Many Insurance Companies Have Raised Their Deductible for Hail Damage

Perhaps you werReal_Estate_Today_bylinee surprised, as I was, following the May 8th hail storm, to discover that your deductible for hail damage was higher than in the past. The last time I had a claim, the same insurance deductible ($1,000) was applied to all losses, but now I’m finding that a different deductible applies to hail claims.  My insurer is Liberty Mutual, and the deductible for hail is calculated at 0.5% of the replacement value of my home, capped at $2,500. Other insurers have even higher deductibles for hail.

For example, Belmar Commons, a community of 45 townhomes, has a master policy with a 2% deductible for hail losses, and the HOA had to impose a special “loss assessment” of over $5,600 per unit to cover their quarter-million-dollar insurance deductible. (Note: If you live in a condo or townhome community with a master insurance policy and purchase a “condo” policy, consider paying for a rider that covers such loss assessments — with its own deductible, of course!)

I’m told that “split deductibles” have been introduced over the past several years, with some companies applying different fixed deductibles for wind/hail losses vs. other losses, and others applying deductibles of up to 5% of the home’s valuation on such claims. If you’ve been with the same company for over 10 years, you probably have a policy without a higher deductible for hail, but if you change insurers thinking you’ll save on insurance, you may end up losing more than you save if you suffer a wind or hail loss in the future.

Many Coloradans saw an increase in their insurance premiums following the 2013 floods and the more recent wildfires, and we’ll quite likely see more increases because of this hail storm and other severe weather events, both past and projected.

It’s the nature of the insurance industry that the risk and cost of weather-related losses is spread out among all policy holders. So, just because you were not affected directly by the May 8th hail storm does not mean that you won’t pay a price for it and for other weather-related losses when your policy renews.

This should be a wake-up call for homeowners regarding the impact of climate change, and that impact goes beyond increases in insurance premiums. Earlier this month the Union of Concerned Scientists released a study concluding that within 20 years almost 200 coastal American cities may become unlivable due to chronic flooding caused by rising sea levels. Chronic flooding is defined as 26 or more flooding events per year — or one every two weeks.  When that becomes the norm, people start thinking about moving to higher, safer ground.

Climate change is also responsible for the increase in severe weather events such as tornadoes. I watch national news programs each night and am struck by how places like New England are now experiencing tornadoes and other weather events which I don’t recall happening when I lived there.

Yes, the premiums on homeowner’s insurance will increase, but consider for a moment the possible impact of more people moving to Colorado from cities which experience more flooding or other severe weather. People looking to move out of areas impacted by flooding, tornadoes or other weather-related catastrophes will be looking at the map for states with less flooding and severe weather. Fortunately, Colorado is blessed — for now — with fewer severe weather events than many other areas of the country.

I’ve always wondered why insurance companies “gave” us a new roof after a hail storm, even if the roof was already quite old.  This is different, say, from car insurance, where an insurer will “total” a car when the cost to repair the car exceeds a certain percentage of the book value of the car.

Insurers are already “depreciating” the value of wood shake roofs, meaning that they assign a certain “life span” to a wood shake roof — say, 15 years. If that roof is totaled, they will allow only its depreciated value instead of applying a deductible to the total cost of replacing it. If the roof is 15 years old, you might get very little — even though you’ve been paying a premium for having a roof that is considered a fire hazard.

Liberty Mutual paid an additional $7,000 to remove and reinstall the solar panels on my roof, even though I don’t pay a higher premium for those panels.  I hesitate to say it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see insurance companies begin charging more for homes with solar panels to cover that cost.

We’ll be diving deeper into this subject on the “Golden Real Estate” show this Saturday at 3pm on AM 630 KHOW.  All our shows are streamed on Facebook Live, where they are also archived. Find them at Facebook.com/GoldenRealEstate1.

We’ll have insurance experts as guests and will also take your phone calls.

We’re Having a 10th Anniversary Party This Friday & You’re Invited!

By JIM SMITH, Broker/Owner

10th Anniversary bannerGolden Real Estate was incorporated in July 2007, which means that this is our 10th Anniversary. Join us this Friday, July 14th, 5-8 pm, when we’ll be throwing a party in our South Golden parking lot with live music and free food.

