Latest trends in the Denver real estate market, new listings, stats, homes for sale, what to look for in a Realtor

It took Dr. Richard Alpert, Timothy Leary and countless hits of LSD to learn one simple truth: Be Here Now. So what can the psychologist-turned-spiritual guru, Baba Ram Dass, teach you about today’s Denver real estate market? BUY. HERE. NOW.
With nary a trace of mind-altering substance in sight, I can honestly tell you that the time to list your home for sale in the Denver metro area is NOW.
“How now” you say?
• Because EVERYONE else IS WAITING until spring.
• Because buyers ARE out looking.
• Because SHOWINGS ARE UP and inventory is down.
• Because all FOUR OFFERS I wrote in January created a BIDDING WAR.
Now, we all know war is not the answer but in real estate, a competitive market results in sellers driving their purchase price above their asking price. At this point (Jan/Feb, so I’m being here this quarter) the demand exceeds supply and buyers are flying out to snatch up well-priced properties like savvy shoppers after Christmas at Filene’s Basement. There is simply not enough out there. And I’m not just talking of the under-$200-first-time-buyer/investor end of the market. A home priced at or around $300k is likely to move well, despite the common seasonal perception, the Super Bowl or the weather. On Friday, as constant snow flurries were rapidly accumulating inches, agents were rushing out to show homes in order to present their offer s before the “Highest & Best” deadline. (I know this, I was one of them.) Today I submitted an offer for a buyer on a property, sight unseen. The home fit his criterion and he’d been beaten out three other times, so today we take no prisoners.
If you are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the winter storm to pass before you list your house, remember… you could be pushing up daisies before the crocus pushes through the frosty ground. Now, I don’t mean that in the literal sense of the metaphor, but in the BE HERE NOW spirit.
If you’d like more information on the value of your house, trends in your neighborhood, or a yoga class near you, send me a vibe, a text or find me on Facebook. As the guru said…“We’re all just walking each other home.”
― Ram Dass

I tend toward optimism. The New Year is always quite appealing. It’s not that I believe there will be a sudden, magical turn in the way life works, ushered in by a herd of unicorns; I like the New Year in the same way I like clean, white sheets.
January is filled with energy, coming off of the seasonal rest we call the holidays. Things are wrapped up with shiny bows; gifts and year-end spread sheets. There is an ending, the ball drops, you rest, wake up and begin all over again. I love it. For many 2011 was a rough year; a devastating tsunami, a lingering doubt over the debt ceiling and our jobs. For others it was glorious; oppressive regimes were overthrown and the taste of freedom filled the air. The global economic uncertainty of the day can stop you in your tracks if you let it, but even Chicken Little eventually realized it was not the sky that was falling, but the rain.
Here in Denver, 2011 was not the worst year in the housing market. Though families still struggle to keep their homes, those numbers are receding and we are well beyond the “crisis”. Investors have stepped up (or rushed in) to purchase distressed homes, gentrifying neighborhoods and flipping them for first time buyers or building their portfolios with buy and hold strategies. Vacancy rates in Denver are under 2%, making landlords very happy. This is all good news as the housing market recovers from the ground up.
We begin 2012 with the standard economic indicators up; consumer confidence, GDP, retail sales, housing starts and existing home sales, while the unemployment is slightly down. The good news kibble:
• Pending Home Sales index from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) went UP 7.3% in November, hitting its highest level since April 2010!
• NAR’s chief economist commented, “Housing affordability conditions are at a record high and there is pent-up demand from buyers who’ve been on the sidelines. The sustained rise in contract activity suggests that closed existing-home sales should continue to improve in the months ahead.”
• The S&P Case-Shiller index for October showed minor price drops in 19 of the 20 surveyed metro areas, but the index was UP 1.9% from its post-crisis low in March 2011.
I am a news junkie, constantly scanning cable news shows and internet sources to see what the ‘experts’ have to say and to learn both sides of the issue. Lately, where real estate is concerned, everything I watch says yes. Even the “con” side says “yes with caution”, which makes perfect sense to me.
As we head full gallop into an election cycle, we can expect to be pummeled for the next ten months with tales of silver linings, predictions of doom. That’s their job. Mine is to help people buy, sell and invest in real estate, creating wealth in the process. Cue the Unicorns.

