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?

Sunset Review Recommends HOA Dispute Resolution Function

Advocates of homeowner rights (like myself) were disappointed when Gov. Polis vetoed the bill that would have retained licensing of Community Association Managers. Now, the Colorado Office of Policy, Research and Regulatory Reform (COPRRR) has released its 2019 Sunset Review Report concerning the HOA Information and Resource Center.

COPRRR recommended continuing the HOA Information and Resource Center through 2025 and directing the Center to implement a dispute resolution process for HOA complaints, which it lacks now. A bill to that effect would have to be passed and signed by Gov. Polis.

Have You Noticed How Many Homes Are Selling for Over $1 Million? Here Are the Stats.

We Realtors are as surprised as anyone at the increase in home values, especially of the most expensive homes. The charts below speak for themselves. Not only are sales of million-dollar homes in Denver and Jefferson County increasing, but the time it takes such homes to go under contract has continued to go down.

Not shown in these charts is 2019, since we’re only 9 months into the year, but the number of sales for both counties thus far in 2019 is already about to surpass the sales for all of 2018, and the median days on market (DOM) is about the same as last year. Evidently, the number of sales over $1 million will continue to increase, while the days-on-market line may level off.

The number of sales of Denver homes over $1 million thus far in 2019 is 739, vs. 746 for all of 2018.  The yearly increase in million-dollar closings has ranged from 9.2% to 40% over the past 5 years.

Those are the statistics for all of Denver. The figures for Denver’s four quadrants (divided from each other by Colfax and Broadway) present differing market trends, as follows:

It’s worth noting that two of the quadrants — northwest and southwest Denver — have already recorded a big increase in sales for 2019 over all of last year. And the other two quadrants are likely to top last year’s sales, since there are currently enough homes under contract to make that happen. At press time there were 125 Denver homes over $1 million under contract — 78 in southeast Denver and 13 in northeast Denver, most of which can be expected to close in coming weeks. There are another 323 active Denver listings over $1 million, many of which could also sell by year’s end.

The number of Jefferson County homes over $1 million sold in 2019 through press time was 235, vs. 242 for all of 2018.  The yearly increase in million-dollar closings has ranged from 21% to 53% over the past 5 years. Those, however, are the statistics for all of Jefferson County. The figures for the four biggest Jeffco cities present differing market trends, as follows (Note: Golden stats are within city limits only):

Only Wheat Ridge is lagging in this trend of massively increased sales of Jeffco homes for over $1 million.  The other three cities are beating the county trend. The days on market for these four cities varied significantly from each other and from the Jefferson County statistics. 

For example, those five sales last year of million-dollar homes in Wheat Ridge had a median DOM of 298, while the 20 homes that sold last year in Lakewood had a median DOM of 25 and the 5 homes that sold in Golden had a median DOM of 89. The Arvada homes had a median DOM of 21 days.  The 15 Arvada homes that have sold thus far in 2019 have a median DOM of just 14 days.

While the market for lower-priced homes does show signs of slowing, the market for homes over $1 million seems only to be strengthening. This may be a reflection of the Trump tax cuts which are known to have helped the ultra rich more than those in lower income brackets. That discrepancy has also evidenced itself in the rates for jumbo loans, which have been lower in recent years than the rates for conventional mortgages. When I checked on Sunday, Wells Fargo was quoting jumbo loans at 3.5% and conventional loans at 3.625%.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, especially in the Middle East and on the domestic political scene, and I’m frankly surprised that the markets remain so stable.  It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the coming months and how that impacts the real estate market.

Golden Real Estate’s Agents Featured on RatedAgent.com

The website RatedAgent.com stands out from other websites which provide agent ratings, because it only surveys actual past clients shortly after the closing of real estate transactions. Because of that, there are no phony reviews or reviews by people who haven’t actually done business with the agent in question.

Not all brokerages pay the company that operates that website to survey its buyers and sellers, but we’ve been doing so for nearly a decade. That provides a lot of data which you can trust for each of our broker associates.

You can use the website to search for agents by name or to look for agents in specific cities.  It’s the first place I go when asked to recommend an agent for a buyer or seller outside our primary service area of Metro Denver.

If, for example, you search “Golden CO” on their website, you’ll see that all nine Golden Real Estate agents appear in the top 15 agents.  If you search other cities, some of us also show up.  (I myself am listed first in Golden, and second in Arvada.)

Check it out! It’s a valuable resource. It will give you comfort in asking any Golden Real Estate agent to help you buy or sell.

Cars Have Titles Which Are Transferred Upon Sale. Homes Do Not. So, What’s a ‘Deed’?

One of my sellers whose closing is fast approaching called me in a panic last week because she couldn’t find the deed to her house, which she thought she’d need to bring to closing.

I explained to her that a deed is not the same thing as a title, and that all she needs to bring to closing is her driver’s license or similar ID to prove who she is.

In fact, there is no “title” to her house. A deed is a legal document which transfers property. It is not proof of ownership. When a deed is recorded by the county clerk, it results in the county changing its records to reflect the new owner’s name, and the deed, once recorded in the clerk & recorder’s database, is then mailed back to the new owner. At that point, it doesn’t matter if you lose or misplace your deed, because the county has the proof of your ownership.

