The Pros and Cons of Buying in a Community With a Homeowners Association

Like every real estate agent, I have encountered buyers who don’t want to buy in a neighborhood with an HOA. I have set up more than one MLS alert for buyers with “No HOA” as one of their search criteria.

There are many good reasons to avoid an HOA, just as there are reasons to want an HOA. Among the negatives, an HOA costs money, al-though those dues do cover some expenses you would otherwise have to pay for on your own, such as trash collection. In a patio home community, dues could cover snow removal up to your front door and garage, grounds maintenance, a community pool, fitness center, and even water and sewer.  Unless the community is self-managed, your dues also pay for a management company.

The more common negatives we hear concern personal liberty. You can’t change your home’s exterior, including paint color or adding a new deck, without approval by the HOA. You probably can’t store your RV on the street or on your lot. And there’s always that one neighbor who is a self-appointed enforcer of the covenants and rules. I was turned in once by one who saw my lawn person passing through the adjoining common space to reach my backyard.

According to the Community Associations Institute (CAI), the number of HOAs in the United States has increased from just 10,000 in 1970 to more than 320,000 today. If you buy a home in a subdivision developed in the last 30 years, you most likely will be buying in a neighborhood with an HOA. So, what are the arguments in favor of an HOA?

A common refrain in support of HOAs is that they protect property values for their members. Without an HOA to enforce its rules, a neighbor could paint his home dayglo yellow or litter his yard, visible to you, with old furniture and cars on blocks. He could allow the paint to peel and not replace his obviously hail damaged roof and let the exterior of his home go into disrepair. These are just a few examples of how one homeowner can affect a neighborhood’s property values. Imagine putting your beautifully updated home on the market if the above description applied to your neighbor’s house.

People in non-HOA communities can tell “bad neighbor” stories to rival any HOA horror story.

Back in the 1970s it was common for subdivisions to be built with covenants that applied to every home in that subdivision, but no HOA was created to enforce those covenants. If a neighbor violated a covenant, one’s only recourse was to sue that neighbor in civil court — an unlikely scenario. Some non-HOA neighborhoods have created neighborhood associations with voluntary dues (for example, $30 per year), which cover the cost of community picnics, newsletters, etc. I listed a home in one such non-HOA subdivision, Columbine Knolls South in south Jeffco, which is quite aggressive in enforcing a covenant that restricts the type of roof a homeowner can install.

Starting around the 1990s, subdivision developers created HOAs which they controlled until a certain percentage of homes were sold, at which point they would turn over control to a board elected by the residents. Unless it was a really small subdivision, this board would then hire a management company to handle the hiring of vendors (such as trash haulers or grounds keepers) and enforcing covenants, as well as rules and regulations promulgated by the board of directors at their monthly meetings or by the homeowners at their annual meeting.

Done right, HOAs can be an efficient means of providing services, assigning payment responsibility and being responsive to members’ concerns. Such factors have driven the continued growth of association-governed communities, including HOAs, condominium associations, and other “common interest communities.”

HOAs can fund a diverse variety of services and amenities, from golf courses to equestrian facilities and fitness centers. Few Americans could afford such benefits without the shared responsibility made possible with an HOA. According to CAI, “People who don’t want to contend with gutters and yard work can purchase homes in communities where these responsibilities are taken on by the associations. There are age-restricted communities, pet-free and pet-friendly communities, even communities with air strips. Community associations give people options, alternatives, facilities and resources they could not otherwise enjoy.”

CAI states that more than 62 million Americans live in neighborhoods with an HOA and “take advantage of association-sponsored activities like holiday events, social clubs, athletic and fitness activities, pool parties and more. These activities help residents get to know their neighbors and forge new, supportive friendships.”

Because it’s not a popular assignment (and is unpaid), you can probably get elected to your HOA board and have a say in its governance.  I did that myself but resigned after a couple years. You may be more suited to that experience.

I totally respect those who want to avoid HOAs for one reason or another. Rita and I have experienced both ways of life and, while we don’t value one over the other, we appreciate why others may have a strong feeling for or against living in an HOA-governed neighborhood.

If you are not outright opposed to an HOA but do have concerns, just know that when you go under contract with a home in an HOA, the seller must provide financial and other documents as well as bylaws and minutes of recent HOA meetings, and you can terminate if you don’t like what you read.

Consider Installing a Heat Pump Water Heater

If you’re attuned to the issue of sustainability, you may already know that heat pump water heaters are a smart replacement for gas water heaters and a great way to reduce your “carbon footprint.”