You can’t make anybody do anything they don’t want to do. If you’ve ever had a toddler or a teen, a sibling, a parent or friend, if you’ve been married or had the crazy ex crashing ‘temporarily’ in the basement you know this is true. Some things you just have to want to do, like diet… or… go out with this guy.

Even when what you want to do is what you’d like to do, what you should do, nobody can make you do it. Knowing that smoking is bad and vegetables are good has little bearing on our choice to do one and avoid the other. Doing the good thing actually doubles its positive effect as it tends to steer us away from the bad thing, though I do know some smokers who eat their broccoli. When it comes to other people, nothing is accomplished by force, even if it’s “well-meaning”.
I see this daily as a Realtor. Even though eating broccoli and buying a house are both good ideas to insure a healthy future, no matter how marketing I do on a listing or how market data I present to a buyer, I cannot make someone purchase a home. The Denver market is stable; prices have been slashed from their 2006 highs, leveled out and are slightly up for the first half of the year. More of cool neighborhoods, the ones you were priced out of in the bubble? Well, they’ve become affordable. In short, EVERYTHING IS ON SALE! Including the money.
So why aren’t buyers jumping? Because no one can make you do anything. If you are worried about your job, you may be afraid of transferring your low-interest savings account or CD into a down payment on a home, I get that. Cash on hand is a good thing, in fact I recommend it, but what is your return over the next ten years? Spending money every month on rent and passing an opportunity to invest in yourself makes as much sense as smoking broccoli. Smart buyers are building wealth by paying themselves first and getting more house for their money. Buy and hold and fix ‘n flip investment strategies are helping clients create cash flow.
Even as Irene raged to ravish the East Coast, many chose to stay put and ride it out. Is that the right strategy for you in today’s economy? How will you feel in five or ten years knowing you missed best real estate market for home buyers in your lifetime?

I have my sons fifty weeks a year, so the time without the demands of motherhood is always at a premium. I set out to use it wisely, make a to-do list and then return from the airport run to crawl under the covers for a quick nap. The week progresses, the list morphs, and I home in on how to use my precious time. Sometimes going dancing makes the cut, sometimes it’s filing, but it is specific. When the week flew by, I scanned to see what I had accomplished in my solitude and what I learned.
The difference between busy and productive will determine your level of success and they can work together if you know how to work ‘em. As a Realtor, writer and single mother, time management skills are critical to the balance of my business and my soul (not to mention keeping the kids alive and on time). Though I still don’t quite believe that time can be “managed”, my days are now color coded and time blocked according to priority, with a bit of flexibility dashed in like salt. I learned to do this during a productivity program created by Darice Johnson called Efficiency by Design . Though I fought it at first, I found that when I imposed structure I discovered enough “type A” in my artistic personality to produce results within multiple income streams. Let’s take a look into our elegant mono-tasker, the honey bee.

1. Busy is busy but counter productive. Unless you’re a bee. Think about the last time you spoke to a friend who answered the question, “How are you?” with “Oh god, I’m so busy”, only to regale you with tales of the cat and the vet, enrolling the kids in school and quarterly taxes. Now each of these tasks will keep you busy and they must be done but the results they produce have their benefits: avoiding jail time, dead cats and smarter children, but they fall under the category of life maintenance.
2. Productivity produces. Especially If you’re a bee. If the aim of business is to make money, all related tasks must lead directly to direct deposit. It’s easy to lose sight of this in all of the busyness, especially if you work from home. As I watch the laundry pile up, I must remind myself that “I launder, therefore I am” ain’t gonna buy new socks when they disappear.
3. Busy lies like a mirror. You think because you haven’t stopped moving, you’ve actually accomplished something but when you take that hard look at the list (or the mirror), you find it doesn’t quite look like you imagined.
4. Busy and productive can co-exist. If you are clear in your definitions, aware of your actions, and a bee. The key here is to focus on the flower. When the honey bee flits from flower to flower she has one intent, one overall purpose; gather pollen, feed the larvae. There is no extraneous action here, no gabbing on the phone about the cat. Even the drone has one purpose, to mate with the queen, though I must remind you that because their sole purpose is to screw around they’re the first to go when the colony’s low on food. Your average female honey bee is highly social and communicative, relaying direction and distance to pollen sources (obviously this is why they don’t bother much with the drones), and in a prime example of mutualism, spreads the wealth and the pollen of creativity to the rest of the world as she stays focused on her goal.
5. Bee intentional. Nature provides seasonal deadlines for the Apidae family, I must create them for my own. Since I began time blocking my productivity has increased, while my busyness (and stress level) has been cut in half. As a Realtor, my productive time (lead generation and conversion) leads to the busy time (contract to closing) and they must constantly be kept in balance. As a playwright, I depend on deadlines to insure that time is scheduled into my week and there’s nothing like a public reading or pending production to keep my ass in gear. So how do I do it? When I’m in the time allotted for a task, it is all I do. Period. No email, no phone call (except from the school) interrupts which makes it easy to relax into production mode because I know that the next thing belongs to the next time slot. It is the next flower.
So take a tip from those who make life much sweeter, take flight and Do-Be-Do-Be-Do my friends!

