Should You List Your Home During the Holidays? The Answer May Surprise You

The national real estate media and blogs have finally caught onto something I’ve been saying for several years — that winter, even during the holidays, is a great time to put your home on the market.   The lead article this week on RSImedia’s “Housecall” blog, for example, promotes listing homes during the upcoming holidays, writing as follows:

“With the colder temperatures and many people heading on vacation, it may seem like an inopportune moment to list your house, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Although it’s true that there are fewer buyers looking for a home at this time of year, the pros far outweigh the cons. There are fewer, yet far more serious buyers searching for homes in your market, and there is less competition with fewer homes on the market, and transactions proceed more quickly….”

The blog post gives three reasons why the holidays are a good time to list a home. First, sellers needn’t worry as much about staging the home. “Homebuyers who shop during the off-season are typically very serious about getting into a house. They’re unlikely to waste their time viewing homes that don’t already suit their criteria, and will be able to look past your child’s messy playroom.”

Second, the article states that transactions move more quickly, since inspectors, lenders, appraisers and title companies have less of a backlog.  (Personally, I don’t see this being so significant.)

Third, the article points out what I think is most important — there are fewer homes competing for attention against your home.   Sellers should particularly appreciate the fact that buyers who want to see listings at this time of year are probably serious about buying. “Lookie loos” are most often fair weather visitors. So, fewer people are likely to want to see your home during the holidays, but those who do are typically of the highly qualified and highly motivated variety.

What the RSImedia blog post fails to address is what changed to make the holiday season a good time to list a home, because that wasn’t true years ago.  I believe it is because of how the internet has changed the relationship between buyers and their real estate agents.

In the past, agents would do the looking, contacting their client when they identified a home they think their buyer would like. With today’s MLS systems, agents can enter their buyers’ search criteria into the MLS, which triggers an email alert whenever the system identifies a listing matching those criteria.

Thus, while agents might lose focus from time-to-time, the MLS computer never stops watching and alerting. The minute a suitable listing is entered in the MLS, buyers are alerted.  Some of these folks are sufficiently motivated that if the listing “checks enough of their boxes,” they’ll call their agents to request an immediate showing — even on Christmas eve.

Buyers can set up similar alerts themselves on consumer-facing real estate websites such as Zillow, but they can’t use nearly as many search criteria as their agent can.  For example, I don’t know of a single consumer-facing website that allows a user to search for main-floor master suites, fenced yards, homes with mountain views, or homes with full-but-unfinished basements.  The MLS system on the other hand, allows its member agents to search for all of these criteria – and more.  If it’s a field on the MLS, it can be a search criterion for us agents.

If you aren’t able to search for exactly what you want on those consumer-facing websites, ask us or your agent of choice to set up the search for you.  It doesn’t cost the agent or you anything to create these alerts. 

In previous years I’ve published statistics showing how well listings sell in the winter.  You can find those columns at www.JimSmithColumns.com.

‘Conforming’ Loan Limits Raised

Until recently, the conventional loan limit was $417,000. Anything above that was considered a “jumbo” loan, which had stricter credit requirements and higher interest rates.  But things have changed.

Last week, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored entities that purchase the bulk of mortgage loans from lenders, raised that limit to $484,350 for much of the country.  In some regions with higher property values however, including metro Denver, the limit is now $561,200. This is good news for borrowers, as conventional loans allow a smaller down payment percentage versus that of Jumbo loans – as little as 3%.

Contact your mortgage broker to see if it makes sense for you to buy (or sell, for that matter) before mortgage rates rise further. If you don’t have a mortgage broker call us. We can put you in touch with several professionals we know and trust

Readers Offer Suggestions on Making Homes More Resistant to Wildfires

I was pleased to get several responses to last week’s column on protecting homes from wildfires.

One reader suggested that building a house out of concrete might help.  While this is a good idea, remember that such a house would still have a roof and openings for windows and doors that would need to be made as fire-resistant as possible.

Another reader suggested installing outdoor smoke detectors, something that hit close to home with a friend of mine. She said that a firefighter once rang her doorbell to warn her of an approaching wildfire. The moment she opened the door she smelled the smoke, but she hadn’t smelled it when she was indoors. For that matter, why not cell-connect detectors in the forests?

