I live in Denver. The houses here can be pretty old. Beautiful Victorians, Denver Squares and Craftsman Bungalows line the graceful streets with their Dutch Elm trees and cracked sidewalks. As a real estate agent who specializes in the downtown Denver neighborhoods, I know these homes, some of them rather intimately. When my buyers are swept off their feet by a charming Congress Park home, the first thing I tell them before we write the offer is “Don’t get too excited until after the inspection.”
Regardless of the snappy remodel and those shiny granite counters, over 40% of previously owned homes on the market have at least one major defect. Even the ‘gently used’ newer homes, like the Mid-Century Modern homes in my Dream House Acres neighborhood most likely needs some repair or improvement, that’s to be expected. The trick is to find out what problems may be lurking up ahead and avoid them or know the price of the remedy. My suggestion for both buyers and sellers is to get an inspection.
There are many things you can do to gather information on your new home, depending on how deep you want to go and how much you want to spend. A home inspection and sewer scope are essential, though you can add radon and mold testing, meth lab testing, surveys, air & soil samples, you name it. No matter how far you go, there are sure to be some surprises, the trick is to uncover them first. Sellers can benefit from a pre-listing inspection in two ways. 1. Prepare yourself for issues that may concern your buyer and address them before going on the market. 2. For a quick sale, offer your buyer your inspection report along with the neighborhood comps and a price that reflects any pressing repairs. That way you can show the value and be firm on your price.
The most serious things to be on the lookout for are:
• Horizontal foundation cracks. Diagonal stress around window sills and thresholds is pretty normal in an old house, but the horizontal cracks require more information and perhaps the advice of a structural engineer.
• Major house settlement. Everything settles, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re at sea when you’re walking down the hallway. I see homes in Park Hill and the Highlands, as well as other Denver neighborhoods, with hardwood floors that slant or slope. Some of these houses are 100 years old, most of the settling has already occurred. If it feels wonky, have a good talk with your home inspector or ask for one who is a structural expert.
• Broken or cracked sewer line or tap. Always have the sewer line checked before you buy. Always. Even if you have to scope, pay for the roots to be cleaned out and re-scope, it’s worth it. You want to know the integrity of the line, its connections and what that line is made of. Sewer line issues are not always deal breakers, often times the seller (even the banks) will give you a credit for repairs. What you don’t want is for that puppy to break just as you put that last piece of Grandma’s china in the hutch.
• Defective roof or flashings. Putting on a new roof can be expensive and like a sewer line, it’s not too sexy. Cost varies as well, depending on the type of roof currently on the house and whether it can be repaired. If the roof is middle-aged with little or no damage, have your agent (that’d be me of course 😉 ask the seller for a five year certification.
• Cracked heater exchange or failing air-conditioning compressor. Here again, I always ask that the heating and air systems be cleaned and certified by a licensed HVAC technician.
1. Chimney settling or separation. You will want to know if your beautiful wood-burning fireplace is in good working condition or if it can be converted to gas. An inspection of the chimney is your first step, though I would strongly advise you have a chimney expert out to take a look before you light a fire.
• Moisture in the basement. Once again, not always a deal breaker but you want to know the cause and if it’s been fixed. Moisture is the leading cause of foundation problems and mold so follow the water.
• Mixed plumbing. Many times upgrades have been done over time in these old houses, mixing copper pipe with the original galvanized plumbing. Get an idea of what you’ve got and how much it would cost to convert all to copper either now or in the future.
• Aluminum wiring and an undersized electrical system. We use a lot more electricity now than in 1920 when the house was built. Look to see if the wiring is aluminum and how big the electrical panel is. Being under-energized can cause breakers to blow, lights to flicker and present a possible fire hazard. Now, I’ve sold plenty of homes with older wiring and less than state-of-the-art sub-panels but if you have any doubt, call an electrician.
• Infestation. Though termites and carpenter ants are not as common in Colorado as they are in other markets, they do exist here. During the winter, critters like squirrels, pigeons and raccoons can nest under decks and porches or in eaves and attics. Be on the alert for any potential access points so you’re not harboring refugees come springtime.