Recently I got a call from a gal I’d worked with on One Book, One Denver. “I’m getting married, relocating, and I need to sell my condo. Can you come meet me?” Of course. We met for a post-work beverage and talked about her marriage plans, the condo and then she popped the question, “Can you sell it for me?” Well, don’t you know how much I love to hear that question? Two days later I met Gina at her Mayfair townhome, a beautifully remodeled, two-bedroom, single story corner unit. We talked about timing her sale with the wedding and the move to Atlanta. All I could focus on is the fact that with so much big life stuff going on, I wanted to make sure the sale would go off without a hitch. Not always easy but always the goal, real estate transactions are an intense mix of business and personal and I consider it my duty to make sure your stress level is as low as possible.
Next we discussed price (usually where sellers feel a bit of an upsurge in their blood pressure) and settled on an opening list price smack in the middle of the competition with the agreement that we’d revisit the subject after a week on the market.
Now, it already looked like a shiny penny, “Pottery Barn Perfect” in Realtor parlance, but being a smart cookie she asked what needed to be done before we put it on the market. And then she did an amazing thing; she took notes and had all the polishing done within a week! I scheduled the photos for the virtual tour, put my marketing strategy in place and blasted it out to the market. After Sunday’s open house, I called Gina to tell her that I wasn’t excited about the showing activity in the first week and we decided to make a slight price adjustment. Monday we had three showings and an offer, lower than what we wanted but certainly high enough to open the conversation. Gina had shared with me the dollar amount she wanted for her home, which was reasonable, so it was very clear going into the negotiations what I was after. And they took it! Ten days, desired price, 30 days to a successful close.
Market data consistently shows that well-priced homes sell faster and for more money than homes which start high and chip away at the list price, especially true in this market. When a seller goes into the relationship with high motivation, reasonable expectations and trusts the advice of their Realtor®, things have a good chance of going smoothly. So what do I consider reasonable? As a seller, you have to be able to wrap your head around a few things.
• Your house is a commodity, not a product. A commodity is worth what the buyer is willing to pay for it. A product, like a hamburger, can be sold with the right marketing, like photos with enough glycerin on the patty to make it look really juicy. No matter how pretty your pictures are, your home is an emotional commodity.
• Just because you added the deck five years ago doesn’t mean you get to add that on to the price. Home improvement is tricky when it comes to selling your home. If you’re fixing it up to sell it, you’re putting that money in to make sure you get the highest amount of its fair market value. If your improvements have happened over time, they have most likely increased the value of your property, and you’ve had the pleasure of living with them. There is no guarantee that the $20k you shelled out for that sparkly new kitchen will result in a $20k return on your investment. I always tell my clients to make the changes they’d enjoy living with and deal with the rest when you want to sell it.
• Expect to pay for some pre-market repairs. You’ve been looking at that paint chip on the threshold, or the gold fixtures in the bathroom for so long you don’t even see it anymore. Buy your buyer will. And the little things mean a lot; new paint, bath fixtures, maybe some lighting and a professional cleaning will do wonders for your home’s appeal. You’re up against a lot of sellers who are doing their best so you gotta bring you’re A game!
• Buyers buy either from emotion, practicality, or a mix of both. If your goal is to sell your home for the most money in the least amount of time, make sure you keep this point in mind. You want them to fall in love with the home and you want them to write an offer. I can look at the MLS and tell you which homes in your neighborhood are going to be the next to go under contract. They’re the ones who hit either or both points. Make your house shine and price it well!
• Choose a good Realtor® and then listen to her. If you’ve chosen wisely, you’ve got an expert in your local market working as your advocate. Market conditions are what they are and they’re changing on a daily basis. You may have bought or sold a few homes over the years but there’s a good chance your agent has closed a few last month. That’s what we do and we don’t want to fire sale your house, quite the opposite. Happy clients refer business.

