Want to Boost Your Home’s Appeal? What You Should and Shouldn’t Spend Money on

With our ongoing seller’s market in which right-priced homes sell quickly and often for more than the listing price, do you really need to beautify your home to help it sell better?

The short answer is “Yes.” But don’t get carried away. The agents at Golden Real Estate like to tell sellers that they should only address certain cosmetic issues and what we call “eyesores.” Investing in popular big-dollar improvements or updates isn’t likely to return you more than they cost to implement.

Let’s talk cosmetic fixes first. For sure, you’ll want to wash the windows and clean your window wells. In the process, you’ll be removing the window screens.  Clean and label those screens and store them in your basement or garage. Don’t reinstall them until you are under contract. They detract from the views out your windows even if the screens themselves are clean.

 Curb appeal (aka first impression) is, of course, highly important. If you have a lawn, you can make it greener pretty quickly with one or two Lawn Doctor visits. If your bushes or trees are overgrown, consider having them trimmed. How does your front porch look? If it’s looking worn, an investment in fresh paint or stain will pay dividends. Ditto for that wooden deck in the back.

Speaking of the wooden porch and deck, let’s move on to a discussion of eyesores. An “eyesore” is anything that draws negative attention by the prospective buyer. Rotted and/or broken boards on your porch or deck definitely fit our definition of an eyesore!

Inside your home, there are several potential eyesores that I advise sellers to address. Let’s look at walls, floors, windows and countertops.

If there is damage to the walls, fix it. Our handyman (available only to clients) is an expert at drywall repair, including matching texture. Touch-up and repainting may be called for. Our free staging consultant may advise you specifically about your walls. My current seller in Golden thought their red kitchen should be repainted to a neutral color. I said no, and we still had a bidding war and went under contract in 5 days for $136,000 over asking price.

Plush and berber carpeting in good condition does not need to be replaced, but if there are ripples in it, it should be stretched, which is an easy and affordable fix. Older shag carpets should, in most cases, be replaced. Wall-to-wall carpeting is one of the more affordable improvements.

If the carpeting is covering hardwood floors in good condition, I’d suggest removing the carpet and refinishing the hardwood if it needs it. Hardwood floors that are already exposed but noticeably worn should also be refinished.

Is there hardwood under that old wall-to-wall carpeting? One way to find out is to pull up the far corner of the carpet in a closet. You can push the carpet back down onto the tack strip and no one will be able to tell you had pulled it up. If you have forced air heating vents in the carpet, lift up the vent grate and you’ll be able to see whether there’s hardwood underneath.

If you have old single-pane windows, it’s tempting to replace them, and that might be a good strategy in a buyer’s market, but not in our current seller’s market. In this market, people will buy a home with old windows if it is priced right. I’d want to see them in person before making a final suggestion.

What about countertops?  Replacing an old Formica countertops with slab granite, Corian, Silestone, concrete or other popular materials would be very expensive, and I don’t recommend it unless the Formica is chipped or scarred and therefore an “eyesore.” There’s a company Granite Transformations (www.GraniteTransformations.com) that does a remarkable job of covering an existing countertop in place with a granite-based slurry that makes it look like slab granite. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve seen homes with their work and was quite impressed.

Window coverings are another cheap fix that can make a big difference. I recently installed cellular blinds I purchased at Home Depot which have no strings — just push up or pull down. You have probably seen them and love them as Rita and I do.  They are cut to width (I suggest 1/2 inch narrower than the opening) and come in different lengths. Prices are quite reasonable, and I installed eight of them in my house in just an hour or so with nothing more than an electric screw driver.

Bathrooms offer some potential dressing up. First of all, clean the grout in your tub/shower. Consider a new shower curtain. Other suggestions might arise from a personal visit.

One of my favorite affordable improvements in my current home and the one before was to install sun tunnels in dark areas such as a windowless garage or laundry room, or that dark corridor in the middle of your house. A brand name you’ve probably heard of is Solatube, but we purchased Velux sun tunnels for our houses. They come in 10, 14 and 22-inch diameters because the joists in your ceiling and roof are either 12, 16 or 24 inches on center. The cost fully installed for ours was well under $1,000 each — so much better and less prone to leakage or hail damage than a rectangular skylight. Look into installing sun tunnels for your own pleasure, not just to brighten up your home for selling. The more light you can bring into your home the more appealing it will be.