Combine it with replacing your gas furnace with a heat pump mini-split system and your gas range with an electric induction cooktop, and you could disconnect your gas meter and go all-electric. Then trade in your gas-powered car for an electric car and put enough solar panels on your home to power it all, and you’re on your way to eliminating the use of fossil fuels altogether — provided you’re willing to live without your gas fireplace!

Heat pumps don’t create heat, they move heat, which is why they are more efficient than gas or resistance heating. Toasters and electric space heaters are examples of resistance heating. Rather than heating water directly, a heat pump water heater moves heat out of the room into the water tank. For synergy, put it in the same room as a freezer, which is doing the opposite — moving heat into the room. Or build a wine cellar around your water heater for free cooling of your wine!

I purchased my Rheem  unit for under $1,300 (on sale at Home Depot) and earned a $400 rebate from Xcel Energy plus a $300 federal tax credit.  

Could Accessory Dwelling Units Be a Solution, Albeit Small, to Housing Shortage?

An increasing number of jurisdictions, including Denver, Englewood, Boulder, Golden and Arvada, are allowing the construction of a second dwelling unit for homes zoned for single-family. The common term for them is “Accessory Dwelling Unit” or ADU. Golden, unlike the other cities, allows an ADU on properties zoned for either one or two dwelling units.

The ordinances that allow such units include rules that distinguish a home with an ADU from, say, a duplex. For example, they cannot have their owned legal description and can’t have separate water and sewer connections.

Sixty-two ADUs have been approved under Golden’s 2009 ADU ordinance. Denver has permitted 263 ADUs just since Jan. 1, 2016.

Arvada had Jefferson County’s first ADU ordinance, enacted in 2007. Its key points were:

> The property owner must live on site, in either the main house or in the ADU.

> The ADU is limited to 800 SF, or 40% of main home’s size. Minimum size is 200 SF.

> No more than 1 bedroom is allowed.

> No more than two persons may live in a unit up to 600 SF, or three persons in a unit between 600 and 800 SF.

> One on-site parking space is required.

> The ADU’s design must be consistent with that of the principal unit, and the entrance, if visible from the street, must be clearly subordinate to the primary home’s entrance.

These are only some of the requirements with which a homeowner must comply when adding an ADU to his or her property.

The cities differ in some of their requirements. For example, Arvada forbids a home business in an accessory dwelling unit, but Golden’s code does not reference that usage.

ADUs can be within the primary structure (such as a walk-out basement) or in a separate structure, either above a detached garage or as a standalone structure. 

There are many uses for ADUs. One use is to create a rental unit, helping homeowners with their ownership costs. Another is to provide a “mother-in-law” unit that provides an elderly family member with independent living but in close proximity to family. Conversely, an elderly homeowner might use an ADU to provide living quarters for a caregiver who needs to be close by. Ditto for a family which has hired a nanny for their young children.

In Golden, each ADU requires an allocation under Golden’s 1% growth limitation. Only Boulder, among the other cities that allow ADUs, has such an ordinance.

California, with its high housing costs, appears to be the national leader in the adoption of ADUs. Here’s some useful information from an article I found online from the New York and Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative:

Parts of California have welcomed ADUs for decades while others operated under much stricter rules. This created a complex patchwork of local regulations that was difficult for residents and builders to navigate. The new laws relaxed regulations around setback requirements, minimum lot sizes and other elements that previously made building ADUs difficult in some areas.

Legislative changes at the state and local levels appear to have opened the floodgates for ADU permits in parts of California, including San Jose, where ADU permits issued per year went from 192 in 2018 to 416 in 2019, according to www.BuildinganADU.com.

In Redwood City, a smaller city in the Bay Area, ADU permit issuance doubled during the same period.

The idea appears to be popular among older homeowners: 84 percent of people 50 and older would construct an ADU in order to provide a home for a loved one in need of care, and according to a 2018 study on ADUs by AARP.

The federal government backed the idea of accessory dwellings in the 1990s, with a Task Force on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing recommending removing restrictions on accessory apartments to enable elders to age in place, according to 2008 research in the Journal of Aging and Policy.

Data on the effectiveness of ADUs for caregiving families is scarce, beyond anecdotal evidence and numbers illuminating their popularity in cities where they’re legal and encouraged.

