try applying that test to such Trump policies as separating immigrant children from their parents, while falsely claiming the Democrats made him do it.   Or how about denying climate change and removing all use of that phrase from EPA documents on the subject? What about imposing tariffs on our closest trading partners, while claiming falsely that trade wars are “good” and “easy to win”?  It’s hard to think of any Trump policy for which any one of those four questions could be answered in the affirmative.

Well-intended policies often need to be reversed, but Trump, as taught by Roy Cohn, will never admit he’s wrong, so he allows bad policies to stay in place when they shouldn’t, just to avoid admitting a mistake.  That’s why he insists on keeping nonsensical campaign promises he made — such as bringing back coal, quitting the Paris Climate Accords, quitting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, exiting the Iran agreement, or abandoning NAFTA, among others.  (The list is pretty long!)

As offended as we have been by so many of this president’s words and deeds, we’re also saddened by the lack of an articulate opposition by both Democrats and those once-moderate never-Trump Republicans.

Also, as a professional journalist, I am saddened by the attacks on the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people” (a Stalinist term) and by the use of the phrase “fake news” to dismiss honest journalistic coverage. The complicity of Fox News in this process is disappointing to anyone who knows and appreciates real journalism.

So what can be done about this situation?  Below are two “modest proposals” that I’d like to advance.

A Couple Modest Proposals for Saving America

It’s easy to criticize President Trump and where he is leading us, but where are the proposals to remedy this situation? Here are mine.

The first is for the Democratic Party to create what the British Parliament has long had and which I learned about in the 7th and 8th grades — a “Shadow Cabinet.”  

Wikipedia describes this pillar of British government as follows:

The Shadow Cabinet is a feature of the Westminster system of government. It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mirror the positions of each individual member of the Cabinet. It is the Shadow Cabinet’s responsibility to scrutinize the policies and actions of the government, as well to offer an alternative program.

In most countries, a member of the shadow cabinet is referred to as a Shadow Minister. In Canada, however, the term Opposition Critic is more common. In the United Kingdom’s House of Lords and in New Zealand, the term “spokesperson” is used instead of “shadow.”

I propose that the minority party (currently the Democratic Party) designate political leaders to serve as Shadow Secretaries for each Cabinet department.  (How cool would it be if they recited the 4-Way Test when they meet as a group?)  The Shadow EPA administrator could focus his or her attention on the unreported activities and pronouncements of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. The Shadow Secretary of Energy could monitor the actions and pronouncements of Secretary Rick Perry, and the Shadow Attorney General could do the same regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And so forth for every other Cabinet member. Their press conferences would be covered, including by Fox News, and provide information which is currently only being provided by investigative reporters who are readily dismissed by the president as “fake news.”  Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi simply cannot provide this service or play this role. Good candidates for a current Shadow Cabinet would be former heads or deputies of those cabinet departments.

I wish the Republicans had had a Shadow Cabinet during the Obama administration for the same reasons.  All sides would benefit from the perspective provided by a Shadow Cabinet.  It would serve to keep the “real” Cabinet and the President honest.  The worst part of the current situation is how easily the President can dismiss investigative reporting that is critical of his administration. If, instead, the reporters were covering the informed statements of department experts, it wouldn’t be as convincing when that coverage is labeled “fake news.” 

My second proposal is that some newsworthy opponent of the current president (likely a Democrat) announce his or her candidacy for President now instead of next year. Doing so not only provides a mechanism for fundraising (which is working well for Trump), but it also makes it possible to have full-fledged rallies (also working well for Trump) that would garner coverage by all the media, providing yet another avenue for turning the mainstream media  into reporters covering newsmakers critical of the Trump administration instead of providing the analysis themselves, which has only made them vulnerable to charges of partisanship (aka “fake news”).

Lastly, I want to reiterate that these are my personal remarks and not those of my real estate brokerage or its broker associates. I’m not worried that speaking out on this subject will hurt my brokerage or me financially, but if it does, I am willing to pay that price, and I will understand if an agent wants to disassociate him or herself from what I have written and leave our brokerage. Our democracy, our country, our future as a nation are too important for me to remain silent any longer about this president, his denial of climate change, his assault on the free press, and his total disregard for telling the truth.


Here’s Why You Should Not Sell Your House Without Putting It on the Market

Real_Estate_Today_bylineImagine the heartbreak. You’ve been waiting for a home in a particular neighborhood that backs to open space. There are very few of them. Your agent has set up an MLS alert so you’ll be notified the minute such a home goes on the market.

One day you get an MLS alert — your dream house was just listed! Two minutes later, before you can even call your agent to schedule a showing, you get a second alert that it’s under contract. Then, two minutes later, a third alert that it’s sold. What happened?