My broker associates and I are happy to walk through your house with you, even if you aren’t immediately ready to sell your home, to make suggestions regarding things to fix or leave alone. Call 303-302-3636 to be connected with any of us. Call me or one of them for a free consultation.

2-BR Lakewood Condo Just Listed by Ty Scrable

This two-bedroom condo at 1723 Robb Street #9, just listed for $187,000, is in an excellent location, with easy access to I-70 and 6th Avenue Expressway, under 15 minutes to Denver and even closer to Golden. There are many stores and amenities within walking distance. The well kept common area includes a seasonal swimming pool. The unit has an updated kitchen and new flooring throughout. These units have been selling quickly, so make sure to book your showing soon by calling your agent or Ty Scrable at 720-281-6783. You can find more interior and exterior pictures at www.LakewoodCondo.info. Open Sunday, Sept. 25th, 11 am to 1 pm.

Just Listed: Stone Bungalow With Carriage House in North Golden

This 1939 stone bungalow at 711 Iowa St. in Golden, just listed by Ty Scrable for $850,000, is shown on public records at 990 square feet, 2 bedrooms and 1 full bath with the same size basement, but that doesn’t reflect a 13’x14’ addition containing a modern kitchen and the extra bedroom and bathroom in the fully finished basement. It also doesn’t reflect the 496-sq.ft. carriage house with 1 bedroom and a 3/4 bath barely visible to the left and beyond the main house in this picture. Currently this property is a rental, drawing income from both the main house and the carriage house, but both long-term tenants are month-to-month, so you could live in one or the other. Although there is no garage, there is substantial off-street and off-alley parking with room to build as big a garage as you might desire in the back. All-in-all, this listing provides a rare opportunity. See more pictures and take a narrated video tour at www.NorthGoldenHome.com. Listed by Ty Scrable, 720-281-6783, it will be open Saturday, 10 to 2.   Or call for a private showing.

created by dji camera

Why Are Real Estate Agents (except ours) Still Resistant to Shooting Narrated Video Tours?

Narrated video tours of all listings has been a trademark and “value add” for Golden Real Estate since our founding in 2007. Many times in this column I have promoted the value of narrated, live action video tours. Back in 2005 or thereabouts, I even did a presentation at the weekly marketing meeting of the Jefferson County Association of Realtors (since merged into the Denver Metro Association of Realtors) showing my fellow Realtors how easy it is to shoot and edit a narrated video tour.

Yet, 15 years later I still know of only one or two agents outside of Golden Real Estate who create such video tours. Analyzing 100 currently active Jeffco listings on REcolorado, I found that only nine had non-drone video footage (60 were interactive slideshows or just slideshows with or without music).  Only two of the nine had walk-through video footage, but they lacked some factors which meet our standards.

Our standards are pretty simple. It has to resemble an actual showing. That means the listing agent begins the shoot in front of the house, giving its address and perhaps panning to show the street and neighboring houses. Then he or she takes you in the front door, talking all the while, pointing out features that may not be obvious in a still photo or slideshow — this is a hickory hardwood floor, this is a gas fireplace, notice the mountain view out this window, this is a quartz countertop and Silestone sink, etc.

We feel it’s important to do a single clip of each floor, not separate clips of each room, so the viewer gets a sense of flow. Our preferred camera (a DJI Osmo Pocket — $199 on Amazon) has a gimbal stabilizer, so we can walk up and down stairs with Steadicam-like smoothness, but if we make a separate clip of each floor, the first clip ends with a view up the stairs, and the second clip begins with a view down the stairs — again to provide a complete sense of flow for the prospective buyer.

Because our video tours are the digital equivalent of an actual showing, we have sold some of our listings to out-of-state buyers who only saw the home in person when they flew in for the inspection a week later. They felt they knew the listing well enough from the video tour, and none of them terminated after seeing it in person.  Isn’t that what an actual video tour should be like? Click here for an example from one of this week’s featured listings.

So the question remains — why aren’t other real estate professionals taking the time to shoot actual narrated walk-throughs of their listings?

One answer may be camera shyness, but all the agent needs to do is to talk, not be on camera. Just imagine you’re showing the home to a buyer! In fact, being on camera detracts from the video. I used to be on camera at the end of my videos, thanking the viewer for touring my listing and inviting them to call their agent or me to see it in person. I no longer do that, now simply putting my phone number and email address on the screen as I speak from behind the camera lens.

