Do You Think a Big Down Payment Is Needed to Buy a Home? Think CHFA.

One of the most enduring misconceptions among home buyers is that a large down payment — typically 20% — is required in order to buy a home.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

FHA loans only require a 3.5% down payment, although they come with a mortgage insurance requirement which lasts for the life of the loan. Because of that, you’ll need to refinance with a conventional loan once you exceed 20% equity in your new home.

Conventional (non-FHA) loans don’t necessarily require a 20% down payment either. To compete with FHA loans, there are lenders who require as little as 3% down payment, often without mortgage insurance. If they do require mortgage insurance, it can be eliminated once your equity rises to 22%, although that requires a new appraisal, which can cost $400 or more.

Best of all, however, the Colorado Housing & Finance Authority (CHFA, pronounced “Chaffa) can get you into a home with as little as $1,000 out of pocket cost. CHFA loans have income limits, but they are reasonable, up to $120,100 in the metro area. Their website is super helpful and easy to navigate at www.chfainfo.com.

At that website you’ll learn the complete process involved in getting approved for a CHFA loan. One of the first steps is to take a free buyer education class that covers every aspect of the home buying process as well as ownership responsibilities after closing.

CHFA loans are only obtained through mortgage lenders, not from CHFA directly, and Golden Real Estate can connect you with a CHFA-approved lender. 

If you’re a veteran with an honorable discharge, you are eligible for 100% financing, but there’s a funding fee.  That fee, however, is waived if you have a service related disability. Even if it isn’t waived, the fee can be included in the mortgage so that you can literally close on a VA loan with zero money out of pocket. Earnest money submitted is refunded to you at closing! We can also connect you with a VA-approved lender.

Big Entities Target Mobile Home Parks, the Last Bastion of Affordable Housing

I just finished watching John Oliver’s riff on mobile homes. If you’re not familiar with his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” or don’t get HBO, the good news is that his single topic take-outs* are archived on YouTube, where you’ll be glued to your computer screen for an unending series of  take-outs that only starts with his take-out on mobile homes.

Here’s what I learned from watching John Oliver’s piece and was able to confirm by talking to others. Sometimes I wish I could be a full-time journalist again so I could really do investigative reporting, but I’m a Realtor now and have to depend on others like John Oliver and David Migoya of the Denver Post doing the heavy lifting. So, instead, Google is my friend. And there’s so much to learn just by Googling.

The big trend in mobile homes is the influx of big corporations like Warren Buffett’s Clayton Homes in the mobile home park business. Historically, such parks were “mom and pop” operations, but it was inevitable that mom and pop got old and, even if their children had an interest in taking over the family business, it was more profitable to sell the park to a developer or to a company like Clayton Homes.

What makes a mobile home park a great investment is that, while people own their mobile or “manufactured” home, they rent or lease the land on which it sits. The land owner can raise the rental fee without limit because, while the home can technically be moved, it would cost thousands of dollars to do so, and there’s little choice of where to move it. You can’t just buy a lot somewhere and put your mobile home on it. I checked with Jefferson County, and you can only install a mobile home on land zoned for mobile home parks. That rule feeds right into the greed motivating those corporations which, like Clayton Homes, are buying up every mobile home park they can.

Another thing about mobile homes is that, while they can be really nice when they’re brand new, they do not appreciate in value like regular homes. Rather, they decline in value like a car or like the “personal property” they are. Also, since they’re not “real property,” you can’t get a mortgage on them for 4% over 30 years, you get a chattel loan at 15% and for a shorter term.

Thus, if a mobile home owner can’t afford an increase in land rental for their home, their only choice often is to simply abandon the home that they paid thousands of dollars to buy. Since it becomes abandoned property, the mobile park owner can then assume ownership of it, or scrape it depending only on what makes financial sense. And down the road (so to speak), they can kick out the remaining occupants and sell the entire mobile park to a developer.

This is a heartless process, but it’s how our free enterprise system works. So, what can be done about it?

On January 21st Golden United sponsored a public meeting on the subject of manufactured housing which I attended, along with several city councilors and civic minded people. Sadly, only a handful of the attendees were residents of a mobile home park.

The main presentation was by an organization which organizes residents of mobile homes parks to form an owner’s association which might then outbid other buyers of the park when the current owner attempts to sell it. This organization, called Resident Owned Communities (ROC), was featured briefly in John Oliver’s piece.. (Fast forward to 13:10.)

What local governments could do to address the problem, Oliver said, was to legislate a “right of first refusal” by which an owner’s association or other non-profit entity serving the interests of mobile home park owners, would be able to match any bona fide offer by a for-profit buyer, and purchase the mobile home park. I’m not aware of any such legislation or other public policy aimed at protecting manufactured house, which is, after all, the last bastion of affordable housing in most cities.

