National Association of Realtors (NAR) Bans Pocket Listings

During its annual convention earlier this month, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) voted to ban the practice of pocket listings. Pocket listings are listings which are withheld from the MLS, thereby denying other Realtors (and agents who are not Realtors) from showing and selling the listings. The rule goes into effect on January 1, 2020, but NAR is giving MLSs until May 1st to fully implement it.

Regular readers of this column know that I have long decried the practice of selling listings without putting them on the MLS. Doing so increases the chances of the listing agent “double-ending” the sale, resulting in twice the commission, but it also runs the risk of netting less money for the seller, thereby violating the ethical and legal requirement that listing agents work in the best interest of their sellers instead of themselves.

Perhaps you saw me quoted on page 10A of last Thursday’s Denver Post as welcoming this new rule. As I stated to reporter Aldo Svaldi, the only way to guarantee the highest price for our sellers is to expose their listings to the full market of potential buyers, which is only done by putting the home on the MLS. When the listing agent convinces a seller to accept an offer before their home is put on the MLS, there is no way of knowing how much money the seller will “leave on the table.”

The purpose of an MLS is to provide “cooperation and compensation.” Members of an MLS must allow (cooperate with) any other member of the MLS to sell their listing and makes it known how they’ll be compensated — in our market, typically 2.8% of the sale price.

The new policy, called “clear cooperation,” is spelled out in the following motion passed by a 91% to 9% vote of the NAR board of directors:

“Within one business day of marketing a property to the public, the listing broker must submit the listing to the MLS for cooperation with other MLS participants. Public marketing includes, but is not limited to, flyers displayed in windows, yard signs, digital marketing on public-facing websites, brokerage website displays, digital communications marketing (email blasts), multi-brokerage listing sharing networks, and applications available to the general public.”

I can provide an example from my own practice. In November 2018 I listed a home for $1.1 million. Even before I put it on the MLS, a close friend of the seller said he would pay full price. The seller wanted to accept it, but my advice was to consider the friend’s offer the “opening bid” and to proceed with exposing the home to other buyers by putting it on the MLS.

Five days after putting the home on the MLS, bidding had driven up the price significantly and it sold (to the same friend) for $75,000 above full price. The seller was delighted, and so was the buyer, who only asked that his friend match the highest bid.

I could easily have made a quick commission and saved myself the chore and expense of marketing the home and managing competing offers, but I would have been violating my duty to the seller and, it turns out, cost my seller a lot of money.  I particularly like that, when all was said and done, the seller netted the full listing price, even after deducting commissions and the other costs of selling!

It will be interesting to see how this rule against pocket listings is implemented by MLSs and how effective it will be. One work-around we can expect is that listings will go on the MLS with the notation that “showings begin on such-and-such a (later) date.”

One of our broker associates, Chuck Brown, attended the NAR convention, including a panel of the titans of real estate — from Realogy, RE/MAX International, Zillow, Opendoor, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, and others — and they, unlike the board of directors, were mostly against the new policy on pocket listings.  Zillow and Opendoor, in particular, say they’ll continue to list properties as “coming soon.”

Clearly the new rule will restrict but probably not eliminate the practice.  REcolorado’s Rules & Regulations Committee, on which I have served for over a decade, will discuss it on Dec. 10th. Expect a follow-up on this subject!

Real Estate Buyers & Sellers Have Become Prime Targets of Cyber Criminals

A couple weeks ago, Jaxzann Riggs (right) of The Mortgage Network was the guest speaker at our weekly office meeting, educating us on the important subject of cyber security.  Here are some of the things we learned from her.

As we move into an increasingly digital age, cyber crime is rapidly becoming a major part of fraud. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center estimates that there was an 11-fold increase in real estate email phishing scams between 2015 and 2017. Moreover, 2018 saw a 166% increase in the amount of money lost to real estate wire fraud compared to 2017.  As these crimes become more and more prevalent, what can you do to ensure that you do not become a victim?