Another reason agents may choose not to shoot a video tour is that we are increasingly drawn to out-source our tasks, including shooting the photos (which we, too, out-source) and even putting the sign in the ground.

Typically, the companies which shoot magazine-quality real estate photos will offer to create a video, but they are typically just offering to create a video file such as an .mp4 file consisting only of a slideshow of the very same still photos that are displayed in slideshow form on the MLS itself. If they offer to add narration, it will likely sound inauthentic because the speaker is someone who hasn’t seen the house. In short, such a “video” simply can’t compare to a walk-through of the home with the listing agent, who can describe its not-so-obvious features.

Just Listed: Updated 4-BR Home in Golden’s Village at Mountain Ridge

The Village at Mountain Ridge is one of my favorite Golden subdivisions. It is nestled between Highway 93 and the Mt. Galbraith Park, which you can glimpse behind and above this new listing at 342 Washington St. (Mt. Galbraith is popular as a hiker-only, no bikes, open space park.) This 4-bedroom, 3½-bath home built in 1999 was just listed for $995,000. It sits on an oversized quarter-acre lot that has been beautifully landscaped and terraced in the back. Inside, you’ll love the slate and hardwood floors, the updated kitchen and bathrooms and the home theater in the basement with included screen and projector. I doubt you’ll find anything you’ll want to update or change in this fine home! Look for the magazine-quality photos and my narrated video tour (which you can also view by clicking on the thumbnail below) at www.MountainRidgeHome.com, then come to the open house I’ll be holding this coming Saturday, Sept. 18th, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Just Listed: 2-Bedroom Condo Facing Clear Creek

This luxury condo at 640 11th Street #205 was just listed by me for $850,000. It has two great selling features. First, it’s in downtown Golden, within walking distance of everything that makes Golden such a desirable place to live, play and work. Second, this corner unit overlooks Clear Creek, with views of the foothills and North Table Mountain as well as of Parfet Park across the creek, the site of so many exciting events, including concerts and Buffalo Bill Days. The large den with closet could be a 3rd bedroom with creek view. This is one of only 6 units with 2 deeded parking spaces in the garage. Units facing the creek come on the market rarely (maybe 1 or 2 a year between the two buildings on the creek) and sell for a premium. Click on the thumbnail below, or visit www.MillstoneCondo.info to take a narrated video tour of this unit, the building and the creek, with additional drone video footage.  Sorry, no open houses since it’s a secure building.  Call your agent or me to see it.

New HOA Flag and Sign Bill Took Effect on Sept. 7

My June 10th column, which you can read at www.JimSmithColumns.com, concerned a “freedom of expression” bill passed by the legislature prohibiting HOAs from restricting the display of flags or signs by homeowners, whether political or other non-commercial signs. 

I warned that this could unleash a flood of partisan signs which could be detrimental to the harmony of neighborhoods. The bill was signed by Gov. Polis on July 7th, so it’s now law.  I haven’t seen a surge of  “Trump Won” or “Black Lives Matter” signs which might have previously been banned by HOAs, but the law only took effect last week, so only time will tell what the effect will be.

HOA rules now have to be “content-neutral.” Only the size and number of signs can be regulated. I’ve seen only one HOA (the Highlands Ranch Community Association) issue new rules consistent with the law. They limit each home to 2 signs up to 18”x24” except during a specified Election Period, when  5 signs up to 3’x4’ are allowed.

Now That the Summer Months Are Behind Us, How’s the Market Shaping Up for Fall?

It has been a wild ride so far in 2021 — and the ride may be slowing, but it is definitely not over.

Below is a chart with some key statistics that I garnered from our MLS, REcolorado.com, for the 13 months ending August 2021, a timespan that allows us to compare this August with last August as well as the months since.

In creating the chart, I limited myself to listings within 15 miles of downtown Denver. That includes the entire metro area except for the city of Boulder.

The headings are pretty self-explanatory except for the last three columns. “Ratio” is the ratio of closed price to listing price at the time of sale, which might, in the case of older listings, be less than the original listing price. “Med. DOM” stands for median days that the listing was “active” on the MLS.  Half the listings went under contract in that number of days or less, and half of them went under contract in that number of days or more. “Ave. DOM” stands for average days that listings were active on the MLS, and it’s always higher than median days on the MLS because many listings are overpriced and linger on the market before the price is lowered and the home goes under contract.