Hey, it worked for Gina!

Creativity is the strongest force on earth; artists, visionaries and innovators lead us into the future. We’ve got some mad skills that actualize potential where others may only see what is possible.  Be sure to click on the Thriving Artist Alliance page above and I’ve created a lovely video to inspire you. CLICK HERE TO WATCH

Because it’s boring. Because any schmo can do that. Because if I want to be generic, I might as well mail Bronco’s schedules to a neighborhood of strangers. Throwing a bunch of stats and market predictions up on the Internet works for some agents, I’m sure. It just doesn’t work for me. Every transaction is a human transaction as well as a business transaction, every purchase or sale is personal. Real estate is first and foremost about my community and the people in it. I write about the things they love to do, and the things they do that I love: art, music, theatre, social and philanthropic events, neighborhoods, gatherings. These are the things that interest me because they are the stories of people’s lives.
In the six years I’ve been in the real estate business I’ve found a few things to be true. No matter what the market data says on any given day, most people buy and sell homes because there lives are in transition. They are either creating change in their lives or their lives are changing them. A new job, job loss, new partner, a marriage, a baby, a second child, more space, less space, taking on a new adventure, making the decision to own vs rent, downsizing, downsized, death, divorce, illness, relocation; these are the reasons people buy and sell homes. I’ve only had one client who bought a home because they wanted more closet space…for their new baby.
Market conditions factor in to these changes, inform decisions and how they may play out, but I am in the people business not in sales… at least that’s what I tell myself.
Your home a lot more to you than a financial investment, it is an emotional one as well. This is where you laugh, you cry, plant seeds and break bread, so whether you are looking to buy or looking to sell, I get that. No matter what is happening in the “market”, houses hold our stories, neighborhoods ground us in community and when there are children and schools to be considered, it is critical to find the right fit. When my son entered school and joined the local soccer team, I remember sitting on the congress Park practice field one autumn afternoon chatting with the other moms and thinking…I’m going to spend the next twelve years with these women, we will share our lives. And we have.
So… you will get stories of the things I love about living and sharing our lives together in Denver. You will hear about what’s going on in your neighborhood, learn about what I like about neighborhoods around town, and find out about some cool things to do on a Sunday afternoon. And yes, you will also get market data in the mix or served up solo. I’ll curate, aggregate and create information I think you will find useful, helpful, and occasionally humorous. We’ll share stories, okay?

This summer the real estate market feels like it’s at a stand-still. Stifled by negotiations over the debt ceiling, worries about the economy, unemployment, and all the pre-election spin, the market ain’t so hot this July. And yet, I have clients who are making the market work for them. As sellers move from the hopes of spring to the mid-summer “I thought it would have sold by now” pit in their stomach, buyers have ample opportunity to make a move. With mortgage rates low, lots of discounted inventory out there and sellers willing to negotiate, I wonder why so many buyers are still on the fence. I came across some stats from Inman last week that show the desire to own a home is still strong.

Renters: Owning a Home Still a Priority
Most Americans still believe that owning a home is a solid financial decision, and a majority of renters aspire to home ownership as a long-term goal. According to the 2011 National Housing Pulse Survey released recently by the National Association of Realtors®, 72 percent of renters surveyed said owning a home is a top priority for their future, up from 63 percent in 2010.

The survey also shows that we still believe in home ownership as a way to build financial security. With the stock market high and the interest paid on your savings account low, what better time to invest in yourself than when you can purchase a home ‘on sale’ rather than ‘for sale’?

Seven in 10 Americans also agreed that buying a home is a good financial decision while almost two-thirds said now is a good time to purchase a home. The annual survey, which measures how affordable housing issues affect consumers, also found that more than three quarters of renters (77 percent) said they would be less likely to buy a home if they were required to put down a 20 percent down payment on the home, and a strong majority (71 percent) believe a 20 percent down payment requirement could have a negative impact on the housing market.