SONY DSCBroker associate Jim Swanson and his “Lakeside Doublewide“ band will entertain us, with three sets of your rock n roll favorites.

Over the past decade, Golden Real Estate has earned a well-deserved reputation for our commitment to energy efficiency, solar power, electric cars and sustainability in general. In 2010, the City of Golden honored us with their “Sustainability for Business Award.”  When you come on Friday, bring your white block Styrofoam for recycling!

Because of this reputation, our 10th Anniversary party will also be a mini-expo.  We’ve invited three of our favorite vendors to promote their services in front of our 20-kilowatt solar array.

Don Parker, the owner of Golden Solar, which installed our solar array, will be there to answer your questions about solar power and offer a free estimate on installing solar PV for you!

Bill Lucas-Brown, the owner of GB3 Energy, which did the super-insulation of our office, will explain that process and offer a free estimate on doing the same for your home or office.

Andrew Sams, the owner of Alpine Building Performance, LLC, is a home inspector with special training on energy efficiency. He also performs energy audits which we give to our buyers as a closing gift. He will be there to explain why you might want to have an energy audit of your home.

Lastly, John Avenson will be manning an informational table for the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour taking place on Oct. 7, 2017. It will be your chance to visit over a dozen “green” homes!

Model_XIn addition to those information tables, we’ll have a Car Show! On display will be four leading electric cars — 2017 models of the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt, Chevy Volt, and Tesla Model X, all open for you to touch, sit in and inspect!  Steve Stevens’ Model X will even put on a music-and-light show that you won’t believe!

Tequilas logoCome hungry, because Tequila’s Mexican Family Restaurant, will cater the event. And we’ll have carrot cake for dessert, with 10 candles on it!

Our thanks to another neighbor, First Presbyterian Church, located just north of our office, for providing the tables and chairs for this event and for opening their own parking lot for you to park in.

The Golden Chamber of Commerce will honor us with a 10th anniversary ribbon cutting at 5:30.  All in all, it should be a fun time, and we hope you’ll want to join us for it!

Rotary-Peaches-Poster-2017-FINAL-1As members of Golden Rotary, we’ll be taking orders for peaches at $37 per 20-lb. box, to be picked up at the Jeffco Fairgrounds on Aug. 19th. If you can’t come to our party, order them at www.GoldenRotaryPeaches.org/ This is a major annual fundraiser for Golden Rotary, netting funds for many charitable activities.

 

How Might You Respond to an Offer to Buy Your Home Off-Market?

Real_Estate_Today_bylineBecause of the low inventory of homes for sale, it’s not unusual for homeowners to receive offers to buy their home without putting it on the market. Sometimes it’s from a real estate broker, but other times it might be from an investor or an unrepresented buyer offering to save you the cost of paying a real estate commission.

Or perhaps you saw a sign like the one below offering to buy your home for cash.

Here’s some advice on handling these types of offers.

First, the real estate broker: It could be a ploy for getting a listing. Don’t fall for it! If interested, offer to allow a showing and pay only 2.8% commission, which is the typical co-op commission offered to buyer’s agents. If the agent produces a buyer and submits an offer, call me or another broker to ask our help. I can’t speak for other brokers, but I will give you a free opinion about the offered price and whether you might do better paying for your own representation. If you still want to accept the offer without listing your home, talk to me about helping you with the transaction for a reduced fee.

We_buy_house_signSecond, the investor: Whether the investor approaches you or you respond to his sign, just remember that he (or she) is not going to offer you market value. They’re in this business to make a profit — a big profit! On average they’re going to pay you 65% of what they expect to get when they “flip” your home with little or no improvement. Again, I’m available to help you determine the true market value of your home..

Third: the unrepresented buyer: This is a buyer who might actually be willing to pay fair market value or higher, but has been frustrated by the lack of inventory and is taking direct action to find a good home in a neighborhood they like. They are also thinking they can pay less for your home by saving you the expense of listing your home with an agent. Nevertheless, you do need professional representation. Real estate transactions are not as simple as you may think, with the state-mandated contract heavily weighted in favor of the buyer, not you. An agent can negotiate not only the price, but also inspection issues, appraisal issues, and more. My approach is to treat any offer to buy your home as the “opening bid” for your home. Even if you’re happy with the offered price, wouldn’t you like to get more?  If I can show you that you can net more by listing your home, I can, based on an analysis of comparable sales, help you counter that one buyer. If they don’t come up to what you and I agree is a reasonable offer, I might then suggest listing your home on the MLS using their offer as the listing price. If doing so doesn’t net you more money, you can then proceed with the original buyer’s best offer and I won’t charge you the higher commission for having put it on the MLS.