That prompted me to wonder why building codes don’t require smoke detectors in attached garages, but only require that the walls, door and ceiling be fire-rated to extend the time it takes for a garage fire to penetrate the living quarters.

Lastly, one reader pointed out that in a firestorm no measures are likely to prevent a home from being consumed.  So true.

Keep the suggestions coming.  You can comment on this post or comment on the original post from last week. 

Affordable Westminster Condo Just Listed by Chuck Brown

2720 W 86th AveBe sure to check out this move-in ready and affordable 2-bedroom/1bath condo at 2720 W 86th Ave. #69, Westminster. The owners just completed a comprehensive remodel which included a stylish new kitchen, new bathroom, new tile and carpet flooring, and new paint.  The outdoor covered balcony was recently renovated  by the HOA. The location between Hwy. 36 and I-25 makes for an easy commute to Denver or Boulder. This unit is 1,000 sq. ft. and is located on the 2nd floor of the 3-story building. Take a narrated video tour at www.WestminsterCondo.info.  Open house will be Sunday, Dec. 9th, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Or call listing agent Chuck Brown at 303-885-7855 for a private showing.  Listed for only $195,000.

 

Golden Real Estate Offers Help to the California Fire Victims

Do you know someone who has lost their home and its contents in a wildfire? Have them call us, because at last week’s office meeting, the agents at Golden Real Estate decided to serve anyone who lost their home to a wildfire, by donating 100% of our earned commissions to them if they want to relocate to Colorado.

We took this action in recognition of the fact that there is insufficient affordable housing stock in California to accommodate all the people who lost their homes, and that inevitably some will choose to relocate to other states.

This offer is also made to hurricane victims and anyone who lost their entire home to a disaster, including here in Colorado. We do this so the family has money to buy whatever they need to kickstart their new life.

If a California Realtor refers a buyer to us, we won’t ask them to donate their 25% referral fee, because they, too, are suffering terribly — and some of them have lost their own homes and even their brokerages.

We invite other agents and brokerages to follow our lead in helping the victims of such disasters.

 

California’s Wildfires Are a Wakeup Call for Building More Fire-Resistant Homes

Real_Estate_Today_bylineWhether or not you live in the foothills or adjacent to drought-parched open space, you were likely stunned, as I was, by the scene of an entire city being consumed by fire so quickly that people burned to death in their homes or in their cars trying to escape.  Perhaps you worry that what we witnessed in California could happen here.  Given our dry climate, our topography, and our strong winds, the question isn’t whether such an event could happen here but rather what we can do to mitigate the risks to life and property should we find our home in the path of a fast-moving wildfire.

If you’ve been in Colorado for awhile, you may remember the Waldo Canyon fire of June 2012.  That wildfire destroyed 346 homes in the Mountain Shadows subdivision of Colorado Springs and killed two people.  As shown in the picture below, that fire did not burn every home, however. The homes that burned were ignited by wind-blown embers.

Canyon Fire 2 AerialsThat subdivision, like the city of Paradise, California, is in what’s known as the Wildland Urban Interface, but the kind of winds we experienced as recently as last weekend can cause embers from a single house fire to spread quickly to other homes in urban areas, too.  If embers start flying, you’ll want to make sure that your home is not ignited by them.

Traditionally, fire control has focused on fires that begin inside your home. For example, building codes have long required the use of self-closing solid doors and ⅝-inch fireboard between your garage and the living quarters and attic of your home, and new multi-family buildings are typically required to have fire-suppression (sprinkler) systems. In some jurisdictions, single-family homes also must have such systems, which can quickly flood the interior of your home with fire-dousing water, but I have yet to find a house with exterior and roof-mounted sprinkler heads.

stone-coated metal roofingThe next time you have to replace your roof, consider what one of my clients in Golden did — install a stone-coated metal roof instead of yet another composition shingle roof. It will help to protect your home from fire, not just hail.  At right is a picture of a stone-coated metal roof.

In South Carolina, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety built a massive wind tunnel, originally to test different construction materials and designs under hurricane conditions. More recently it has been adapted to measure the effect of wind-blown embers (see image below) on various building materials. See website at www.DisasterSafety.org/wildfire/.