This is different from how motor vehicles are transferred, where you have a title to your car and must sign it over to the new owner when you sell your car. If you lose your title, there’s a procedure for replacing it, but you need that physical title to sell your car.  Not so with real estate.

Many people share my seller’s misunderstanding about deeds And there are different kinds of deeds. The deed used most often is a “warranty deed,” meaning that the seller warrants that they are the owner of the property and, with that deed, transfer it to the buyer.

There are “general” and “special” warranty deeds. I won’t go into the difference here, since the purpose of title insurance is to provide the buyer with a guarantee (regardless of the type of deed) that they are receiving the property free and clear of any claims of ownership or indebtedness by anyone other than the seller.

When a property being sold is in the estate of a deceased seller, it is sold by the “personal representative” of the estate (called an “executor” in other states), and the property is transferred via a “personal representative’s deed.” If the property is purchased at a foreclosure auction conducted by the Public Trustee (who enforces the “deed of trust” securing the mortgage for the lender), then the transfer is via a “trustee’s deed.” 

Whichever kind of deed is used, the fact remains that the deed only exists as evidence of the sale, and it does not need to be presented ever again.

I am not a lawyer, and I am providing this information as I understand it from real estate classes and from my experience as a real estate professional. You’ll want to engage a lawyer if you require further explanation, and I, like any real estate licensee, can refer you to one or more real estate lawyers.

My Advice on Buying Solar Panels and Electric Cars

By JIM SMITH

In the wake of last Saturday’s green homes tour and electric vehicle showcase, I’d like to share the advice I give to people who ask me about investing in solar power and buying an electric car.

As much as I wish it weren’t so, you will not recoup what you spend on solar panels, insulation and other green home improvements for your home when you sell it. As with any improvement, you will receive a percentage of what you spend, but it will not be anywhere near 100%. Only make those investments because you’ll enjoy the comfort and savings for at least a few years — and because it’s the right thing to do.

Regarding electric cars, I recommend buying a used EV. The used car industry has yet to properly value used EVs. Currently electric cars are devalued the same way gas cars are devalued, which doesn’t make sense. Consider a 4-year-old gas-powered car with 100,000 miles on it. You can probably get it for half its original price, because so many components, such as transmission, timing belt or fuel pump, are worn and might fail. But none of those components exist in EVs. There are under 50 moving parts in a Tesla. The same age EV is simply as good as new.

A used Tesla built before mid-2017 is an especially good deal, because lifetime free supercharging transfers to the buyer (unless purchased from Tesla). I’ve seen many Tesla Model S cars for sale online under $40,000, less than half their original price. Here’s one I found just now on autotrader.com….

Price Reduced on Rare Ranch Home in Littleton’s Trailmark

You’ll love this ranch-style home at 9379 S. Jellison Way. Not only has the price just been lowered by over $21,000 to $598,900, but Golden Real Estate is offering totally free moving (within Denver metro area) to help move this listing. Call 303-525-1851 for details! View a video tour at www.TrailmarkHome.info, or come to our open house this Saturday, Oct. 12th, from 11 am to 1 pm. At this price, this home won’t last long!

At Saturday’s ‘Green Homes’ Tour, You’ll Learn What’s Possible for Your Home

The Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is an annual event that happens on the first Saturday in October, which is this coming Saturday. For $10 per person, you get to go on a self-guided tour of 14 Jefferson County homes with a variety of green features.

I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about solar power and sustainability, but every year I learn things I didn’t already know by touring the homes on this tour.

Golden Real Estate is proud to be a platinum sponsor of this event each year. Also, I serve on the steering committee and help in a variety of ways, such as organizing the Electric Vehicle Showcase, which takes place during the post-tour reception, 4 to 6 pm in the CoorsTek parking lot at 10th & Jackson Street in downtown Golden. It coincides with the reception and Green Expo in the American Mountaineering Center (AMC) across the street.

You can register for the tour online at www.MetroDenverGreenHomesTour.org, but you’ll need to pick up your tour book and map, which you can do anytime on Friday at Golden Real Estate’s office, 17695 S. Golden Road, or on Saturday after 9am at the AMC, 710 10th Street.  If you don’t register online, you can do so at the AMC on Saturday morning.

Then you’re on your own, mapping out your own tour based on locations but also on what you read about each house in the tour book.

I couldn’t shoot video tours of every home, but I did choose two that the committee felt represented particularly interesting examples of sustainability. You can see those two videos on the website mentioned above. By watching those two videos you will learn things you didn’t already know, as I did by shooting them.

To quote from page 3 of the tour book, “In our ongoing effort to showcase a wide variety of solutions and lifestyles, you will see solar, of course, and also mini splits, ground source heat pumps and passive solar treatments. You can visit an Arvada sustainable new town home community [Geos] and enjoy many other sustainable lifestyle features such as co-housing, electric vehicles and water wise gardens. You will be viewing the tried-and-true in addition to the latest in innovative technologies, plus learning many steps used to eliminate red tape while going green.”

