Despite Global Pandemic, Our Real Estate Market Was the Hottest Ever for August

Much to the consternation of observers, the real estate market in metro Denver was hotter this August than it was in any previous August, according to the Market Trends Committee of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR). At this rate, 2020’s statistics at year end will likely exceed 2019’s statistics.

The report covers an expanded metro area, including 11 counties instead of the 7 urban and suburban counties that you and I think of as “metro Denver.” The non-urban counties included in the report are Clear Creek, Gilpin, Elbert and Park.

Detached single-family homes sold like crazy in August—up over 6% from August 2019, despite 50% fewer active listings at month’s end. The average sold price was up 13.8% from last year, and average days on market was down 23%.

Attached homes sold on a par with last year, although their inventory was also down — 19% fewer listings at month’s end. They did sell quicker, though, with days on market down by over 27%.

Unlike DMAR, I like to define the metro Denver market as within a 25-mile radius of the state capitol, as shown here, instead of by county. Using that method, the number of detached homes sold this August was up 13.7% from August 2019, and the sold price per finished square foot (my preferred metric) was up 7.0%. Average days on market dropped by 31%, but median days on market plunged 57% from 14 days in August 2019 to 6 days this year.

Even more interesting to me is that median days on market was in double digits until March 2020 — the first month of Covid-19 lockdown — when it dropped by 40% to 6 days, and remained in the 5- to 7-day range through August. It could be said that “Stay at Home” and “Safer at Home” really meant “Buy a Home” in the real estate business!

Average sold price within that  25-mile radius rose by 13.4% to $597,290, while median sold price rose by 11.6% to $505,000. The gap between average and median is attributable to a large number of million and multi-million dollar closings. I wish others would stop focusing on average stats for that reason.

The number of active listings (what we call “inventory”) plummeted from 6,483 in August 2019 to 3,444 in August 2020, a 47% decline.

Another measure of market strength is how many listings expire without selling. That number was 777 in August 2019, but it fell by 37% to 493 this year.

The average ratio of sold price to listing price was 100% both last August and this August — suggesting that roughly half the listings sold above full price. With half the homes selling in 6 days or less, it’s to be expected that there were multiple offers and possibly a bidding war on many listings.

This week my downtown Golden fixer-upper closed at $665,000, which was $40,000 over listing price. My Lakewood listing from last week is already under contract at $55,000 over full price. Clearly, the seller’s market is still hot despite the pandemic.

If you have considered selling your home, there couldn’t be a better time than now to put your home on the market. And you couldn’t do better than call one of us listed below to talk about it. Your home would, of course, be featured in my weekly Denver Post column and on this blog.

If you let us represent you in the purchase of your replacement home, the listing commission could be as low as 3.6% and qualify you for totally free moving!

Jim Smith— 303-525-1851

Jim Swanson — 303-929-2727

Carrie Lovingier — 303-907-1278

Chuck Brown — 303-885-7855

David Dlugasch — 303-908-4835

Carol Milan — 720-982-4941

If You Don’t Put Your Home on the MLS, You May Not Get What Your Home Is Worth

A reader wrote me last week complaining that some homes in her subdivision are being sold privately for less than they should, without putting them on the MLS. It bothered her because doing so creates lower comps that could affect what she is able to get for her own home when she sells.

Just as important, there are buyers who would like to move into her neighborhood who are frustrated when a home is sold before they can submit their own offer for it. And, of course, sellers are not getting the highest possible price for their home, as I’ll explain below.

Among the culprits are fix-and-flippers and “iBuyers” such as Open Door and Zillow Offers, who convince sellers to take a cash offer, claiming to save them the cost and inconvenience of listing their home on the MLS. More about them below, as well. (See my Jan. 2, 2019 and my Aug. 22, 2019 columns about iBuyers.)

If anyone offers to buy your home for cash without listing it, there’s one thing you can be certain of: they’re going to pay you a price that leaves lots of room for profit. That is money that could be yours if only you exposed your home to the full market by putting it on the MLS.

The worst thing you can do in a “sellers market,” which is what we have now, is to sell your home off the MLS. The next worse thing you can do is, after putting your home on the MLS, to sell it to a buyer who quickly offers you full price. If someone offers you full price on day one, you can be sure that there are other buyers who’d be happy to pay even more. Four days should do it.