There are some numbers that are worth noting, but there are some numbers that are downright remarkable.  We all know, for example, that the inventory of active listings is very low, but it’s notable that it is more than 40% lower this August than it was in August 2020. The number of sold listings is also lower by over 4% and the number of new listings is lower by 13%.

However, it’s also notable that the number of listings that expired without selling has plunged by over 43% from a year ago. More hard-to-sell and overpriced homes are selling before expiring.

Lastly, it is notable that the median days before a listing goes under contract has barely risen, and that figure has been under 7 days now for over a year.

Those statistics are notable, but there are two statistics that are remarkable. The first one is the ratio of sold price to listing price, which remains above 100% at 101.4%, although down from June’s high of 104.6%. This is remarkable because it was only this February that the number rose above 100% for the first time, signaling the height of the bidding wars. The August figure indicates that many bidding wars are still happening — due in part, of course, to the limited inventory of active listings — but they are not as numerous or extreme overall.

I emphasize “overall” because bidding wars are still getting extreme in isolated instances where the home is outstanding in some way or is in a highly desirable area with little or no competing listings. We are still seeing some homes sell for 40 to even 50% over their asking prices here and there. That includes in my home town of Golden.

So what, you may be asking, is the outlook for the fall and winter months?

If there is any seasonality left in the real estate business, it is that there are fewer new listings in the winter. You can see that was true last winter, with the low point being December. This makes sense, because few people want to put their home on the market during the holidays. That, however, only serves to keep the inventory of active listings even lower than during the summer time, yet the buying of homes continues year-round, with roughly as many closings happening in December as in November. Notice, in fact, that December was the only month in the last 13 where the number of sold listings exceeded both the number of active listings and new listings.

We should stop thinking of spring and summer as the selling season, but rather as the listing season. Most sellers believe it’s the selling season, when in fact homes sell year round. In fact, winter could be the best time to put your home on the market because there are just as many buyers getting those MLS alerts that I wrote about last week, but there are fewer homes for them to look at. 

If you want to sell your home before next spring, you should not wait until next spring to put it on the market — but do take some nice exterior photos of your home now that can be used in the marketing of your home over the winter.

Mortgage rates could start to ease upward in the coming months, but that will only increase the market frenzy as buyers try to get ahead of further increases in interest rates. No one in the industry, however, is projecting a major increase in interest rates over the next 12 months.

Integrity, for the Most Part, Still Rules in Real Estate

We all need to be careful that we are not scammed. We see scams all around us — in our emails, phone calls, text messages, and snail mail. Seniors in particular are targeted by scammers who have no shame about cheating someone out of their life savings.

Title companies warn buyers and sellers about wire fraud. Buyers have been known to get emails purportedly from their agent or title company giving them wiring instructions for their down payment or, in the case of a cash buyer, for the entire purchase price of a property they are buying, only to discover that they wired the money to a scammer on another continent from which it can never be retrieved.

Time shares (or fractional ownership) is another area rife with misrepresentation and deceptive practices that can trap an unwary buyer in the purchase of something they don’t really want and can’t really sell. (I speak from personal experience.)

And, yes, there are a few local real estate professionals who engage in illegal or improper behavior for which they get disciplined by the Colorado Real Estate Commission.

But I have to say that overall I have been very impressed by the level of integrity that I encounter among my fellow professionals.

Ask any Realtor, in particular, and he or she will probably tell you, as I can, that they can hardly recall a time when a fellow professional intentionally lied to them or misrepresented a client, listing or situation.

If, for example, I’m representing a buyer and the listing agent says there are three other offers and they’re all above full price, I’m confident in believing that to be true. I’ve completed hundreds of transactions and can’t recall one where I was told something that turned out not to be true or a fact withheld by the agent. Most sellers, I have found, are also aware of their responsibility to disclose all known defects, and, if not, their agent lets them know.

As an industry, we need to trust our fellow professionals, and I have found little or no reason not to. We are not just “honor bound” to be truthful. Being dishonest puts our very livelihood at risk, since any colleague or member of the public could report us to the Real Estate Commission, our MLS, or our Realtor Association, possibly resulting in a fine or even the loss of our license to practice real estate.