Although I have described how I personally might serve you in such scenarios, I suspect that a preferred broker, including one of our broker associates, would agree to similar arrangements with you.  Ask!

Two Arvada Homes Just Listed by Golden Real Estate

12039 W 52nd PlTired of shoveling snow and mowing the lawn? This large townhome at 12039 W. 52nd Pl. is located on a quiet street just two blocks from the soon-to-open Ward Road light rail station and half way between downtown Golden and Olde Town Arvada. The 2,802 square foot, 2-story layout with finished basement includes 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, and a 2-car garage. The entire top floor is a master suite which includes a fireplace, 5-piece master bath, and walk-in closet. The main floor consists of a large open-concept kitchen, living room with gas fireplace, dining area with a huge bay window, guest bedroom, laundry room and private outdoor patio. The basement features a family room, full bath, bedroom and storage area. Major updates include a new furnace, water heater, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave. The HOA dues are $300 per month. Be sure to check out the narrated video tour at www.ArvadaHome.info or call Chuck Brown at 303-885-7855. Open Sat., July 15th, 1-4 pm.  LISTED AT $410,000.

Snapshot from videoThis is a beautiful and bright second-floor end unit with fabulous views of the mountains. Located at 5537 Lewis Court (unit 201) in the desirable Skyline Estates Condos, it has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. It has a one-car attached garage plus abundant outdoor parking. The kitchen has granite counters, and the deck has a retractable awning. The living room has a fireplace, and this home is move-in ready. It is within walking distance of Stenger Soccer Complex, Apex Fieldhouse, Van Bibber trail, and Lutz baseball fields. It’s convenient to I-70 with easy access to Denver and the mountains. Take a narrated video tour at www.ArvadaHome.info. Call David for more information. 303-908-4835. Open Sat. & Sun., July 15 & 16, 1-3 pm.  LISTED AT $290,000.

 

Tune in to Golden Real Estate’s Show on KHOW Starting Saturday

As an exteJim at KHOW microphonension of Jim Smith’s YourHub real estate column, Golden Real Estate is launching its own weekly radio program every Saturday at 3 p.m. on KHOW (AM 630), starting July 15th. It was supposed to start last Saturday, July 8th, but a programming glitch caused the one-week delay. 

Jim Smith will be the host of this program, which will typically consist of two or three segments, at least one of which will be an extension of that Thursday’s column topics. Typically, he’ll be joined by one or more of our broker associates plus relevant guests. This week’s guests are Denis Hayes, the co-founder of Earth Day, Bill Lucas-Brown of GB3 Energy, and Andrew Sams of Alpine Building Performance LLC speaking about how to make your home more energy efficient. It will be a live program, and we’ll take phone calls from listeners. Information and links for speakers and topics is at http://Radio.GoldenRealEstate.com.

 

Join Us in Celebrating Golden Real Estate’s 10th Anniversary!

Golden Real Estate was incorporated on July 7, 2007, which means that this is our 10th Anniversary. Mark your calendar for Friday, July 14th, 5-8 pm, when we’ll be throwing a party for clients, supporters and you, our readers, in our South Golden Road parking lot with live music and free food. Broker associate Jim Swanson and his Lakeside Doublewide band will entertain us. Tequila’s Mexican Family Restaurant will cater the event.  I hope you’ll join us!

 

Golden Real Estate Has a Phone-In Show Saturday at 3pm on KHOW

By JIM SMITH, Realtor®

As an extension of my YourHub column, Golden Real Estate is launching its own weekly radio prKHOW logoogram, “Real Estate Today,” every Saturday at 3 p.m. on KHOW (AM 630), starting July 8th.  I’ll be the host of this program, which will typically consist of two or three segments, at least one of which will be an extension of the previous Thursday’s column topic. Typically, I’ll be joined by one or more of our broker associates plus relevant guests such as inspectors, lenders, appraisers, etc.