Cyber crime can take many different forms, but one of the most common is something referred to as EAC, or “email account compromise.” The FBI estimated that this type of fraud accounted for $1.2 billion in losses in 2018—just under half of all reported losses for 2018. In real estate transactions, this typically occurs as wire fraud. There are many different variations of this scam, but the basic idea is the same: just before closing, a borrower receives an email with instructions from what appears to be their title agent/lender/Realtor, informing them that their closing funds should be wired to a different account. The information about their property is correct; the name on the email signature is identical to the person the borrower had previously been communicating with. The borrower, having no reason not to believe the request, sends the money to the new account. In reality, however, a criminal has hacked or spoofed the email address—meaning that the funds meant to be sent to the title company for closing have now wound up in the fraudster’s account. Although there are occasionally “success” stories of money being recovered, oftentimes, the money is gone for good.

If you are going to be involved in a real estate transaction, an easy step you can take to protect yourself is to create a physical list of phone numbers for those involved in your transaction: this can include lenders, Realtors, title agents and more. If you receive a change in wiring instructions, you should always call the sender to verify that the instructions are real. If the instructions came via email, do not refer to the phone number listed in the email signature or reply to the email— if it is a fraudulent email address, your reply will divert back to the criminal, and it will almost certainly contain a fraudulent phone number that does the same. Because phone numbers can easily be spoofed to appear as a different number, do not immediately assume a phone call you receive with a change in wiring instructions is legitimate, either: before wiring anything to a different location, you should always call back the number on your list to verify that the instructions are real. Although this may seem tedious and repetitive, as the old adage goes, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Unfortunately, even when taking steps to protect yourself, wire fraud does happen. If you realize that you have fallen victim to a wiring fraud scheme, the first thing to do is immediately contact your bank and ask them to attempt a wire recall. Criminals will often have the funds transferred into a bank account in the U.S. before transferring them to a foreign account. If the money has not left the United States, there is a much higher chance your bank can stop the transfer and that the money can be recovered. Be sure to contact your local FBI and Attorney General in addition to filing a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Though wire fraud is scary, the best thing you can do is stay aware and prepared. By working with a trusted professional and taking precautions, you can minimize your risk. Are you looking for more tips on staying safe in our digital world?  Give Jaxzann Riggs a call at 303-320-3400.

What’s a ‘Smart Home,’ and What Elements of a ‘Smart Home’ Make Sense for You?

Home automation is now mainstream, thanks to a strong internet and widespread use of WiFi routers in our homes. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “smart home” used to describe a home with devices that can be monitored and/or controlled from your smartphone.

The most widely adopted such device is probably the Ring doorbell. You may have one on your own home. Rita and I do, plus one on the door of Golden Real Estate. If you ring our home doorbell, Rita gets an alert on her iPhone and can see and converse with whoever is there. The visitor wouldn’t know if Rita is home or not as they converse, and, even if the visitor doesn’t ring the doorbell, Rita’s alerted to “motion at the front door” and a video of it is archived in the “cloud” for later viewing — great for identifying “porch pirates.”

If you ring the doorbell at Golden Real Estate, I get the notification on my iPhone and can converse with you and perhaps arrange to have an agent meet you there shortly.

There are countless other examples of “smart” devices. For example, we have a car wash closet on the back of our office building, and I’m concerned about the pipes freezing if it gets really cold, so I installed a WiFi connected device which tells me on an app both the outdoor temperature and the temperature inside the closet. And it alerts me when the inside temperature drops below 35 degrees.

We also have security cameras inside and outside our building which I can view on my smartphone or in the office, allowing me to go back in time to capture suspicious events, such as when a snowblower was stolen last year. I have a similar system at home.

If you subscribe to Dish Network or DirecTV, you have a smart device there, able to schedule and even watch DVR recordings on your smartphone or tablet. My Samsung TV is itself “smart” which is what makes it possible to stream Netflix shows and movies.

Even our refrigerator is “smart.”  Rita and I can actually look inside the refrigerator on our smartphones while shopping!

A client of mine has an internet-connected garage door opener that alerts him when the door opens and closes, and he can open or close it from his smartphone — very useful since his detached garage faces the alley and he has no way of knowing if it is open or closed without leaving his house and walking around the garage to the alley.

WiFi-enabled (i.e., wireless) security cameras make it possible to have cameras in places not previously possible. The cameras are powered by lithium-ion batteries that last 4 to 6 months between charges and can be mounted up to 300 feet from their base station. One such application is the wireless camera on the EV charging station in our parking lot, which was once vandalized. Next time, I’ll be able to identify the culprit.

Other applications you might consider are WiFi-connected moisture detectors and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Baby monitors are a no-brainer, too. As long as you have your phone with you, you’ll be able to see and talk to your baby in his room.