It’s simple. Listings can only be entered on the MLS as “Active” and then changed to “Under Contract” and “Sold.”  Apparently a buyer’s agent had convinced the homeowner to sell their home for $925,000. The seller agreed. After all, the county assessor’s most recent valuation was $924,138, and the seller purchased the home in 1997 for $343,400.  A tidy capital gain indeed!

But it’s not that simple.  That assessor’s valuation was as of June 2016 — two years ago!  Valuation software shows the home is worth up to $150,000 more today. Heck, even Zillow shows it as being worth $10,000 more.

Given the opportunity to see the home and submit competing offers, other buyers could well have driven the price over $1 million.

So it was a lose-lose — or should we say win-lose-lose? That buyer won, getting the home for less than it’s worth, but the seller and the would-be buyer both lost. And, oh yes, the buyer’s agent was rewarded with a big commission for convincing the seller to part with their home for what the county assessor said it was worth two years ago!  (This was an actual recent sale.)

Don’t let this happen to you.   A savvy seller would treat an unsolicited offer to buy their home as the “opening bid.” Professional agents, like the ones at Golden Real Estate, would analyze the market and help you determine your initial asking price.  Our approach is to list homes at a price that attracts the greatest number of qualified prospective buyers. Using this ad space and other media, we expose our listings to the widest possible market.  In short, we do exactly what buyer’s agents hope you won’t do – work diligently to give sellers the best opportunity to benefit from the current sellers’ market.

The scenario described above has contributed to the limited inventory of active listings.   As I wrote in my March 22 column (download-able at www.JimSmithColumns.com), homes that are on the MLS between one and four days sell for much more than those at zero days.  Experience has shown us that 4 days on market is the “sweet spot,” where, with a solid pricing strategy and effective marketing (like that offered by Golden Real Estate), potential buyers are given the best opportunity to find, view and make an offer on your home.

The following chart (source: REcolorado) shows the ratio of sold price to list price for listings sold since Jan. 1, 2018:

1 Day on Market  =  102.0%

2 Days on Market  =  102.2%

3 Days on Market  =  102.2%

4 Days on Market  =  102.3%

5 Days on Market  =  102.2%

6 Days on Market  =  101.5%

7 Days on Market  =  100.5%

8 Days on Market  =  100.0%

9 Days or longer  =  Under 100%.

Of course, there can be legitimate reasons for a property to be sold without being put on the market, such as selling to a relative or friend, but any arm’s length transaction really should be put on the market. Otherwise, you could be leaving money on the table.


Charming Lakewood Tudor Near Belmar & O’Kane Park Just Listed by Chuck Brown

DSC_0463.JPGThis brick Tudor at 6585 W. 2nd Ave. will win the heart of any fan of great architecture.  Built in 1945, it has its own well for both irrigation and household use — a great savings over public water. The entire second floor is a fabulous master suite. The basement is a mother-in-law suite with its own entrance and kitchen. The roof is new (2017) and the home is updated with brand new (2018) electrical service, central air conditioning, furnace, water heater and well pump. It has a detached 2-car garage. The location is great, too — on a quiet street close to Belmar and 6th Avenue expressway, and 1/2 block from O’Kane Park.  For a narrated video tour of this great home, inside and out, visit its website at www.LakewoodHome.info. Then call Chuck at 303-885-7855 for a private showing. Open Saturday, June 16th, 11 to 2. Listed at $430,000. 

Price Reduced on Solar-Powered Arvada Ranch With Mother-in-Law Apartment

DSC_0346Not visible from the street is this home’s solar system, which meets most of this home’s electrical needs for only $137/month year-round. It is located at 5674 Fig Way in the Candlelight Valley subdivision adjacent to the Van Bibber open space park.  A trailhead is just two blocks away. It’s a super quiet location, as you can tell by watching (and listening to) the narrated video tour at www.CandlelightValleyHome.info. This  home has a finished walk-out basement and is on one of the larger lots — over 1/3 acre. Everything about this home is top shelf, including the gourmet kitchen with marble floor, granite countertops and GE Monogram refrigerator. The walk-out basement is a mother-in-law apartment with its own kitchen. The expansive deck and covered patio provide additional entertainment possibilities.  Now listed at $797,000.


Gilpin County Cabin Just Listed by Carrie Lovingier

DSC_0450.JPGLocated a couple miles off the scenic Peak to Peak Highway, this charming 2-bed 1-bath mountain cabin at 39 Midway Drive is very private and has lots of natural light, a wood burning fireplace, washer/dryer hookups, and has well water and septic so it can be lived in year round or perfect for a getaway cabin. It sits on almost 2 acres and includes 2 adjoining lots for a total of nearly 4 acres of gently sloping usable land. It has a metal roof. There is plenty of room to build a garage or add on to the existing 550-sq.-ft. cabin. There’s a newer 10’x12’ Tuff Shed. The taxes are only $590/year, and the road is county maintained. Enjoy hiking, fishing, 4-wheeling, camping, or visit the nearby casinos for great food and entertainment. There’s good cell service, which is a rare bonus. Take a narrated video tour at www.GilpinCountyHome.info, then call Carrie at 303-907-1278 for a showing.  No open houses at this time.  Listed at $275,000.