On AM 760 with Barry & RobinIt will be a live program, and we’ll take phone calls from listeners. In the picture, I’m shown on Barry Miller’s program a couple years ago (before I lost 25 pounds!) talking about real estate and answering listeners’ questions.

For our inaugural program, I’ll have one or more guests who were present at the founding of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 1977, when it was called the Solar Research Institute.  We’ll discuss not only NREL’s contribution to the “New Energy Economy” but also about how homeowners (or tenants) can make their own homes more energy efficient, saving money while reducing their “carbon footprint.”

Close-up of yard signAs you may know, Golden Real Estate has been honored for its sustainable practices and commitment to energy efficiency.  Indeed, our “for sale” signs (left) have two slogans on them, one of which is “Promoting and Modeling Environmental Responsibility.”  We have done that by installing 20 kilowatts of solar capacity at our South Golden Road office, by installing Velux sun tunnels to bring daylight into our office, and by super-insulating our building so that it costs far less to heat and cool than it did when we bought it 10 years ago.  With all the excess electricity from our solar panels, we are able to charge our own electric cars as well as offer free charging to the public at two ChargePoint stations in our parking lot.

Styrofoam_corralWe also accept block white polystyrene (aka “Styrofoam”) for recycling, keeping over 200 cubic yards of that material out of landfills every year.  Drop off yours 24/7 at the “Styrofoam Corral” located behind our South Golden Road office.

84% of Jefferson County Is Unincorporated But Has “City” Addresses

As a Realtor and resident of Jefferson County, I wince when I see a listing that’s many miles outside the City of Golden advertised as being “in Golden.” It may have a Golden address, but it’s in unincorporated Jefferson County.Real_Estate_Today_byline

Another example of this confusion is Evergreen. Evergreen is not a city or town, it’s just a postal address with its own ZIP code, 80439, serving 177 square miles of unincorporated Jefferson County — and a portion of Clear Creek County. Residents could use “Upper Bear Creek CO 80439” (or similar) in their address if they wanted, because the ZIP code is what matters to the Postal Service, but that’s not common. It doesn’t make your neighborhood a “city,” either.

It’s understandable that the Post Office wants to use a city name for every address, no matter how remote. After all, what’s the alternative?  All mail has to go through post offices with city addresses, but that doesn’t mean the address is within city limits.

Littleton is another example. Although Littleton is Arapahoe County’s county seat, much of south Jeffco has Littleton addresses.  Littleton 80127 and 80128 cover 70 sq. miles and 30,000 homes, all of them in Jeffco and virtually none of them in the City of Littleton!

As we all know, Littleton’s reputation was damaged by the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, when in fact that school is a mile from the city limits of Littleton and is part of Jeffco Public Schools.  Such is the power of postal addresses!

Jeffco cities vs unincorporated areasAbove is a graphic from Jefferson County’s website showing the incorporated and unincorporated areas of Jefferson County.

It may surprise you to know that Golden’s two ZIP codes – 80401 and 80403 — cover more square miles than the entire City and County of Denver. The City of Golden itself,  covers only about 10 square miles – about 5% of the area and just one-third of the homes which have been assigned Golden addresses.

Golden addresses span 187 square miles compared to Denver’s 155 square miles.. If you exclude the airport, Denver, with its 41 ZIP codes, covers only 101 square miles – about half the size of “Golden” with its two ZIP codes, and smaller, too, than “Evergreen” with its one ZIP code.

Because ZIP codes with large rural components are so big, statistics about individual neighborhoods are not generally available, and statistics for the ZIP codes as a whole are meaningless. Some marketing companies, including Zillow, promulgate statistical reports by ZIP code as if they were neighborhoods, which works fine when the ZIP code is one square mile, but not when it’s 20, 50, 100, or 150 square miles! As I was writing this article, I got an email with the following meaningless information about my ZIP code:

80401_market_report_from_ZillowFortunately, REcolorado.com, which is our local MLS, allows real estate professionals like me to draw boundaries around actual neighborhoods when generating statistics or searching listings. I do that a lot.

There are pros and cons of being in unincorporated vs. incorporated areas of the county.  The county has no sales tax, but many of the cities do.  At the Golden King Soopers, you pay 3% city sales tax on groceries which you don’t pay in other King Soopers.