WiFi-connected electric shades, especially on your out-of-reach windows, could help you save energy and money by opening and closing based on indoor temperature.

My solar PV system at home is internet connected, not only so I can monitor it but so the leasing company which has guaranteed a certain level of production can know when it has not produced as promised and can automatically send me a check for the under-production. (I have received two such checks.)

Nest is a big provider of smart devices, best known for their thermostat, which not only senses occupancy but can be adjusted remotely.

An alternative to lockboxes that is now widely available is the WiFi connected electric deadbolt. When someone rings your video doorbell and you want to let them into your house, you can unlock your door on your smartphone to let the person in and lock it when they go.

There are devices to make electric outlets “smart” so any device plugged into them can be powered on or off from your smartphone. A variation on that is one with dimming capability. As you can see, there’s no end to what you can do to make your home a “smart” home.

If you want to check out other devices for your home, Google is your friend, or simply go to www.SmartHome.com, which sells smart home devices from a multitude of manufacturers, including Ring, Next, Amazon, and others.

Alexa and other “smart speakers” are also “smart listeners” and, like all internet-connected devices, can be hacked, so it is important that you have strong passwords and take other precautions.

Sellers Ask: Should I Wait Until Spring to Put My Home on the Market?

About this time of year I like to remind readers why winter can be the best time of year to put their home on the market.

First of all, there is less competition because, frankly, most sellers don’t know that homes sell well year-round. If your agent says you should wait until spring, get an agent who understands this!

Second, buyers continue to get alerts of new listings year-round.  You know this yourself if you’ve been looking at listings. Nowadays every serious home buyer has asked their agent to set up an MLS alert matching their search criteria, or done it themselves on Zillow, and these alerts are generated 24/7/365 — even on Christmas morning!

This is a change from years past, when buyers depended on their agent to monitor the market and find listings that matched their buyers’ needs and wants. No more! Buyers do their own searching, even if it’s on Zillow, and call their agent when they want to see a listing which appears to meet their needs and wants.

Third, you won’t be bothered by lookie-loos.  Only serious buyers, ready to make an offer, will be asking to see your home in the winter. The buyers who just like looking at other peoples’ homes are less inclined to go out at this time of year.

Fourth, you’ll have your agent’s and mortgage broker’s full attention.  With less traffic in the winter, these professionals can give you their undivided attention.  Others, including title officers and home inspectors, are also less busy in the winter, which is to your advantage.

Fifth, you can light your fireplace. I love going into a warm, cozy home when it’s cold outside. Unless your home is drafty and cold, this makes for great staging!  And if you have a wood-burning fireplace, it’s even better. I love the smell of a wood-burning fireplace, don’t you?  Also, put some cider on the stove, with cinnamon sticks in it and have a ladle and cups next to it with freshly baked cookies, and you’ve made my day! Your visitors will feel like they are in their new home!

Sixth, holiday decorations are good staging, too.  Most stagers will urge you to depersonalize your home, including removal of crucifixes or other religious symbols, but this is Colorado, and people of all religions enjoy our Christmas holiday decorations. Again, like the fireplace and hot cider, holiday decorations can add a welcoming, homey feeling to your home.

Remember, buyers need to move year round. The concept of selling during the children’s summer vacation may be valid for a limited segment of the population, but even in that case many families move locally, and the MLS allows us to set up searches based on school district or even specific elementary, middle or high school service areas. Other moves are triggered by job changes, health changes or seniors moving to be closer to grandchildren, and these needs arise year-round.

Call any of us at Golden Real Estate — our phone numbers are below — if you’d like a free market analysis of your home or for any other reason.

Jim Smith, Broker/Owner –  303-525-1851

Jim Swanson — 303-929-2727

Carrie Lovingier — 303-907-1278

Kristi Brunel — 303-525-2520

Chuck Brown — 303-885-7855

David Dlugasch — 303-908-4835

Andrew Lesko — 720-710-1000

Carol Milan — 720-982-4941

The Crackdown on Hispanic Immigration Is Hurting the Construction Trades

Like any homeowner who has lived in Colorado for a long time, I have experienced roof replacements due to a hail storm more than once, and have observed that the roofing industry, like many construction trades, is particularly dependent on Mexicans and other Hispanics for their work force.

So I’ve been wondering how the President’s unrelenting (and increasing) crackdown on immigration from Central American countries has been affecting construction trades, including roofing.