California’s openness to ADUs is part of the state’s strategy to tackle its crushing housing market, which with runaway prices and low housing stock threatens to shut out residents who’ve been living in Bay Area cities like San Francisco or San Jose for decades.

I have become familiar with a local company, Verdant Living, that specializes in the construction of ADUs, or “backyard bungalows.”  Their website is www.VerdantLiving.us. Owner John Phillips pointed me toward another useful website, www.AccessoryDwellings.org.

Just Listed: 2-Story Home in Golden’s Stonebridge Subdivision

808 Brown Squirrel Lane, Golden – Listed at $875,000

Stonebridge at Eagle Ridge is a 232-home subdivision at the foot of Lookout Mountain. This home is near the end of one of three cul-de-sacs that end with a trailhead into Eagle Ridge Park. Only three other homes are between this home and a trailhead leading to the playground and picnic area. Upstairs, two guest bedrooms have views of Lookout Mountain, and the master bedroom features a view of the hogback and Green Mountain. The 14’x16′ loft overlooking the family room could easily become a 4th upstairs bedroom. In the basement is a 2nd family room and home theater plus another bedroom with en suite bathroom.  Underneath the full width main-floor deck is a concrete patio with a hot tub, which is included. Listing agent Jim Smith lives in this neighborhood (two blocks away) and loves it here, and so will you! Take Jim’s narrated video tour online at www.StonebridgeHome.net, then come to the open house Saturday, January 16th, 11am-2pm.

Coming Soon: Updated Bungalow in North Golden

305 N. Columbine Street – Listed at $598,000

This updated bungalow has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, including a spacious master suite. The floors are beautiful tile and original hardwood. The back porch has been enclosed and heated and has a vaulted pine ceiling. The backyard has a large patio for entertaining. There are two parking spaces off the alley, where you could build a 2-car garage. Next to the parking spaces are a gardening shed and a cinder block shed that once served as a well house. This home is within walking distance of Clear Creek and downtown Golden, as well as hiking and biking trails and all that Golden has to offer. Visit www.NorthGoldenHome.com to view a narrated video tour, then call your agent or Jim Smith at 303-525-1851 for a private showing, which begins soon.

Denver Real Estate Market Ends 2020 with a Record-Breaking December

The chart below is a compilation of various market indicators for the Denver metro area, which I am defining as a 25-mile radius of the State Capitol. There are some surprising differences this December from previous Decembers to be discerned from looking at that chart. I have included June figures but put the December stats in bold type to make it easier to compare summer vs. winter statistics over the last five years.

Source: REcolorado

Historically, one would expect to see more sold listings, new listings and active listings in June than in December, and that trend held true in 2020, but the numbers for this December broke some new ground.

The number of sold listings and new listings were at record highs for a December, leaving the number of active listings at a record low. There has been lots of talk about how low our active inventory is, but, as I’ve written before, that’s not for lack of new listings but rather how quickly buyers are snapping up new listings.

The strength of this sellers’ market becomes more evident when you look at the other columns. In past years, the median sold price in December was substantially lower than it was in June, but the opposite was true this year, rising to a record $455,000. Correspondingly, the average price per finished square foot surged above June’s number to a record $246, and the median days in the MLS (“DIM”) plunged from last December’s 24 to just 7 days this December — even lower than the DIM for June 2020. The average DIM of 28 is more typical of summer months than winter, reflecting the fact that even homes that had been languishing on the market (because they were overpriced) were selling at a faster clip last month. Indeed 22% of the listings sold were on the MLS for over 30 days. Of those, 5.8% were active over 90 days, and 3.4% were active for more than 120 days. Those older listings are responsible for raising the average DIM.

Because of the well-publicized migration away from densely populated areas because of Covid-19, I was curious to learn whether single-family detached homes represented a higher percentage of the closings this December, compared to December 2019, but in fact the percentage dropped a little this year — 66.7% this year vs. 69.5% last year. The same was true in June, when the pandemic was already raging and we believed that people were fleeing condos for detached single-family homes. This is counterintuitive, and I can offer no theory to explain it, but I have more to say about this topic below.

Another measure of the strength of the current sellers’ market is how many homes sold above their asking prices. With December 2019’s days in MLS number so high (24), one hardly needs to ask, but here are the numbers. This December, 16.6% of the listings sold for their full listing price, and 42.2% sold above their listing price. Last year, those numbers were dramatically lower. While 15.8% sold for their full listing price, only 15.9% of listings sold above their listing price in December 2019.

