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.

Beware the Less Obvious Costs of Ownership When You Buy a Home

Real_Estate_Today_bylineWhen you buy a home, your lender will factor in several obvious costs of your purchase when approving your loan, but there are other less obvious costs which the lender doesn’t consider, but which you should definitely investigate.

The costs your lender considers are your projected mortgage payments (consisting of Principal, Interest, property Taxes and Insurance, or “PITI”) plus Mortgage Insurance Premium (“MIP”) and HOA fees.

Let’s look at those obvious costs first.

Regarding property taxes, don’t make the mistake of assuming that unincorporated areas have lower property taxes than incorporated cities. The City of Golden, for example, has the lowest mill levy I’ve found anywhere in Jefferson County, and many newer subdivisions, such as Candelas, have mill levies that can be twice that of Golden. (See my Dec. 17, 2015, and July 21, 2016, columns about Metropolitan Tax Districts at www.JimSmithColumns.com.)

Regarding insurance costs, shop around! I have observed substantial variation among insurers. Use an independent insurance broker to get competitive quotes from different carriers, or, if you get quotes from “captive” insurance agents, get quotes from three or more different carriers. If the home is in a flood zone, flood insurance can be another major expense.

Regarding mortgage insurance premiums, don’t assume that you must pay MIP if you have less than 20% down payment. We can refer you to lenders who offer work-arounds regarding MIP with much less than a 20% down payment.

Regarding HOA fees, some HOA’s require “working capital contributions,” “document fees” and “move in fees” that may take you by surprise.  Ask about these.

Now let’s look at some other, less obvious costs of home ownership.

What about energy costs? These can vary substantially from one house to another. Find out what the current owner is paying for gas and electricity each month, and factor in whether the number of members in your household will vary from the seller’s when projecting what your energy costs will be.

Once you’re under contract, you’ll be hiring a home inspector to evaluate that home. Make sure it’s an inspector who is qualified to assess the home’s energy efficiency as part of his inspection (at no extra cost). We can recommend such an inspector.

Your inspector can also assess how much deferred maintenance there is on the house you buy. Get his advice on how much you might need to budget in coming years for maintenance and repairs, which can vary greatly from one home to another.

Water consumption is big cost to consider, especially if the home has a lot of Kentucky bluegrass, which requires lots of water.

Here’s a hidden expense you may not have thought of — health expenses due to bad indoor air quality. You recognize the smell of new carpeting, right? It’s not as innocuous as you might think. You might well be smelling VOC’s — volatile organic compounds. Some paint also contains VOC’s, and they’re less expensive than paint labeled “low in VOCs.” Ask your inspector to assess how many VOC’s might be in the air that could literally make you sick. Mold is another sickness-causing consideration. Your inspector will tell you whether a separate mold inspection is called for. He (or we) can recommend mold inspectors. Radon tests, costing $100-150, are also a good idea, since naturally occurring radon gas is a known carcinogen.

Older homes have clay sewer lines that are prone to root intrusion and collapse, which is the homeowner’s responsibility. A $100 sewer scope could identify the need for a 4-figure repair that you might be able to get the seller to absorb, saving you that expense later.

Published June 15, 2017, in the Denver Post’s YourHub section and in four Jefferson County weekly newspapers.

 

 

Post-Closing Occupancy Agreements Can Work for Both Buyers & Sellers

Real_Estate_Today_bylineThe technique of offering or requiring continued occupancy for the seller after closing can be a useful and highly effective negotiating tool for both the buyer and the seller. It’s not used that much by most real estate professionals, but Golden Real Estate’s agents, including myself, have learned how to make highly effective use of it.

From the Seller’s perspective, retaining occupancy of their home after closing is a great way to ease concern over having to move twice or not being able to coordinate the purchase of their replacement home with the sale of their current  home.

Many owners want to sell  but realize that while a “seller’s market” is great for selling a home, it makes it harder to find and buy a home.  The big fear is that the owner will sell their home and not have a place to live. This fear can be quite real and quite frightening, but a well negotiated sale that includes a post-closing occupancy agreement can effectively address this concern. I have personally used that device effectively in multiple transactions.

Sometimes this requirement for continued occupancy after closing is expressed in a listing as follows: “Sale must be contingent on seller closing on their replacement home.”

Even when a seller has the means to buy their replacement home before putting their current home on the market, a post-closing occupancy agreement can play a useful role for the seller.  Last year, for example, I listed an Arvada home for a couple that was already under contract for their replacement home.  They had been approved for a bridge loan to finance their replacement home, intending to pay off that loan as soon as they sold their current home. We priced their home just right, so we got multiple offers and were able to sell their home for well above its listing price and have the closing date occur the day before the closing on their replacement home.  They did not have to utilize their bridge loan and, in addition, we negotiated a free two-week post-closing occupancy so they could move from the current home to their new home in a leisurely manner.

Having that post-closing occupancy agreement can reduce the risk of needing to move twice — once into a rental or a relative’s basement, then into the replacement home — but there’s no guarantee, of course. Only one of my clients during the current 3-year seller’s market has had to do so, and that was only because they decided to build a new house after they were already under contract to sell their current home.  So it can be accomplished. Call me or one of our agents for a strategy conversation based on your own particular situation.

When a seller is willing and able to move twice if necessary, I recommend not disclosing the preference for a post-closing occupancy agreement until after the multiple offers come in. That way, we don’t discourage offers from buyers who require immediate occupancy, but we can then work with competing buyers to see whether the best offer financially might also be also be the best offer in terms of move-in flexibility.

From the Buyer’s perspective, offering occupancy after closing can be a useful tool in winning against competing buyers.  Buyers who are currently renting on a month-to-month basis are the best candidates for this strategy, because they can offer an open-ended occupancy agreement or lease-back, confident that they’ll know well enough in advance of when they can move in, so that they can give the necessary notice to their current landlord. With this kind of buyer, I’m always happier as a buyer’s agent when the listing is not vacant, because then there’s the chance that occupancy after closing could be a bargaining point that favors my buyer.

The “Post-Closing Occupancy Agreement” is a state-approved form available to all agents and buyers, but it can only be used for up to 60 days.  If the parties to a transaction agree to flexibility beyond 60 days, they need to agree to sign a lease, which can, of course, contain terms for early termination upon reasonable notice.  [NOTE: If you are obtaining a mortgage as an owner-occupant, your lender is going to require you to occupy the home within 60 days of closing.]

Of course, most other buyers are unable to offer such flexibility, but I always ask my buyers that question, explaining that if that is a possibility, it will enable them, with certain sellers, to make their offer more attractive than many competing offers.

In conclusion, a post-closing occupancy agreement can be an effective tool for helping buyers win contracts for the house they want to buy.  Combined with Golden Real Estate’s ability to offer free use of our moving trucks (and sometimes free labor), it has made us far more successful in winning bidding wars for our buyers than can be claimed by other brokerage firms. To win a contract for our buyer, we once even offered to move the seller twice at no cost. It worked!

Published May 11, 2017, in the Denver Post’s YourHub section and in four Jefferson County weekly newspapers.