Fortunately, my last big hail storm requiring roof replacement was in May 2017, before the crackdown on such immigrants had matured into what we are seeing today.

Googling the topic and surveying the many roofing companies with which I’ve dealt over the years, I find that what I suspected is indeed the case.  Roughly 20% of that industry’s work force has been lost directly or indirectly. It makes me wonder how we will fare in the event of another widespread hail disaster.

The problem is that few non-immigrants jump at the offer of earning minimum or higher wages climbing on roofs in the hot sun and doing the back-breaking work of removing and replacing a roof.  The same is true in the farming industry where migrant labor has been essential to getting seasonal work done.

I remember Elliot Eisenberg, the “Bowtie Economist,” telling Realtors at a 2017 event that immigration is essential to growing the economy, and that we need at least 1 million immigrants every year to achieve the kind of growth which President Trump was promising. (He also pointed out that cutting taxes while the economy is doing as well as it was in 2017 was not smart and could only have a short-lived effect, which is now evident.)

I was reminded of all this on Sunday night, watching a 60 Minutes segment on the Japanese economy hurting because of its historic limitation on immigration in addition to its declining birth rate.

Immigration is good, and it’s necessary to maintain and grow our economy.  The effect of restricting immigration and terrorizing immigrants by raiding businesses with immigrant work forces ends up hurting us all.

According to one website I Googled,

> A U.S. Department of Labor study prepared by the Bush Administration noted that the perception that immigrants take jobs away from American workers is “the most persistent fallacy about immigration in popular thought” because it is based on the mistaken assumption that there is only a fixed number of jobs in the economy.    

> Experts note that immigrants are blamed for unemployment because Americans can see the jobs immigrants fill but not the jobs they create through productivity, capital formation and demand for goods and services.  

> Immigrants pay more than $90 billion in taxes every year and receive only $5 billion in welfare. Without their contributions to the public treasury, the economy would suffer enormous losses. 

Personally, I think we should welcome, not shun, immigrants.

Inspection: The Most Important Step in Homebuying

A key element of every contract to buy a home is the inspection contingency, giving the buyer the opportunity to inspect the home for hidden or not-so-hidden defects.

The process begins with a general inspector, who looks at every component of the house. Expect to pay $300 or so, depending on house size. This inspector will typically…

> Run all the appliances—washer, dryer, disposal, dishwasher, cooktop burners, ovens, hood fan, etc.

> Fill, then drain, all sinks and tubs and run all showers, searching for leaks.

> Test the garage door opener, including checking to see if it has working sensors which reverse the closing door if something is detected or if it will reverse upon hitting an obstruction.

> Check the garage for holes in the fire break (drywall) and if the door between the garage and home is fire rated and has a working door closer.

> Use a moisture meter to detect moisture within or behind the drywall.

> Operate all electrical switches to see if they are working.

> Check a sampling of (or all) electrical outlets for correct polarity, and all outlets within 5 feet of water sources (and in the garage or outdoors) for ground-fault protection.

> Open the breaker box, checking for proper wiring and no double-tapping of individual breakers. Note whether the breaker box in Federal Pacific or Zinsco, which lost their UL approval due to fire risk.

> Determine whether to recommend a secondary inspection for asbestos (such as for popcorn ceiling), mold (if moisture has been detected), sewer scoping (if the home might have clay sewer pipes), or a more thorough electrical or plumbing inspection based on observations made by the inspector.

> Look for foundation problems.

> Check all windows and doors for operability and for missing or damaged screens.

That’s just the beginning! Your agent can recommended a trusted inspector.

Regulation of Inspectors Nixed by Sunrise Review

Home inspectors are the last remaining professional in the real estate transaction process who is not regulated by the State of Colorado. I have long recommended that they be regulated.

Typically, home inspectors are given the lockbox code to enter a home, since the buyer’s real estate agent may not be there to provide access. That alone should justify the regulation, including criminal background check, of inspectors by the Division of Real Estate. 

However, Colorado will remain one of the few states that doesn’t register or regulate home inspectors, based on a “sunrise review” by the Colorado Office of Policy, Research & Regulatory Reform.

Before Putting Your Home on the Market, Take Care of the ‘Little’ Things!

I show a lot of homes to a lot of buyers each week, and I’m shocked at some of the conditions I see, many of which could have been taken care of at little or no cost. Here’s a list of the “Dirty Dozen.” Do any of them ring a bell for you?