The way I see it, two things stand in the way of qualified buyers taking the leap:
1. People don’t believe mortgage rates will go up.
2. Fear that the market will fall further.
There has been talk of rising rates for years, and yet they have remained low. Today they are still under 5%, but they will rise eventually and nobody can tell you when. As for market decline, Denver indicators continue to show we have more than likely reached the bottom. At this point we are flat, some fluctuation but nothing too dramatic. Even if home prices were to fall a bit further, as long as you intend to stay in your home for five or more years, the odds of your making money are in your favor.
If I could show you how to get into a home you can afford, with a solid loan product at a good interest rate, would you still be putting money in your landlord’s pocket? Rent or own…what’s your opinion?

As an actor, the most common question is “How do you memorize all those lines?” As a Realtor© it goes something like this… “How come your comps say my house is worth X when Zillow says Y? “
I’ll tell you why. Real estate websites have transformed the consumer experience when buying or selling, bringing to the public the listing and sales info that used to be private and difficult to get to. Some of this consumer info sharing has been good for all. A buyer, for example, can reduce our power-shopping trips by searching for homes that suit their needs, send a list of what they want to see and off we go. Well… after I double check the listing information, as much of it is out of date; homes sold but still listed as active, short sales if my client has a move in time frame, homes that have been on the market for a year… these get scratched from the shopping list. But for sellers it can be a different story.
These sites appeal to the savvy seller, empowered by access to the information provided, They try hard to do a lot of the work for you, grabbing recent sales, public record and homes listed in your neighborhood, then running them through a computer program and, in some cases, going so far as to create an estimated value on your property. Here’s where it gets tricky. Computer programs have no discernment.
I recently got on Zillow to double check one of my listings to make sure the information was correct. What I found was a massive error stating that according to public record the home had sold in 1997 for $150,000, a “fact” I cannot find anywhere. With a price point over $600,000, this is a costly mistake and one my sellers were understandably unhappy about. I’ve contacted them numerous times to correct, but so far nothing. I checked back yesterday and the website’s value of the property had gone up $17k in one week for no apparent reason. In my own neighborhood, Zillow has deemed my home worth nearly 40k less than what I can sell it for, largely due to a few foreclosures nearby, and this is happening all over the city.

A computer takes the description of your home from the public records, or from a recent listing, determines the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage, and pulls out the closest homes to yours that have sold recently that have similar data on record. The computer can’t necessarily distinguish nuances in a property’s condition or aesthetics, nor does it always correct for whether the house two blocks over was a short sale or a foreclosure. Depending on where you live, how similar homes are to each other in your area, the level of sales activity near your home and the level of accuracy found in the public records for your house and nearby homes, these sites can offer very comparable “comps” — or comparables that aren’t really comparable at all. If you live in a fairly cookie-cutter subdivision where several homes just like yours have sold very recently, you’re likely to get a good set of comparables, and a value estimate that’s at least in the ballpark. But in many areas, lots of fairly common scenarios can come between you and a good comp/bad comp:

Your home is older and has had a lot of improvements and even additions that are not in the county records.
Homes in your area are very different from each other.
You live in a neighborhood very nearby another neighborhood where homes have a much higher or lower value than your area , say, because they belong in a better school district or even on the other side of the city limits.
Your home is in an area where homes are dense, the algorithm might jump over many very nearby properties to get to a relatively dissimilar one even a half-mile away, and that can give you bad comps.

The listings provided by the sites can be very useful for homeowners trying to stay on top of what homes around theirs are selling for — not listed for, but actually selling for. They are less useful, in my opinion, at placing values on properties; the sites that do this usually have their accuracy rates listed somewhere on the site, and I haven’t yet seen one that’s impressive.
But when it’s time to actually list your home, or figure out what it is worth, no computer — no algorithm — is as accurate as a living, breathing local real estate professional who sees and sells all the different specimens of homes in your neighborhood and sees firsthand what ready, willing, qualified buyers actually pay for them, day in and day out.
I think it’s important for sellers interviewing listing agents to discuss the online comparables with prospective listing agents, but not as a counterargument to what the listing agents recommends you list your home for. Rather, it’s a smart way to see some of what the agents know, and what you can learn about the other properties in your area. If you’d like a detailed estimate of home values in your neighborhood or a comparative market analysis of your home, give me a ring, I’d be glad to help.