• Environmental hazards including underground plumes, radon, asbestos, and lead-based paint. Unless they’ve been abated, nearly all of these old houses have some lead based paint somewhere under those layers; radon and asbestos are also common. If the radon levels are in the acceptable range and the asbestos is contained, you may not ever have an issue and both can be mitigated. Many cities have underground plumes or areas where water has been shown to have a higher risk of contamination. You can find out by searching Google as most of this is in public record. . It is always a good idea to hire an environmental expert to assess any health risks or concerns you may have about the home.
Have I scared you right out of the contract? Not to worry. The big message here is to make sure you hire the experts. A certified home inspector will provide clearer and better information than your Uncle Louie, even though he knows his way around a house. Have your agent schedule your inspections as soon as you go under contract and make sure to be there along with your Realtor. You’ll want to ask a ton of questions and make sure you get a complete package of the inspection report.
Knowledge is your best protection against buying a home based more on emotions, rather than as a sound investment. Knowing what is up ahead brings peace of mind.
Looking for to the warming weekends but not quite ready to head to the high country? Here’s a “Honey-do” list that will slough off those winter blues and spring you into the season. Whether you are preparing to put your home on the market or just want to lighten your spirits without breaking the bank, the first 4 simple home improvement tips will put you on the right track.
Closets- You’ve heard this a million times and you’ve probably done it only once. Cleaning out your closets can feel great, once you get over the idea that your favorite dress will ever come back in style or that you’ll really get back into a 2. (And if you did, wouldn’t you want to buy all new clothes?!) One by one, take your clothes out of your closet and toss what you don’t wear. Seriously. I’ve hauled things up and down from the cedar closet for years before I ever fessed up to the truth. YOU WON’T MISS IT. And the two things I regretted tossing, I forgot about. Now wipe down the baseboards inside and re-paint your closet white! Purchase plastic hangers (all the same color) and re-hang all of your clothes white to black facing left. Okay, there’s a bit of my control freakish mentality peeking out here but, this is like Virgo crack!
Baseboards- The lowly baseboard. Easy to scuff, last to get painted. Brighten up the whole house by washing and repainting these once a year. It’s one of those secrets that make a home feel bright and fresh. Personally, I assign this task to my children for any number of reasons. They like to make $$, they need to learn to do things other than shoot virtual zombies, and they’re already closer to the floor.
Garage- This one is especially important if you’re listing your home to sell. Clean out your garage! Ditch the rollerblades your kids have outgrown and the ones you bought to blade with them. I mean, those have only been worn once or twice, right? Once you’re clean, it’s time to paint. That white you used in the closets would look great, adding sparkle to the most under-improved part of the house. Power-wash the floors, hang your tools, rakes on that new pegboard and throw the skis up into the rafters. Now it’s time to shake out the camping gear, pump up the bike tires and you’re ready for summer activities!
Windows- One thing that I always notice about a new house is that all of the windows and window sills are spotless. Windows shine and make your home look the kind of clean that makes buyers bite. There are many products you can attach to your garden hose to spray the winter off of the outside and if you have a good squeegee, they’ll turn out squeaky clean. Now it’s time to tackle the inside glass and the sills. Those sills, by the way, need to be more than wiped down. Take your window cleaning solution, a towel and some cotton swabs to make sure you remove all traces of dirt from the crevices. It really makes a difference. If you’ve got an older home with wooden windows, try to make sure they all open safely and easily. Many times they’re painted shut or the ropes are broken: Buyers will find this out on inspection. And though it’s not normally a deal breaker, it will reduce your offer when a buyer calculates the cost of new windows throughout the house. There are companies who will come and make minor repairs or replacements and you can give them a new coat of paint once they’re gone. Just be sure you don’t paint the window shut again.