So, what’s the prognosis for 2021?  January is positioned to have a record number of closings, considering that there are a record number of pending transactions left over from December, as shown in the chart. With mortgage interest rates projected to remain at record lows — currently at or below 3% — there is a strong incentive for buyers to keep buying. Another factor favoring buyers is the movement of service sector jobs towards working from home.

To measure that trend, I compared the December-over-December sales in Downtown Denver, part of Capitol Hill and the Golden Triangle (specifically, a 1.2-mile radius from 20th & Arapahoe Streets in downtown Denver) and found there were 63 sales in December 2019 compared to 77 sales in December 2020. Meanwhile, there were 272 active listings in December 2019, but that surged to 444 active listings in December 2020.  It’s a buyer’s market there.

In that same area, the days in MLS dropped from 43 days last December to 32 days this December (way higher than the 24 days vs. 7 days for the 25-mile radius in the above chart), but the median sold price plunged from $535,000 in December 2019 to $480,000 in December 2020. Compare that to the $40,000 increase in median sold price with the larger metro area, as shown in the above chart.

So, yes, it is still harder to sell a home in the densely populated central Denver area, and there is definitely an out-migration taking shape, but it’s still too early to call it an exodus.

Note: All these statistics were compiled from REcolorado, Denver’s MLS, excluding listings from other MLSs which are displayed on REcolorado.com. Often those listings from other MLSs are merely duplicates of REcolorado’s own listings, so I excluded them.

Price Further Reduced on Townhome Near Downtown Golden

707 20th Street, Golden – $695,000

This is a remodeled townhome inside and out. It adjoins a creek (Kinney Run) but it is not in a flood zone. It has all new HardiePlank siding, new windows and skylights, a 3-year-old roof, new wraparound deck that’s great for entertaining, two patio areas with lots of planter boxes, and a Juliet balcony off the master bedroom. The interior is loaded with upgraded newer stainless steel appliances in the kitchen along with granite countertops and an eat-in kitchen. There are new hardwood floors throughout the main level. All the bathrooms are new with beautiful tile, granite and glass. All the bedrooms have en suite baths and California Closets. On those cold winter nights, cozy up to the gas fireplace in the living room. The sunroom/office has all new skylights with a tile floor and lots of light. The dining room has double sliding glass doors that open to the large deck. All this within walking distance to downtown Golden! The listing price includes all furniture, too! Take a video tour at www.GoldenTownhome.com, then call David Dlugasch at 303-908-4835 for more information.  Open Saturday, January 9th, 11a.m. to 2p.m.

National Association of Realtors Promotes “Pathways to Professionalism”

As you are probably aware, members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) are sworn to abide by the Realtor Code of Ethics. It’s what separates them from the men and women who are licensed to practice real estate but choose not to pay roughly $500 in annual dues to be a member of the local, state and national Realtor associations.

Golden Real Estate requires all its broker associates to join the local Realtor association, which automatically enrolls them in the Colorado Association of Realtors and NAR. Most of us are members of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, although agents have the choice of which local Realtor association to join.

In addition to the Code of Ethics is the voluntary and lesser known Pathways to Professionalism. It is a collection of recommended courtesies which all Realtors should embrace, as we certainly do at Golden Real Estate. Here are those courtesies, broken down into three categories. It should be noted that failure to practice these courtesies cannot form the basis of a complaint by fellow Realtors or members of the public. Here they are, highlighting ones I particularly like:

Respect for the Public

1) Follow the “Golden Rule”: Do unto other as you would have them do unto you.

2) Respond promptly to inquiries and requests for information.

3) Schedule appointments and showings as far in advance as possible.

4) Call if you are delayed or must cancel an appointment or showing.

5) If a prospective buyer decides not to view an occupied home, promptly explain the situation to the listing broker or the occupant.

6) Communicate with all parties in a timely fashion.

7) When entering a property ensure that unexpected situations, such as pets, are handled appropriately.

8) Leave your business card if not prohibited by local rules.

9) Never criticize property in the presence of the occupant.

10) Inform occupants that you are leaving after showings.

11) When showing an occupied home, always ring the doorbell or knock—and announce yourself loudly before entering. Knock and announce yourself loudly before entering any closed room.

12) Present a professional appearance at all times; dress appropriately and drive a clean car.

13) If occupants are home during showings, ask their permission before using the telephone or bathroom.

14) Encourage the clients of other brokers to direct questions to their agent or representative.