Mobile home parks have few friends among owners of conventional real estate, but however you might feel about them, I hope you feel they are worth preserving.

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*“Take-out” is a journalistic term for an in-depth look at a single topic. During my 1968 internship at the Washington Post, I was tasked with writing a 3-part series on the solid waste industry in the District of Columbia. I enjoyed telling people that I did a “take-out on trash.”

Passive House Technology Underlies Going ‘Net Zero Energy’

“Passive House” is a concept born in Germany as “PassivHaus” but growing in popularity here in America. Although its primary focus is on reducing the heating and cooling needs of a home through proper north/south orientation, the placement of windows, and roof overhangs, it also includes design elements that make a home better for its inhabitants. It has many other positive impacts as well, including healthier and quieter spaces, greater durability, and greater comfort for inhabitants.”

Prior to the oil embargo of 1973, home builders did not concern themselves much with making homes energy efficient, but that all changed as we quickly realized how dependent we were on foreign countries for fossil fuels to heat our homes and fuel our cars. Homes built before then were poorly insulated, drafty and less healthy.  (For example, lead-based paint wasn’t banned until 1978.)

The passive house concept took off in America as a result of that wake-up call. The “Lo-Cal” house created in 1976 consumed 60% less energy than the standard house at the time, and the concept continues to mature.

If you participated in any of the “green home” tours that Golden Real Estate co-sponsors each fall, you’ve learned about various passive home strategies in addition to “active” strategies such as solar power, heat pumps, geothermal heating, and energy recovery ventilators.

When “active” systems are introduced to a home with passive house design, they work more easily to create the ultimate goal of a “net zero energy” home — one which generates all the energy needed to heat, cool and power the home and, perhaps, charge the owner’s electric vehicles.  Without passive house design features, you can still achieve net zero energy, but it may require substantially more solar panels to compensate for such factors as inferior orientation, fenestration (windows) and insulation.

You can learn all about passive home technology, including trainings and public events, online at www.phius.org. Also, search “Passive House SW” at www.meetup.org for local events.

An excellent example of new construction which combines passive house design with smart active systems in the Geos Community in Arvada, which you can learn about online at www.DiscoverGeos.com. The homes in Geos are all oriented to maximize solar gain in the winter, but also designed for sun shading in the summer. Some have a geothermal heating, while others have air source heat pumps and conditioning energy recovery ventilators (CERVs). The CERVs installed in the Geos homes not only provide heat when needed but also track the level of CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air and adjust their function to reduce those levels, thereby improving indoor air quality.

None of the Geos homes uses natural gas, just solar-generated electricity.

Taxation of Residential vs. Non-Residential Property In Colorado Is a Growing Problem

How real estate is taxed varies greatly from state to state. Here in Colorado, we are blessed with very low property taxes compared to many other states. According to USA Today, Colorado has the 7th lowest property tax rates in the country, although that is a statewide average. The median-value home in Colorado has a property tax bill of just over $2,000 per year, whereas the median-value home in New Jersey, the highest taxed state, has an average property tax bill of over $7,200. In suburban New Jersey, property tax bills over $20,000 per year are not uncommon because of the higher values, not just due to higher local tax rates.

In Colorado, property taxes are very much a local affair. Recently there was a hullabaloo over Metropolitan Tax Districts, in which mill levies can double the property tax in newer subdivisions. You can read my Dec. 26  column on that topic at JimSmithColumns.com.

This week, however, I’m going to address a different property tax problem that is getting worse every year and has little prospect of being solved politically.

The problem is the growing differential in property tax rates for residential vs. commercial and other non-residential real estate, such as vacant land. First you need to understand that property taxes are levied against the “assessed” value of real estate, which is a small percentage of its  actual value. While the assessment rate for residential property — currently 7.15% — keeps going down, the assessment rate for non-residential property is fixed by the state constitution at 29%. That means that the property tax on residential real estate is 1/4 the property tax on non-residential real estate of the same value.

Rita and I own two pieces of real estate—our south Golden home and the Golden Real Estate office building. The county assessor values our home at twice the value of the office building, but the property tax for our home is one-half the property tax for the office building.

Vacant land is considered non-residential, so it, too, has an assessment rate of 29%.  As I’ve written before, this puts enormous pressure on the owners of vacant land to develop it, which is upsetting if, like me, you value keeping vacant land undeveloped.

To understand how unfair the taxation of vacant land can be, consider a 20-acre parcel in Jefferson County that is currently listed for sale. The county’s current valuation of the parcel for tax purposes is $275,554, so its assessed valuation is 29% of that, or $81,071.  If the buyer of this land builds a high-end home on it, the valuation might increase, for argument’s sake, to $700,000, but its assessed valuation would be only 7.15% of that value, or $50,050. Thus, the property tax bill would drop by nearly 40%, even though the value of the parcel has nearly tripled!  The current owner is paying over $7,000 per year for his land to sit vacant.