But there is something worse than both those scenarios, and that is to put your home on the market at a price which does not attract any offers. I tell my sellers that they can overprice their home, but they can’t underprice it, because a low price can trigger a bidding war. An experienced Realtor like myself can help you set the perfect listing price. Just remember not to accept the first offer — unless that offer comes long after you put your home on the market, because you overpriced it.

What I see all too often is sellers putting their home on the market at a wished-for price, then lowering the price reluctantly over several weeks, and ending up getting only one offer, not multiple offers, at a price that’s lower than what they might have gotten if they had priced the home right initially.

It’s tempting, I know, to accept an unsolicited offer to sell a home without paying 6% commission, but I can’t even remember the last time I charged 6% commission. Remember, 2.8% of any listing commission goes to the buyer’s agent. Typically, sellers who try to sell “by owner” end up paying that 2.8%, so they only save the difference between 2.8% and the full listing commission, which is 5.6% on average. At least that is what I charge, and I reduce it if I sell the home myself, and I reduce it further when I earn a commission on the purchase of the seller’s replacement home.

If you factor in the totally free moving which I provide (locally, of course) when you sell and buy with me, it’s hard to justify not putting your home on the MLS with Golden Real Estate, thereby exposing it to all those bidders in this still-hot seller’s market.

Our Denver MLS, REcolorado, is now enforcing a new rule called “Clear Cooperation,” which was voted into being by the National Association of Realtors last November. It requires MLS members to put their listings on the MLS within 24 hours of promoting their listings in any way.

The rule is very simple: If a listing agent promotes his or her listing in any way — with a yard sign, tweet, Facebook post, or newspaper article, etc. — the listing must be on the MLS, either as “Coming Soon” or “Active.”  If it’s “Coming Soon,” the sign must say so, and it can’t be shown, even by the listing agent himself. Once shown, it must be changed immediately to Active status, making it available for showings by all members of the MLS. Prior to Sept. 1st, REcolorado only issued warnings, but fines are now being levied for violations.

So, yes, there can be off-MLS sales, but not involving an MLS member unless there was no marketing at all, not even emails to his/her clients. With “pocket listings” now banned, the focus now turns to the iBuyers, companies like Open Door, Zillow Offers and others which directly solicit homeowners to purchase their homes, charging a 7% “service fee,” with the intention of flipping the home for a profit.

Only time will tell whether this new rule, with fines being levied, will make a big difference, but it surely will make some difference.

Golden Real Estate Has an Opening for a Broker Associate

If you or someone you know is a full-time, experienced Realtor who shares our values of integrity and sustainability, then consider applying to be a broker associate at Golden Real Estate.

Our commission splits are very attractive and we offer many benefits — free showing service, free moving truck to offer clients, free leads, free Office 365 software, free promotion of your listings in our weekly “Real Estate Today” column published in the Denver Post and four weekly newspapers, and more.

Call Jim Smith at 303-525-1851 to discuss.

Sometimes when our buyer is in a bidding war, we even offer free moving to the seller, even though the seller is not our client! It has helped our buyer win the house they’re bidding on.

Beware of Brokerages That Offer to List Your Home for 1%

Perhaps you’ve seen the ads from a real estate company promoting a 1% listing fee. Some would consider this deceptive advertising, since the details are buried in fine print. In Colorado, you’ll pay an additional 2.8% fee to compensate the agent representing the buyer. That alone brings the fee up to 3.8%.  Also, the advertised rate requires that you buy your replacement home with the company. It’s all in the fine print.

Read the fine print! (You have 1 second to do so on this TV commercial.)

Would you really want to do business with a company that tricks you into granting an appointment by misrepresenting what they charge to sell your home?  We charge a little more, but you get far better marketing and, if we sell it ourselves, you could pay as little at 3.6% and get free moving to your new home.  Call Jim Smith at 303-525-1851 for details.