15) Communicate clearly; don’t use jargon or slang that may not be readily understood.

16) Be aware of and respect cultural differences.

17) Show courtesy and respect to everyone.

18) Be aware of—and meet—all deadlines.

19) Promise only what you can deliver — and keep your promises.

20) Identify your REALTOR® and your professional status in contacts with the public.

21) Do not tell people what you think — tell them what you know.

Respect for Property

1) Be responsible for everyone you allow to enter a listed property.

2) Never allow buyers to enter a listed property unaccompanied.

3) When showing a property, keep all members of the group together.

4) Never allow unaccompanied access to a property without permission.

5) Enter a property only with permission even if you have a lockbox key or combination.

6) When the occupant is absent, leave the property as you found it (lights, heating, cooling, drapes, etc.) If you think something is amiss (e.g., vandalism), contact the listing broker immediately.

7) Be considerate of the seller’s property. Do not allow anyone to eat, drink, smoke, dispose of trash, use bathing or sleeping facilities, or bring pets. Leave the house as you found it unless instructed otherwise.

8) Use sidewalks; if weather is bad, take off shoes and boots inside property.

9) Respect sellers’ instructions about photographing or videographing their properties’ interiors or exteriors.

Respect for Peers

1) Identify your REALTOR® and professional status in all contacts with other REALTORS®.

2) Respond to other agents’ calls, faxes, and emails promptly and courteously.

3) Be aware that large electronic files with attachments or lengthy faxes may be a burden on recipients.

4) Notify the listing broker if there appears to be inaccurate information on the listing.

5) Share important information about a property, including the presence of pets, security systems, and whether sellers will be present during the showing.

6) Show courtesy, trust, and respect to other real estate professionals.

7) Avoid the inappropriate use of endearments or other denigrating language.

8) Do not prospect at other REALTORS®’ open houses or similar events.

9) Return keys promptly.

10) Carefully replace keys in the lockbox after showings.

11) To be successful in the business, mutual respect is essential.

12) Real estate is a reputation business. What you do today may affect your reputation — and business — for years to come.

Golden Real Estate Welcomes a New Agent

Andrea Cox, originally from Buffalo, has lived in Colorado for 6 years. She and her husband Matt moved here to start a family and enjoy the outdoors. Their 5-year-old daughter Andaline and their dog Pancake keep life interesting. Andrea also has a passion for photography and the arts. She continues to hold strong ties to the East Coast, with family in Western New York, Connecticut and North Carolina. 

Andrea started her real estate career in Denver in 2015.  She and her family moved to Golden in 2016 but subsequently moved to northeast Colorado seeking refuge from the climbing cost of living in the metro area. She has been living and selling real estate in the Ft. Morgan area, but she and her family will be returning to Golden in 2021 to make it their forever home.

Narrated Video Tours Still Surprisingly Rare in Real Estate

The term “virtual tour” was introduced to the real estate industry a couple decades ago, and early vendors wowed us with 360-degree still photos of each room The latest “shiny object” is a product by Matterport. I remember getting a demo of it at a trade show several years ago. They call their product an interactive virtual reality tour — still photos in which you can use your mouse or finger to rotate each photo manually left to right or up and down. Gray circles indicate new photo points. You click on them and are taken to that place where you can, again, rotate horizontally or vertically. Thus, you can, at your own pace, navigate around the entire property choosing which room you want to enter and leave. Here’s an example of a Matterport tour:

https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=zWvgi4YHRhU&mls=1

Still, it’s only a collection of still photos with no narration. Personally I find it kind of dizzying and nowhere near as useful as being walked through the home by the listing agent pointing out the features of the home.

I have been selling real estate now for 19 years and seen a dozen or more variations of the “virtual tour” concept, but none of them include narration like the video tours we have been creating since 2007.

For this article I studied 50 currently active listings by other brokerages and only half have any “virtual tour.” More surprisingly, only one of them had a narrated video tour. The rest were merely slide shows, most of them with music, but 10 were completely silent, which merely duplicates the MLS’s own slide show. (Example) Two had actual videos but they were drone videos. Eleven had the interactive Matterport slideshows described above.

The one narrated tour was quite good in the detail which the agent shared, but the agent chose to be in half the scenes, which struck me as a little weird. I prefer to feature the home, not myself, in my video tours.

Visit www.GRElistings.com to view our currently active and pending listings, each of which you’ll see has a narrated video tour.