Property tax is another matter. In unincorporated areas you have separate mill levies for law enforcement, fire protection, and other taxing jurisdictions.  Golden, as one example, provides all those services for a single mill levy that is much lower than those combined levies.

Shouldn’t a Listing Agent Do More Than Just Put Your Home on the MLS?

Real_Estate_Today_bylineThe short answer is “yes,” of course.  But let’s talk about a how much a listing agent can and should do to promote your home.

First, there’s a lot more to entering a home on the MLS than you might realize. Not all MLS fields are mandatory, and too many agents enter only the mandatory fields. Some of the optional fields are really important to promoting your home.

For example, in addition to the “public remarks” describing your home, the listing agent can enter a description about each individual room. This is an opportunity to describe the kitchen appliances, the bathroom flooring, or the view out the master bedroom window, etc. — all great selling points for a home.  Yet, a quick analysis of 50 random listings just now shows that roughly half the listings in the MLS have little or no description of the individual rooms, or even their measurements, which are also not mandatory.  Here’s an example from one of my listings, which went under contract in five days:

Room_descriptions_(good)

The following is from another agent’s listing of a similarly priced listing in the same ZIP code, which is still not under contract after 129 days on the market despite a $35,000 reduction in listing price.

Room_descriptions_(bad)

Not only are there no room dimensions and descriptions, but the agent only listed the bedrooms and bathrooms, because if he hadn’t, the MLS would show 0 bedrooms and 0 bathrooms.

I’ve mentioned before that there are both “public remarks” and “broker remarks,” and sellers can’t see what their listing agents have entered under broker remarks, which are seen only by other agents.  The broker remarks might say that any offers received after 6 pm won’t be presented until the next business day, or that no deadlines should be on a Sunday.  How would you, as a seller, feel knowing that your listing agent isn’t checking his inbox (or answering his phone) after 5 pm or on weekends?  Here’s an example from the same ZIP code:

No_sunday_deadlines

We all know that pictures are critical to the marketing of a listing.  Before you list with any agent, try searching for that agent on the MLS (http://www.recolorado.com/pages/find-real-estate-professionals) where you can view his or her listings (if any), not only to see how complete their data entry is, but also to view their pictures. Are the windows in each room a white blur, and are the dark and light elements of each picture properly exposed and visible?  By using High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology, the view out the windows is perfect, as is the exposure of the room’s interior.  Choose agents who have great pictures on their listings.  Here is an example of an HDR photograph from one of my listings:

7614_0013

Remember, the best predictor of how an agent will market your home is how they have marketed other homes.

At Golden Real Estate, we see great value in doing narrated video tours of our listings, because they simulate an actual listing, which is helpful to out-of-town buyers.  We add aerial video tours using a drone, too. Click on the “virtual tour” link of an agent’s listing to see if it’s merely a slideshow with music.  Video tours should be uploaded to YouTube (with full sales pitch there, too), because that adds additional exposure to your listing.

Below is a flyer describing other things which Golden Real Estate does to promote its listings.

Golden Real Estate Exclusives

Clearing the Deck: Topics Worthy of Mention, But Not a Full Column

Real_Estate_Today_byline     Call this “Short Attention Span” writing… There are numerous topics I’ve been wanting to write about that keep accumulating because I can’t fashion them into a full-sized column. So, this week, lacking a “big topic” that comes to mind, I’m going to clear the deck of these “tiny topics.” Maybe some of them will resonate with you!

Sixth Grade Classes Are Being Moved to the Middle Schools

Educators and many parents have concluded that sixth graders would do better in a school with 7th and 8th graders, and the Jeffco School Board has already begun to make that change. What you may not know is that if your 6th grader is still assigned to the elementary school, you can “choice” that student into the middle school. That’s the official term for it — I find it interesting that our educators have decided that “choice” can be a verb, not just a noun…

You May Want to Put Your Home in a Trust Instead of in Your Name

Experts recommend that you not put your home in your own name, but in a living trust. Why? Because people die, trusts don’t. When you die with a home in your name, a court has to decide who gets your house, even if you have a will. If it’s in a trust, you decide who the successor trustee is, and you can change the trustees over time.