Note: Technically, the commission paid to the buyer’s agent is part of the listing commission even though it is paid by the seller at closing. Therefore advertising a 1% listing fee is in itself a lie. The listing contract would show 3.8%, not 1%. The fine print in the commercial also states that the 1% “listing fee” is increased if no commission is owed to the buyer’s agent. Therefore, 1% is not obtainable under any circumstance, although a listing agreement could be modified by the listing agent since commissions are always negotiable. I’m just referring to their “standard” commission arrangement as they are advertising it.

Real Estate Coach Thinks That I Should Charge Much More Than I Do. What Do You Think?

Business coaches exist in every industry, and I’ve dabbled in hiring a coach over the years.

When I first entered the business, I had a mustache, and Mike Ferry, the best known of all real estate coaches, said to shave it off because “people don’t trust agents with facial hair.” A week later I asked a seller why he listed with someone else, and he said, “Well, I didn’t trust you.”  Off it came!

Recently I was offered a free one-hour coaching session with a lesser-known coach, and I accepted the offer.

During the session, he thought I was giving my services away too cheap. He said I should charge 7% and not reduce my commission when I don’t have to share it with a buyer’s agent. (I charge 5.6% and reduce it to 4.6% if I double-end a transaction.)

He didn’t like that I further reduce my commission when I earn a commission on the purchase of a seller’s replacement home and that I provide totally free moving in that situation, too.

“You’re worth more than that,” he said.  I didn’t hire him as my coach.

What Is a ‘Variable Commission’ and Why Should Home Sellers Demand It?

This week’s column is intended to help those who might benefit from a better understanding of how real estate brokers are paid.  If you’re already well versed in this, please bear with me while I share some information with those who aren’t as well informed.

Before I explain what a variable commission is, let me explain who pays — and who receives — the commissions in the typical real estate transaction.

Normally, sellers pay the full commission to the listing agent, who then compensates the agent representing the buyer. How commissions are paid and shared is the primary purpose of the Multi-List Service, or “MLS” — to provide a system of  “cooperation and compensation.” If you’re a member of an MLS (a must if you want to do more than just word-of-mouth real estate), you commit to putting all your listings on it so that other MLS members can show and sell them. MLS listings disclose how much the “cooperating” broker will be compensated by the listing agent for procuring the buyer. 

Real estate firms may not dictate, share or discuss the commission rates that their agents charge sellers. To do so would constitute price fixing, a federal offense under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. Brokerages may, however, dictate the amount each agent offers to other agents who sell their listings. At Golden Real Estate, we, like most brokerages, require that our broker associates offer a minimum 2.8%  “co-op” commission.  Offering less could result, I’ve found, in fewer showings by other MLS members.

There’s some history behind that 2.8% co-op commission.  Before the Justice Department forbade  the real estate industry from engaging in the fixing of real estate commissions, the Denver Board of Realtors fixed the rate at 7% and pegged the co-op commission at 40% of that, which is 2.8%. Listing commissions began falling due to competition once Realtors could no longer tell sellers there was a “standard” commission, but the  co-op commission remained at 2.8% to assure their listings got shown by agents.  As a result, it’s not uncommon now for listing agents to receive less at closing than buyers’ agents, even though they absorb all the costs of listing a home — signs, advertising, photos, video tours, showing service, staging consultations, etc.

Perhaps you’ve seen ads offering a “1% listing commission.” Such ads conceal (except in their fine print) the fact that an additional 2.8% is added to compensate the buyer’s agent.  As noted above, the listing commission includes what the listing agent will pay the buyer’s agent, so promoting a “1% listing commission” is, quite simply, misleading or deceptive advertising.

That said, let me now explain what a “variable commission” is and why sellers should demand it.

A variable commission is one which is reduced when the listing agent does not have to compensate a buyer’s agent — in other words when the listing agent sells a listing to his own buyer or to an unrepresented buyer, such as an open house visitor. Listing agents like to “double-end” a listing, because doing so can double what they earn on a given transaction.

Sellers certainly want their listing agent to be motivated to sell their own listings, but when that happens,  should the agent share his good fortune with the seller?  That’s the purpose of the variable commission.

Typically, I list a home for 5.6%, committing half of that (2.8%) to paying a co-op commission, but I reduce my commission to 4.6% when I sell the home myself. That way, I still earn more, but my seller pays less.  I want it to be a win/win.