1. Windows need washing. No home should be put on the market without washing the windows inside and out. I’ve seen homes with great views, but the dirty windows left a bigger impression than the views!

2. Screens are damaged. With our strong winds and sun, window screens don’t last forever. As they age, the damage from wind and sun really gets the attention of buyers, even more than those dirty windows. And replacing screen material is less expensive than you might think. I’ve taken mine to Ace Hardware and had them rescreened at low cost.

After rescreening your weather-beaten screens, I suggest removing and labeling them (with masking tape), and storing them in the basement or garage. Even if screens are not damaged, removing them is as effective as washing your windows.

3. The home is cluttered.  We all have too much “stuff” in our homes, so selling your home is a great time to thin out your possessions. Rita and I aren’t thinking of selling our home, but she’s on a decluttering kick, which I love and support!  Most things go to Goodwill or the Christian Action Guild or the Habitat ReStore. Others go on Nextdoor.com as giveaways or “for sale.” (On a personal note, call or email me if you’d like some great wooden shelves which cost $600 new but which we want to give away now that we have donated most of our books to a book drive.)

Some things, of course, go in the trash can or get added to our box truck the next time we do a dump run for a client.

5. The yard needs clean-up.  We all have bushes that need trimming or seasonal cutting back, or weeds in our gravel areas that need pulling or killing. This is especially important in the front yard, where they can make a bad first impression. If your yard needs a large-scale fall cleanup, I recommend the  Vietnamese family which performs that service for Rita and me.  It costs more, but it’s worth it!

6. Wall-to-wall carpeting needs stretching.  This is a task for which you need to hire a vendor , but nothing generates a bad impression quite like ripples in wall-to-wall carpeting.  It will set you back a few hundred dollars, but it’s money well spent.  If the carpet itself is old and worn and terribly out of style, consider replacing it. The few thousand dollars you spend has a good payback in that your home will actually sell instead of sitting on the market turning off visitors! We recommend buying neutral color berber carpet.

7. The home is dark.  A bright, well-lit home sells!  I applaud you for replacing your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, but CFLs are obsolete now that LED bulbs are available and inexpensive.  Last week I went to Batteries + Bulbs, and they were having a special on 60-watt equivalent LEDs. I left with 12 LED soft-white bulbs (same shape as traditional bulbs) for $4! Even if you pay more at Lowe’s or Home Depot, go ahead and splurge. I replaced all my home bulbs with LEDs, including the can lights in my vaulted ceilings. LEDs last forever, so it’s nice to know I won’t have to pull out my 8-foot ladder again anytime soon!  Many LED bulbs are now dimmable, too, unlike CFLs.

CFLs take a while to reach their full brightness, but LEDs are instant on.  In my garage I’m replacing two 8-foot fluorescent fixtures (drawing 300 watts) with a couple 2’ x 2’ flush mount LED fixtures which draw 9.2 watts each and provide equivalent lighting. I splurged on a motion sensor, so every time I enter the garage, the lights turn on until five minutes after I leave. Sweet!

Also, open your drapes and shades to maximize sunlight.

8. There are too many personal things.  This is rule #1 of staging a home for sale. Your family pictures, snapshots and refrigerator notes may make your house a home for you, but they create a distraction for visitors. Take them down.

9. There’s too much furniture. I showed a home last Sunday where the furniture had been thinned — but it was crammed into the garage. We couldn’t even enter the garage. Looking through the door, my buyer muttered “small garage.” In fact it just looked small because it was so full. (This is a basic principle of staging — a full closet, book shelves or whatever conveys a lack of space, whereas a partially full closet, etc., conveys abundant space.)  The stuff that you know you’ll take with you could go in a storage unit or into a POD. For the rest, see item #3 above. Note: I know a storage place that gives the first month free without requiring a contract, if they have vacancies.

10. The toilet lids are open. Closing your toilet lids is easy! It’s good Feng Shui, too.

11. Plug-in odor devices are in use. Every time I see one of these, it makes me wonder what the seller is covering up. Smoke? Cat smell? The “pleasant” smell is also unpleasant to many, myself included, so why use them?

12. The alarm system is armed. Some showing instructions include disarming and re-arming an alarm system. Do you want buyers to think your street has a burglary problem? In most cases, it doesn’t, so why raise the question?