Email Alerts of New Listings Provide a Good Reason for Listing Your Home on the MLS

Yes, it’s a seller’s market, and maybe you think you don’t need to hire an agent to put your home on the MLS, but the opposite is true. Take, for example, the listing which was featured in this space last week. For 7 days it was listed as “Coming Soon” on our MLS, REcolorado, during which time it was not visible to non-mem-bers of the MLS (i.e., buyers). But that listing was emailed to over 250 buyers who had email alerts set up by their agents. One of those buyers tagged the listing as a “favorite” and another six tagged it as a “possibility.”

Those numbers, however, only reflect buyers who had included “coming soon” among the criteria that would trigger an alert. After the listing changed from “coming soon” to “active” on the MLS, the number of buyers who were alerted jumped to 720 and two more buyers tagged it as a “favorite.”  When a buyer tags a listing as either a “favorite” or a “possibility,” the buyer’s agent gets an email letting him or her know which client liked the listing and may want to see it when it’s “active” and showings are allowed.

These numbers don’t include the buyers who set up their own alerts on Zillow or other consumer-facing sites, including Redfin. Also, those websites don’t display “coming soon” listings until they have been changed to “active.” Thus, buyers who had agents include “coming soon” as a criterion benefited from a 1-week earlier notice of that listing than did any of those buyers who were setting up alerts on their own.

For buyers wanting the earliest alerts of new listings matching their search criteria, please make this a reason to have an agent set up alerts for you instead of setting up alerts on your own.

Knowing the power of MLS alerts should cause any seller to have second thoughts about selling without an agent. It used to be that sellers could hire a “limited service” agent who would put their home on the MLS for a flat fee (say, $300) without performing any other service, but that is now illegal. The Colorado Real Estate Commission has ruled that there are certain minimum services which must be performed by all listing agents. Those services include exercising “reasonable skill and care,” receiving and presenting all offers, disclosing any known material facts about the buyer (such as their ability to close), referring their client to legal and other specialists on topics about which the agent is not qualified, accounting for the receipt of earnest money, and keeping the seller fully informed throughout the transaction. 

Failure to perform those minimum services could subject the agent to discipline up to and including loss of license, which has caused “limited service” listings to disappear. If an agent offers such service to you, you should report them to the Division of Real Estate.

By the way, the Colorado Real Estate Commission has also ruled that it is the duty of all licensees to report known wrong-doing by other licensees, which their competitors are happy to do. We can be disciplined for not performing that duty.

Studies have shown that homes which are listed “for sale by owner” (FSBO) sell for less than ones which are listed by an agent on the MLS, and you can see why, because the more exposure your home has to prospective buyers, the more showings and offers you are likely to receive. And that difference in bottom line proceeds can far exceed the commission you are likely to pay.

Consider this: whether or not you hire a listing agent, you’re still likely to pay the “co-op” commission to the buyer’s agent, which is typically 2.8%. The  average listing commission (which includes that co-op commission) is now around 5.5%, not the 6% everyone tells you. As a result, the savings you might experience from not hiring a listing agent could be about 2.7%, and that is likely less than the increased selling price you might get from listing your home on the MLS with a true “full-service” agent such as my broker associates and myself.

Note: Some brokerages mislead you by promoting a 1% listing commission, but when they get into your home to sign you up, they disclose that the 1% is in addition to the 2.8% that they recommend as the  co-op commission and is increased further if they don’t earn a co-op commission on the purchase of your replacement home. It is also increased if they double-end the sale of your home, meaning that they don’t have to pay that 2.8% co-op commission to the buyer’s agent.

Such deceptive advertising, to me, is reason enough not to hire such a brokerage, but it may be hard for some people to say “no” to an agent they invited into their home with contract in hand.

Unlike such a brokerage, Golden Real Estate tells you upfront that we reduce our listing commission when we double-end the transaction, and we discount it further when you allow us to earn a commission on the purchase of your replacement home.

That said, our final commission might be only 1% or so higher than what you might pay to a discount brokerage, and our version of “full service” is much more complete than theirs.  For starters, we produce narrated videos tours on every listing. Our video tours are not just slideshows with music or un-narrated interactive tours which can be dizzying and annoying. Our narrated tours resemble an actual showing, where the listing agent is walking you through the house, talking all the time, pointing out this or that feature which may not be obvious otherwise. Are those quartz countertops? Are there slide-outs in those base cabinets?  Is that a wood-burning or gas fireplace? We have sold listings to out-of-towners who only “toured” the home on video, not seeing it in person until they flew into town for the inspection. That’s the power of narrated video tours.