MLS rules requires that each listing disclose the existence of a variable commission, so that brokers representing buyers know what they are up against in the event their buyer must compete with another buyer who doesn’t have his own agent.

Before submitting an offer, buyers’ agents typically ask the listing agent if there are other offers in hand. If the MLS indicates that there is a variable commission, the buyer’s agent will want to know whether any of the offers are from unrepresented buyers and, if so, the amount of the variable commission differential.  If the differential (as with my listings) is 1%, then the buyer’s agent knows that his client’s offer has to be 1% higher than an unrepresented buyer’s offer in order to be of equal monetary value to the seller.

Likewise, when meeting with unrepresented buyers, the listing agent can advise them that the variable commission makes their offer worth 1% more if they don’t engage an agent to represent them.

At Golden Real Estate, we have other rewards we can offer the unrepresented buyer, including “totally free moving” — free use of our moving trucks, free moving labor, gas and packing materials — if they choose to work with us instead of hiring a buyer’s agent.

As a matter of principle, I believe that a variable commission should be part of every listing agreement. However, my own research of sold listing on the MLS found that less than 20% of them indicated a variable commission.  In other words, more than 80% of sellers signed a listing agreement that allows their agent to keep 100% of their commission if they double-end the sale.

My research has also shown that roughly 7% of all real estate sales are double-ended. Thus about 7% of that 80% missed out on a multi-thousand-dollar discount in their real estate commission that they might have enjoyed by listing with, say, a Golden Real Estate agent.

Many homes are sold before they are made active on the MLS. Some, but not all, are put on the MLS after closing, showing zero days on market. I mentioned above that 7% of MLS sales overall are double-ended, but that percentage jumps to roughly 31% for MLS sales with zero days on market. Of those, 70% did not indicate a variable commission.  Many of those sellers, one can surmise, not only did not get as high a price for their home as they might have if it had been put on the MLS as an active listing, but also lost out on a discounted commission.

It should be noted that while the MLS considers a variable commission worthy of having its own data field, the standard listing contract lacks any place to specify a variable commission. If the contract had a section to enter that information, more sellers might ask about it before signing. Instead, unless your agent offers it proactively, as we do, you may not think to ask about including it as an additional provision.

Here Are Some Questions Sellers Should Ask When Hiring a Listing Agent

Do you know what to look for in a listing agent, and the questions to ask during a listing presentation?

You’ll probably want to know their level of experience, competence and success in selling similar properties, hopefully within your city or neighborhood.

Like you, I monitor the real estate activity where I live, and I’m astonished how many homes are listed by agents I’ve never heard of. As I write this on Monday, there are 50 active or pending listings in my area, represented by 40 different agents!  No agent has more than three listings. And despite practicing real estate here for 17 years, I only recognize the names of 11 of them.

This is typical of every city. Where did the sellers find all those different agents to list their homes? Many, I suspect are friends and family — every agent’s biggest “competitor.” In some cases, the seller had just bought their replacement home elsewhere and was convinced by that listing agent to list their current home — not the best decision if that agent is unfamiliar with your neighborhood, lives far away, and is unable to show the home on short notice, answer questions from buyers, or keep your brochure box well stocked.

Or perhaps the agent sent a letter or taped a note to your door claiming to have a buyer for your home. That earned him or her an interview, in which the agent said that his buyer found another home but convinced you to list with them.

Let’s say, however, that you want to interview  listing agents and make a rational hiring decision.

First, choose the agents to interview based on their location and experience in your neighborhood or city. Second, study their active/sold listings to see (1) their geographic distribution and (2) how well they are presented on the MLS. 

For this you can use a shortcut I created,  FindDenverRealtors.com, which takes you to the page on Denver’s MLS for searching agents by name. In my case, you’d see a profile and my active, pending and sold listings. Search for the agent(s) you’re considering. Read their profile, if they created one. Look at their current and sold listings. Click on one or more of them to see how they described the home on the MLS. Did they list all the rooms, not just bedrooms and bathrooms, providing dimensions and descriptions, or just enter the mandatory fields? Keep in mind that, the best indicator of how they will serve you is how they have served previous sellers.