I like what Linda Sommers, the estate law lawyer whose “Linda Leaving a Legacy” appears in YourHub, likes to say: “Everyone has an estate plan; if you don’t have one of your own, the state has one for you.”

VA Loans, Even Up to $1.5 Million, Can Make Sense for Veterans

      Plain vanilla VA loans — with no down payment up to $493,350 in the Denver metro area — are a great veteran’s benefit, but they do carry a “VA Funding Fee” of 2.15% of the loan amount. That fee drops to 1.5% if you put down 5% or more and to 1.25% if you put down 10% or more of the purchase price.  (These rates are higher on a veteran’s second home and if the veteran is a Reservist.) On a $400,000 loan, that fee can total $8,600. But if you’re a veteran with a service-connected disability, the fee is waived.

A lot of veterans don’t realize that they can buy homes well above the VA loan limit mentioned above. They can borrow 100% up to that loan limit and 75% of any amount over that limit. Thus, you could buy a $1 million home using a VA loan with a down payment of $126,662.50, or about 12.7%. Generally speaking, you need a 620 credit score to get a VA loan, but the VA doesn’t mandate a minimum credit score. Another advantage of VA loans is that even loans with zero down payment are not charged mortgage insurance.

Sellers Deserve to Receive Quality Feedback on Showings of Their Home

One of the most valuable features of using a professional showing service is the automated request for feedback which is sent to the showing agent by email right after each showing.

When you interview a listing agent, be sure to ask (1) whether they use a showing service (we recommend Centralized Showing Service, which dominates that industry), and (2) how many and what kind of feedback requests will be emailed to agents after the showing.

CSS offers two kinds of emails — one with multiple choice survey questions which the agent (with your input) can write; or the non-survey kind which asks for feedback and provides the agent with an open text field.

Because you can’t predict the feedback you will receive, I recommend you request the non-survey, open-ended kind of email request, so you get the most useful possible feedback from buyers.

Tiny Houses Are a Trend, Not a Passing Fad, Denver Business Journal Reports

On April 3, the Denver Business Journal had a headline that read, “Tiny Houses Are Big Business,” and described the Sprout Tiny Homes factory in LaJunta, Colorado. The company makes five models up to 14.5 feet wide by 34 feet long and up to 760 square feet — less than the size of a 4-car garage.

A tiny house was on Boulder’s Green Homes Tour last year, and the owners raved about it. Visitors, including me, liked what they saw, and it’s clear to me that tiny homes are going to continue to catch on.  In Denver, tiny homes are being built as a partial solution to the homeless problem. Smart!

Why Are Auto Manufacturers Still Building Petroleum Fueled Cars?

I recently read a report (by the German newspaper Der Spiegel) that half the cost of building a conventional gas-powered automobile is related to the gasoline engine — everything from the cooling system to the transmission to the exhaust system.  An electric car has just a battery and an electric motor, with only wires connecting them. Not even a transmission!

Even without a further decline in the cost of the batteries — and Bloomberg predicts a 77% additional decline in battery cost by 2030 — building an electric vehicle is easier and less resource consuming, and is better for the environment.  Volkswagen says it will produce 30 new models of battery electric cars across its 12 marques (which include Audi, and Porsche) by 2020. Consumers can help accelerate this conversion in manufacturing by declining to purchase cars which, I believe, are already obsolete.

Invite Me to Deliver My 30-Minute Presentation on Sustainability

Perhaps you’ve seen my presentation on EV’s at www.GasCarsAreObsolete.info. I recently created a presentation on the broader topic of sustainability.  You can see my PowerPoint slides at  www.SustainabilityPresentation.info.

Bonuses Paid to Buyers’ Agents Could Pose a Serious Ethical Question

Sometimes the “broker remarks” in an MLS listing will offer a cash bonus to the buyer if he brings an offer by a particular date or for full price.  At Golden Real Estate, we do not condone this practice because of its questionable ethics.

Agents are supposed to work in their clients’ best interest. “Broker remarks” are not visible to buyers, and there’s the possibility that an agent might steer his buyer to purchase a home solely because it earns him a higher commission, which would be unethical, in our opinion. We believe that any financial incentive should be offered to the buyer, not the agent.

Published June 22, 2017, in the Denver Post’s YourHub section and in four Jefferson County weekly newspapers.