Wind_tunnel_pictureFrom that website and other research I’ve done, here are some thoughts about making homes more resilient in the face of wildfire.

Although fire-resistant roofing and siding materials should be used whenever possible, it’s not enough to consider just the material itself.  For example, a tile roof won’t burn but is not impervious to embers, which can be blown into the gaps between the tiles.

house_with_rolling_shuttersIntense heat can cause windows to shatter, so consider using tempered glass all around, not just where required by code. Better yet, consider installing electric rolling metal shutters, which descend to completely cover exterior windows and doorways. One vendor’s website is www.SomfySystems.com. Although marketed for other reasons, such as security and privacy, they could also protect windows from being blown out by an approaching wildfire. They can also be monitored and operated using a smartphone app.  I have seen such shutters installed on a few Colorado homes, including on the Golden home shown here, which we listed in 2009.  The metal shutters roll down from that box above each window.

Special attention should be paid to the underside of roof overhangs, balconies and decks, where flames can be trapped. Roof soffits in most homes have vents which combine with vents on the roof to circulate outside air through the attic.  Unfortunately, this design can also allow the introduction of wind-blown embers into the attic. One way to eliminate these vents is to do what Meritage Homes did in building Arvada’s Richards Farm subdivision. The insulation of those homes is closed-cell foam applied to the underside of the roofs, rather than the more typical blown-in cellulose or fiberglass batts resting on the floor of the attic, as is found in most homes – perhaps your own.  Meritage probably didn’t consider that making the homes more energy efficient in this way had the added benefit of making them more resistant to wildfire.  Below is a picture of this kind of insulation being installed in an attic. Conditioned attic

If your home has those attic vents, screens should be installed on them to minimize the intrusion of wind-blown embers, in the same way that chimneys have screens to prevent the escape of such embers. Other openings such as plumbing vents, dryer exhaust vents, etc., can be similarly made more fire-resistant.

Owners of foothills properties are well aware of the “defensible space” requirements of local jurisdictions which involve the removal of trees and clearing other combustibles from around a home.  For example, firewood should never be stored against the side of a home. Insurance companies often make such mitigation a condition for insuring a home.

It is not uncommon for homes to have “safe rooms” to which homeowners can flee in case of a home invasion. I have seen really good examples of safe rooms in a couple of homes. The existence of such a room can be concealed through, for example, a door built into a floor-to-ceiling book shelf. If such a room were constructed in a basement with cinderblock walls, a metal door, and a concrete-and-metal ceiling, it might double as a survival room in the event a wildfire like the one in Paradise, which made evacuation a risky alternative. Meanwhile, such a room would make a great wine cellar!

Although I haven’t researched it, I would guess that taking some of these precautions — especially metal roofing and the rolling metal shutters — might help to reduce your insurance premiums, as well as to possibly save your life and property in case of wildfire.

Because many of the measures described above require electricity, and electrical service can be interrupted during a fire, you might consider installing a power back-up system such as the Tesla Powerwall or a conventional gas generator. While you’re at it, installing solar panels would help not only to shield an otherwise combustible roof, but could also power your home if electrical service remains out after the fire has passed.

 

At Thanksgiving, I Like to Reflect on the Many People for Whom I’m Grateful

By JIM SMITH, Realtor ®

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because it gives me an opportunity to dwell on all that I have to appreciate in my life — both professionally and personally.

First and foremost, I’m grateful for the nine broker associates who found themselves drawn to work at Golden Real Estate. They are pictured with me below outside our South Golden Road office. Let me introduce them, from left to right.

GRE_AgentsI have known Jim Swanson since we both worked at Coldwell Banker in 2002.  Jim, a lifelong resident of South Golden, followed me to RE/MAX Alliance where we both worked before I bought a former restaurant building on South Golden Road and created Golden Real Estate. I value his familiarity with and love of Golden. He’s also an excellent Realtor! You can reach him at 303-929-2727 or you can contact him by email at BrokerSwanson@aol.com. Thanks, Jim, for being with me as we grew our brokerage!