Looking at those listings will answer the most important questions which you’d ask in person, but you won’t have to take their word — the truth is there in front of you. You’ll learn, for example, whether they did point-and-shoot pictures or had a professional photographer shoot HDR (magazine quality) photos, and whether they created a narrated video tour or just a slide show with music.

Having chosen who to interview that way, ask these questions of those you invite into your home for an interview:

What commission percentage do you charge? Keep in mind, there is no standard commission. It’s totally negotiable, and the industry average is in the mid-5’s, not 6%.

See whether the agent volunteers that they reduce their commission when they don’t have to pay 2.8% to a buyer’s agent. If you have to ask them, consider it a red flag. They hoped you wouldn’t.

Ask the agent whether he or she will discount their commission if you hire them to represent you in the purchase of your replacement home.

Hopefully the candidate will have researched the market and make a sound recommendation of listing price. Beware of agents who inflate their suggested listing price so you will list with them.

When setting the appointment, ask the agent to bring a spreadsheet of their sold listings with dates, days on market, listing price and sold price.

Lastly, how will they promote your listing?  Measure their promises against what we do, published at www.HowWeMarketListings.info.

How Do You Know the Real Estate Agent You’re Interviewing Is Telling You the Truth?

This is a difficult topic, but it’s one that deserves discussion. As I’ve pointed out before, there are so many licensed real estate agents that fewer than half of them earn a living solely from brokering real estate transactions. (FYI, all ten Golden Real Estate agents are full-time, earning enough from their real estate careers not to require a second job.)

That means that the agent you are interviewing may feel lucky to have two or more transactions per year, and capturing you as a seller or buyer could be super important to him. This could cause him (or her) to exaggerate their level of success as well as their experience and market knowledge.

I can safely recommend every Golden Real Estate broker associate, not only because they are full-time and successful, but because they adhere to the Realtor Code of Ethics. I have let go previous associates when I observed or learned about ethical lapses. Unfortunately, all of us can recount times when we have observed ethical lapses by agents on the other side of a transaction.

The Pareto principle applies to real estate agents as it does to other occupations, with 20% of us doing 80% of the transactions.  And since the average real estate agent has only four closings per year, the median number of closings is probably closer to two. In other words, half of the licensed agents have two or fewer closings per year. That does not translate into a living wage.

In researching this topic, I googled the phrase “what does the average Realtor make,” and I urge you to do it, too — especially if you are considering real estate as a career.  It’s very discouraging.

A posting on www.TheStreet.com, for example, includes the following: “If you think you can just devote a few hours a week and make a nice income as a real estate agent, you are badly deluded. A national survey of agents and brokers who belong to the National Association of Realtors finds that agents who put in 60 hours or more a week have median earnings of $100,000 a year. By contrast, for those who put in less than 20 hours a week, the median is $8,930 a year.

    At Golden Real Estate we had about 100 transactions in both 2017 and 2018, or an average of 10 transactions per agent. We don’t need to mislead a buyer or seller regarding our level of experience and success. Also, we have weekly office meetings where we discuss all aspects of the business, often with guest speakers. We take the annual commission update class and the biennial Realtor Ethics class together in our office, so we’re all on the same page.

REcolorado.com, the Denver MLS, makes it easy to verify the level of experience of its members, and I have made it even easier by creating a shortcut URL, www.FindDenverRealtors.com, enabling you to search for an agent by name and not only see active and under contract listings but also their sold listings going back several years. Then you could click on a listing to see the quality and thoroughness of it.  That’s the best indicator of how well they’ll serve you.

One common mistruth told by agents is, “I have a buyer for your house.” All too often it’s a ruse to get your listing, after which they tell you that the buyer found another house, “but we’ll find you another buyer after it’s on the MLS.”

Another lie is “Our listing fee is 1%.” If you pause the end of that commercial (as I did), you’ll read that it doesn’t include the commission owed to a buyer’s agent (2.8% in our market), and if a buyer has no agent, the 1% fee is increased to 2%. Below is that freeze frame. The “fine print” is so small that I have transcribed it below the picture:

“Minimum commissions apply. 1% listing fee not available in all locations. Commission is subject to change. Buyer’s agent commission not included. For example, if the buyer’s agent commission is 2.5%, seller will pay a total commission of 3.5%. Listing commission increased by 1% of sales price if buyer is unrepresented.”