If you pick up your tour book at Golden Real Estate, let us show you how we transitioned to “net zero energy” using many of the features you’ll see on the tour, including heat pump/mini-split heating & cooling, solar panels, super insulation, and tankless electric water heating. Our monthly energy bill is $10.26 since having our gas meter removed two years ago. If you come in an electric car, you can plug in to our free ChargePoint charging stations — powered by the sun — while we show you around! Click here to read the Jan. 4, 2018, column I wrote describing Golden Real Estate’s transition to Net Zero Energy.

This Saturday’s tour is one of 79 such tours of 894 private homes happening this weekend as part of the National Solar Tour sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). And that doesn’t include, for example, last Saturday’s Boulder Green Home Tour, which had 10 homes on it. This is the 25th National Solar Tour, and we have participated for 23 of those years.

Don’t forget the Green Expo during the reception, 4 to 6 pm following the tour. Many companies which implement green solutions will have booths, and there will be an Electric Vehicle Showcase in the parking lot across the street. If you have an EV, bring it for display! If you’re interested in going electric, there will be test drives available. Also, Pedego Golden is bringing electric bicycles which you can test ride.  I have an electric bike, and I love it!

Also at the event will be the CSU Extension 4-H Mobile STEM Lab. The primary focus of the mobile lab is energy production and conservation, energy conversions and mechanical advantage for youth and adults.  Should be interesting!

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Were Last Week’s “Climate Strikes” Enough of a Wake-up Call on Climate Change?

We can thank Al Gore for educating us about global warming, but I wish a non-politician such as Carl Sagan had performed that service. I can’t think to any other scientific research which became partisan in a similar way.

Remember CFCs and the ozone hole? It wasn’t a partisan issue. The issue was addressed quickly in a bi-partisan manner.

It was meteorologists, not politicians, that taught us about El Nino and La Nina—the cyclical events in which changes in ocean temperature create weather patterns affecting our entire continent. No one has said El Nino is not real.  It is accepted science — like climate change.

It’s only because Al Gore introduced us to the “inconvenient truth” about climate change that his teachings were disputed and rejected as left-wing propaganda by those on the right. How sad, how unfortunate, and how deadly the consequences.

Last Friday I attended the “Climate Strike” event on the Colorado School of Mines campus and watched news coverage of bigger events around the world.  I’m 72 now, and, yes, the climate will worsen before I die. But those under 40 and certainly those under 20 are seeing the early effects of global warming and worry that their world will be unlivable by the time they’re my age.  For them, it’s a huge crisis.

Back in June, I attended my 50th reunion at M.I.T, during which there was a Technology Day symposium on climate change. One of the speakers, Prof. Noelle Selin, told us that the global concentration of carbon dioxide was 325 parts per million when we graduated in 1969, but now it was 410 ppm. She made us think about those who graduated in 2019 (who she dubbed “the Class of 410 ppm”) and speculated on the class that would be graduating at their 50th reunion. “Will it be the Class of 600 ppm or the Class of 700 ppm?” she asked. And what will life be like for them at their 50th reunion?

It was a sobering presentation. And you can be sure that it was even more sobering for the Class of 2019 and for M.I.T. students who have yet to graduate.  To view her 19-minute presentation, click here.

The impact on real estate — and national security — is apparent when you consider all the “climate refugees” who are likely to migrate from heavily impacted areas such as the Bahamas, Florida, Houston — and Syria, where drought, as much as civil war, contributed to the exodus of Syrians to Europe. Indeed, over a decade ago the U.S. Defense Department labeled climate change a threat to national security. You can understand why.  I do.

The headline of my column on Jan. 14, 2014 was, “We May Have Already Passed the Tipping Point on Climate Change.” That statement was based on the already dramatic reduction in summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, as documented by the Earth Policy Institute at Rutgers. I published their chart showing a correlation between the increase in atmospheric CO2 from 300 to 400 ppm since the Industrial Revolution, and the 50% loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic between the late 20th Century and 2013. 

The reason loss of sea ice creates a tipping point for our climate is that sea ice, being white, reflects sunlight, whereas open ocean, being dark, absorbs sunlight, causing more ice to melt and to melt faster. A warmer Arctic region in turn upsets weather patterns worldwide.

Almost six years have passed since I wrote that column, and now the Arctic Ocean is open and navigable for part of the summer. We have learned the term “polar vortex” and experienced the effects of wilder than normal fluctuations of the jet stream. Warmer oceans in the tropics have caused stronger, slower hurricanes, causing 100-year floods to become frequent, as we have already seen in Houston. These effects were already happening back in 2012 with superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey and even here in Colorado with the heavy rains and flooding of Sept. 2013.

Unfortunately, we have a president who will never admit he was wrong, so he will never admit that climate change is real, that it is exacerbated by CO2 emissions, and that the only hope, if there is any this late in the game, of reducing the impacts of climate change is to drastically reduce the output of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane. Instead, inaction on climate change, and worse, may be this president’s #1 legacy.  How sad.