Gentrification vs. Revitalization — It’s a Hard Topic for a Meaningful Conversation

Real_Estate_Today_bylineI have long wanted to write about gentrification but only if I could contribute meaningfully to the conversation.  Now, after attending a recent panel discussion on the topic hosted by the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR), I’m ready to give it a go.

Most of the attendees were fellow Realtors or other professionals who make their living in real estate, so the discussion lacked the sort of emotion and volume that a public meeting on this subject might contain. Let’s face it, the process, whether you call it gentrification or revitalization, financially benefits those in the industry, although it’s fair to say we all are concerned about its social impacts.

gentrification: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that oft-en displaces poorer residents. (Merriam-Webster)

Before returning to Colorado in 1991, I lived in Brooklyn for 20 years, where gentrification was already a big topic of discussion, without the euphemism of “revitalization.” So, it’s not a new subject for me as a journalist, which was my profession back then. Al-though it has started more recently here, I observe the same process at work in the Denver metro area.

One of the panelists at the recent DMAR event was Denver City Councilwoman-at-Large Robin Kniech, who observed that the reason we call it “revitalization” is that society allowed such neighborhoods to suffer from a lack of investment for decades, leading to the need for revitalization.

revitalization: the process of making something grow, develop, or become successful again.  (Cambridge English Dictionary)

“We are only talking about revitalization because there has been an abandonment that preceded it,” she said. “Government, and typically the private market, stopped investing in an area. We stopped investing in it in many cases because we didn’t value who was living there the same as we did other parts of our city.”

Meanwhile, panel member Craig Fitchett, who is in charge of acquisition and development for Delwest (a developer), asserted that you can’t have revitalization without at least some degree of gentrification — i.e., the displacement of low-income residents.

Lori Pace, a broker associate at Porchlight Real Estate Group, expressed what I would have said had I been on the panel — that the solution to displacement is for residents of neighborhoods experiencing gentrification to own instead of rent their homes so they can benefit from the wave of appreciation that revitalization invariably brings to a neighborhood.

Programs from organizations like the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) are designed to help first-time home buyers become homeowners with as little as $1,000 out-of-pocket expense. And while these programs still require the buyer to demonstrate an income that supports a mortgage, many of these tenants are already spending more on rent than they would pay for a mortgage… if they could only make that transition to homeownership.

Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district, it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”  -Sociologist Ruth Glass, who coined the term “gentrification” in 1964

While there are programs that help tenants with rent and utility costs, it seems more could be done to guide residents of transitional neighborhoods facing gentrification into existing homeownership programs like CHFA’s.  In addition, I’d like to see the creation of new programs geared toward helping tenants become homeowners.  Home ownership is the real answer to gentrification.

In last week’s column, I wrote about a program that could help tenants about to be displaced from their homes by a developer. It described a company which will buy that tenant’s home (unless it’s a condo), and sign a 1- to 5-year lease with right to purchase at pre-determined prices over the 5-year period. You can re-read that column at www.JimSmithColumns.com.

I’m glad that DMAR brought this conversation to the forefront with their May 22nd panel discussion, but the conversation needs to continue. What are your thoughts on this matter?  Post your own thoughts and ideas on this subject below.


Price Reduced on Golden Home Backing to Greenbelt

15318 W EllsworthThis large home at 15318 W. Ellsworth Drive backs to one of the greenbelts in Mesa View Estates, far from the noise of US 6 and Interstate 70. It is only a mile, however, to the Indiana Street/US 6 interchange, making it convenient to both Denver and the mountains. With 5 bedrooms and 4½ baths on three levels and its oversized 4-car garage, it can accommodate even the largest family!  Features include a main-floor master suite that opens to a 10’x24’ wood deck with stairs down to the backyard. (There’s a $10,000 allowance for replacing deck, which is showing its age.) There are three gas fireplaces, too. In the basement bathroom is a wide 2-headed shower and a sauna. On the second floor are 3 bedrooms, one with a private bathroom and two sharing a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. The gourmet kitchen has hardwood flooring and gorgeous slab granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, which are all included, as are the high efficiency washer and dryer in the main-floor laundry room. See pictures and a narrated video tour at www.MesaViewEstates.info. Open Sunday, June 10th, 1-3 pm.