As I’ll explain below, the assessment rate for residential property keeps falling.  Last year it was 7.2% and two years before that it was 7.96%.  Prior to 1982, property of all types had an assessment rate of 30%, but the Gallagher Amendment changed the non-residential rate to 29% and the residential rate to 21%.  Most significantly, the amendment also dictated that the residential assessment rate should be adjusted to retain that year’s 45:55 ratio of residential to non-residential statewide property tax revenue in subsequent years.

As a result of that provision, since total residential valuations have grown much faster than non-residential valuations statewide, the 21% assessment rate of residential property has kept falling and will continue to fall.  And this is likely never to change, since owners of residential property are the voters, and it’s unlikely that homeowners would ever vote to increase their residential property taxes in order to soften the property tax burden of businesses. 

Bottom line, residential real estate will continue to bear an ever smaller property tax burden compared to non-residential real estate, and owners of vacant land will feel more and more pressure to develop their vacant land or sell it to developers. The only alternative is to put livestock on the land or to farm it so they enjoy the even lower agricultural property tax rate, but the rules for qualifying for the agricultural rate are fairly strict and are aggressively audited, I would expect, since the cost to counties in lower tax revenue for agriculturally zoned property is pretty substantial.

As the Housing Crisis Deepens, Zoning Laws Are in the Crosshairs

In December 2018, Minneapolis made news when it abolished single-family zoning. That began a nationwide conversation about the use of zoning laws to restrict growth and density at a time when housing affordability was worsening and homelessness was increasing.

One of our broker associates, Chuck Brown, attended the National Association of Realtors convention last November in San Francisco. I had attended the same convention there several years ago. I hadn’t noticed many homeless people on the streets back then, but Chuck reported that it was way out of control now, with the streets overcrowded with homeless people.

You, like me, have probably followed the coverage of homelessness in Denver, with that city passing an urban camping ban, which was ruled unconstitutional by a lower court but is still being enforced pending an appeal by the city. It could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The conversation over zoning created by Minneapolis 13 months ago is growing louder. That’s because the history of zoning is one of intentional discrimination. In researching this topic, I read a Fast Company posting on the history of zoning in San Francisco.. After the 1906 earthquake, the Chinese population there was targeted by zoning changes designed to promote and protect white enclaves. This was long before there were federal laws making discrimination based on race or national origin illegal.

That Fast Company article included the following detail regarding the role of the mortgage industry: “In 1934, as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established to insure private mortgages. The FHA’s underwriting handbook included guidelines that pushed cities to create racially segregated neighborhoods and encouraged banks to avoid areas with ‘inharmonious racial groups,’ essentially meaning any neighborhood that wasn’t exclusively white.”

Another New Deal program to help homeowners threatened with foreclosure to refinance their home with low-interest long-term mortgages, provided lenders with “safety maps” which used red shading for risky areas which were under “threat of infiltration of foreign-born, negro, or lower grade population.”  This is the origin of the term “redlining,” and the practice wasn’t outlawed until the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Last week I attended a meeting of the Group Living Advisory Committee in Denver’s municipal building, where they are discussing a zoning amendment which would dramatically increase the number of unrelated persons who can live in a single family home. You can expect this proposal to arise in suburban jurisdictions, too, even if they don’t follow Minneapolis in getting rid of single-family zoning altogether.

I’ll be reporting again as this conversation evolves. Don’t shoot me. I’m just the messenger.

Buyer Beware: You May Be on Candid Camera When Looking at a Home

The use of internet-connected cameras such as the Ring doorbell is becoming more and more common. Rita and I have both a Ring doorbell and four other cameras protecting the entrances to our home plus the garage, and the Golden Real Estate office has a total of 10 cameras covering the interior, exterior and our parking lot. Such systems are increasingly affordable and easy to set up, since they require no wiring and can be monitored on any smartphone. Their video (with sound) is motion-activated and uploaded to “the cloud” so that you can go back in time to see past activity. You can also be alerted real-time on your smartphone when motion is detected by any of the cameras.

With the widespread adoption of such internet-connected home cameras, it is becoming more and more possible for sellers to eavesdrop on buyers who tour their home. You can understand the value to a seller of hearing what you say as you look around. Imagine, for example, if you were caught on video saying to your agent, “I love this house! I’ll pay whatever I have to for it!”  You wouldn’t want the seller to hear that, would you?

There are, of course, legal implications to such surveillance. On the one hand, sellers have the right to install such equipment for home security, but buyers and their agents also have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” while touring your home when you’re not there.