Chuck Brown, second from left, owned his own Metro Brokers office before giving it up to join Golden Real Estate several years ago, attracted by our commitment to sustainability. (He has a Tesla Model 3 on order.) He lives and sells in Paradise Hills on Lookout Mountain, but he’s also our Denver expert, having listed and sold many homes there over the years. You can reach Chuck at 303-885-7855 or you can email him at Chuck@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Norm Kowitz came to us from RE/MAX Alliance. He lives in North Golden and is currently enrolled in Leadership Golden to deepen his knowledge of this city that he and I call home. His service on the board of directors of the Christian Action Guild testifies to his commitment to serving others.  Deeply proud of his service as a U.S. Marine Infantryman, Norm also takes pride in the fine people his four children have become and, of course, in his five grandchildren. Also, he helps me by copyediting my columns. He’s a great Realtor, too! You can call Norm at 303-229-3891, or email  him at Norm@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Next to Norm is Carol Milan, who has lived in Golden for 30 years (since college) and has been a strong community volunteer over that entire time. A mother of three teenagers, she is married to Kevin Milan, the chief of South Metro Fire District. I’m impressed at her commitment to Golden and how many people she knows! Prior to becoming a Realtor, she was a Registered Nurse at Colorado Orthopedic Hospital, where she attended to my wife, Rita, during her knee replacement!  You can call or text Carol at 720-982-4941, or email Carol@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Standing between Carol and me is Kristi Brunel, who is also on the board of the Christian Action Guild and, like me, is a graduate of Leadership Golden. It was Kristi who recruited Norm and Carol to join Golden Real Estate. The Brunel family is well known for its long-time residency here and for its contribution of Golden’s civic life. I value Kristi for her knowledge of investment properties, because she and her husband Kenny have long owned and managed several rentals in Jefferson County. You can reach Kristi at 303-525-2520 or email her at Kristi@GoldenRealEstate.com.

On the other side of me is one of our newer agents, Debbi Hysmith, a real dynamo of a Realtor who lives in Westminster. She came to us from another small brokerage, attracted by our commitment to sustainability. (She drives a Chevy Volt, which she charges for free in our parking lot!)  She is also a home staging expert and even has her own inventory of furnishings that she uses to stage her listings. You can call or text Debbi anytime at 720-936-2443 or email her at Debbi@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Next to Debbi is David Dlugasch, a certified home stager. David had his own brokerage in Crested Butte, but relocated to Arvada 5 years ago and was drawn to join Golden Real Estate after reading my columns online. He specializes in Arvada real estate. He’s my deputy managing broker. You can reach him at 303-908-4835 or David@GoldenRealEstate.com. David recently took delivery of a Tesla Model 3, which he, too, charges in our parking lot.

Next to David is Carrie Lovingier, who has been with Golden Real Estate for a decade. Carrie lives in south Evergreen (behind Evergreen High School), so I look to her when it comes to listing or showing Evergreen listings. She is a great Realtor!  Reach her at 303-907-1278 or Carrie@GoldenRealEstate.com.

    Last but not least is Andrew Lesko, who lives in Golden (across the street from me).  Andrew specializes in townhomes, condos and duplex properties. If you are considering buying or selling these types of properties, a great place to start would be his websites GoldenTownhomes.com and DuplexAlerts.com. Andrew can always be reached at 720-710-1000, or you can email Andrew@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Next I’d like to salute and thank our many clients, most of whom came to us from reading this column, so I am really grateful for my readers!  Remember, I love to hear from you, so do call or write me!  And please know how grateful all of us are for all of you

I’m also thankful for my colleagues from other brokerages and especially those in leadership positions at the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR) and fellow members of the MLS’s Rules and Regulations Committee on which I’ve been privileged to serve for many years. I’m equally grateful for the staff who manage both DMAR and REcolorado (our Denver MLS). Ann Turner continues to provide excellent leadership at DMAR, and Kirby Slunaker has done the same for REcolorado.

Last but not least, I so love and appreciate my wife of 15 years, Rita Smith. She is my rock and is a great sounding board for everything I do and write. Thank you, Rita. I love you!  I also thank Rita’s son, Bob Guinn, a wine executive in California, for welcoming me into his family.  Rita and I cherish every opportunity to be with him, his wife Maria, and his amazing teenage daughters, Lauren and Melissa.