While Colorado law allows you to record your conversations with another person secretly, that is only because you are a party to the conversation. Taping a conversation to which you are not a party is a serious matter for which you could be subject to both civil and criminal liability.

Every year, licensed real estate brokers are required to take a 4-hour real estate update class as one element of their continuing education requirement. This year’s class, which all Golden Real Estate agents take in January instead of later in the year, devotes 10 to 15 minutes to this topic of audio and video surveillance by sellers. 

In that update class, we were instructed to advise our buyer clients that they might be under surveillance while touring a home and should be careful what they say. We were also instructed to have a conversation with sellers about this topic, advising them of the legal dangers of recording buyers. It was suggested that, if our sellers do have such equipment, we urge them to post a notice next to the doorbell or prominently inside the house to the effect that “audio and video surveillance is in use” in the house. We should also put that information in the MLS listing, to protect ourselves as listing agents.

It is understandable for sellers to be concerned about strangers being escorted through their home by brokers who they do not know. When this issue is raised by a seller during a listing presentation, I let them know that no buyer will be touring their home without a licensed broker, and that all licensed brokers undergo a criminal background check and are fingerprinted in order to be licensed. Brokers would be risking their license and their livelihood to allow themselves or their buyers to commit a crime in your home. Moreover, the showing service is diligent about not providing the lockbox combination to anyone who is not a licensed broker. Your broker can also install an electronic lockbox which provides even greater accountability as to when each broker enters and leaves your home.

I have been a practicing real estate broker in Colorado for nearly two decades now, showing hundreds of listings per year to prospective buyers and holding scores of open houses for my listings.  I have yet to be made aware of any loss sustained by a seller or any misdeeds by my buyers.

Our low crime rate here in Colorado is reflected in our lowest-in-the-nation premiums for errors and omissions insurance.  In Colorado the cost of such insurance is $200-400 per year, depending on the coverage limits. In some states, like California, I’ve heard that brokers can pay that much per month for E&O coverage. 

Let’s Separate Fact From Fiction Regarding Credit Scores & Home Mortgages

By JIM SMITH, Realtor

The ink may barely be dry on your 2020 financial resolutions, and already there is great news for those of you who have resolved to become first time homeowners or to increase your real estate holdings in 2020. Both the National Association of Realtors and the Mortgage Bankers Association predict that interest rates will remain at record lows (at or below 4.0%) for most of 2020. 

Of course, interest rates directly affect your home buying power, and you are probably aware that credit scores also directly impact the interest rates offered to you by mortgage lenders. What we don’t always know, however, are the specific actions that will hurt or improve our credit scores. 

So, let’s separate fact from fiction. I thank Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network for helping me with debunking the following fictions.

Fiction: Shopping for a mortgage lender and allowing more than one lender to review your credit report will hurt your credit score.

Not true. When multiple inquiries appear on your report from mortgage lenders, the scoring models assume that you are shopping for a home loan. Most scoring models consider inquiries from mortgage lenders that occur within a 15 to 45-day period to be one inquiry, having little or no impact on your score. Regularly monitoring your own credit score online prior to applying for a home loan is an effective way to identify any errors contained in your credit file and to obtain a sense of the score that lenders will be using when preparing credit offers for you. It is important to note however, that there are in excess of 20 different scoring models and that online “consumer” reports typically have a higher score than your mortgage lender sees when pulling a “tri-merged residential mortgage” report. Most lenders are willing to start the prequalifying process with a copy of your online report but will require their own report prior to issuing a preliminary loan commitment which is normally required at the time that you write an offer to purchase a property.

Fiction: Opening a new credit card account will increase your score.

The average age of your open accounts impacts your score, and since opening one or more new accounts brings the average age of your total credit profile down, opening new accounts is normally not wise. The exception to this is the prospective first-time buyer who has little or no credit. Obtaining a retail or major credit card helps to build credit “depth.”

Fiction: Carrying a balance helps to boost your score.

Maintaining a balance on your cards does not improve your score, it simply costs you more in interest fees. Utilization of available credit is an important factor in determining your score. If you are unable to pay your credit cards in full each month, keeping the balance on the card below 30% of the credit limit is best. Another strategy to improve “utilization” is to request that your card issuer increase your credit limit. By increasing your available credit line but not your balance, you instantly lower your utilization.

Fiction: Closing accounts that you don’t use will boost your score.

Rather than closing a high interest rate card that you no longer use, request that the creditor reduce the rate and/or occasionally use and then promptly repay the card in full. Closing accounts reduces the overage credit available to you, which negatively impacts both “utilization” and “duration” of your credit profile.

    Questions? Just call Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network at 303-990-2992.