Okay, I’m going to leave you alone for now, I’m sure you’ve got enough to keep you busy. Remember, as your back is aching and you pop open that day’s end beer, that it’s the little things that make a home stand out in the market. Clean is one of them. Make that SUPER clean.
If this summer finds you in or on the real estate market the two most important things you will need are a smart real estate agent and healthy dose of reality. Sure the virtual tour and snappy flyer are pretty, but the market isn’t. Finding a ‘smart agent’ may not mean the guy who’s sent you Broncos schedules and sold your cul-de-sac for the past twenty years, or the bubble-headed blond on the bus bench. I’d rather you go with someone who has a keen sense of where the market is TODAY, not yesterday. Though our trending info charts and graphs show market improvement, no one knows for certain where we’ll be next year. The agent who offers “certainty” is tap dancing.
With more than 80% of buyers beginning the home search on the Internet prior to contacting an agent, consumers no longer rely on Realtors to provide them with all the information, we now co-create the experience.
Buyers and sellers both benefit by seeking out an agent who can effectively gather and interpret all available information to define the goals and strategies before and during the transaction. Being a good real estate agent is part instinct, part industry and finding one who does it as a full time job is a good sign they know the realities of today’s market. The key is to have an agent who is not afraid to tell you the truth.
Consider these examples of three areas where a reality check would be helpful.
1.) PROFIT. A high-end home in one of Denver’s most desirable locations. The sellers have improved it considerably and have lived there long enough to have built some hefty equity. Ideally they’d like to turn a nice profit and take advantage of the value available in the middle of the market to purchase a larger house in a more modest neighborhood. The problem here is that their beautiful home is sitting in line in the million dollar price point where the inventory is stockpiled to 365+ days on market with fewer banks approving jumbo loans (over $417k). Experienced ‘flippers’ , they are not novice to the real estate transaction, so it seems logical to apply the strategies they’ve always used to sell their flips. Savvy as they are, it would be more effective to spend a bit of that equity and hire an agent with the skills and resources to reach the broadest pool of potential buyers increasing their ability to compete in a glutted market. Will they sell? Eventually. Will they get top dollar? Statistics say probably not. Will they achieve the desired outcome in the allotted time frame? Well, school starts in August…
2.) PRICE. Seller wants to sell a suburban home. Their segment of the market would be considered a balanced market with only five months of inventory, but even with its unique features the house needs some upgrades and is not selling. Though the home feels too big for the family and they’d like to move into a more manageable townhouse, there is little likelihood they’ll reach their goal if they don’t get real about the price. Here is where a realistic Realtor tells the tricky truth: A house is not a product, like a hamburger, so marketing alone will not sell it. Your house is an emotional commodity. It is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it, not what you’d like to net. Harsh as it is, if you need more down on your new place, you’ll have to figure it out. Improved the property and trying to cover the cost? Forget about it. Stop living in your own personal snow globe and put yourself in a buyer’s shoes. Would you pay more because it’s what the seller needs? No, you’ll either keep shopping for the bargain you feel good about, or pay more for the neighbor’s house with the upgrades already in place.
3.) PRESSURE. As missed mortgage payments stack up, so does the stress. You’ve done all you can to keep up, postponed the pit a year ago with a loan modification but it’s still too much. You hire a knowledgeable agent who is able to convey your options and the pros/cons of each strategy and you decide on pursuing a short sale. Experience and market chops tell your perspicacious agent that there’s not another house in the neighborhood like yours and she’s right. Within a week four offers come in, forcing a bidding war on a ‘highest and best offer’ deadline. She gets more than she asks for, but the bank is further along in the foreclosure process than you realized. Reality bites. Better the sting of the short sale than the heartache of foreclosure, but time must be on your side.
The housing market always has a bit of the “smoke and mirrors” to it (not to be confused with a house with smoked mirrors). Sorting through opinion, sales tactics, experts and statistics to glean the facts can be a daunting task for the smart consumer and agent alike. Research is only as good as the information you come up with and strategies are often based on information. Try to make sure you do your work and find someone willing to do theirs as well, and don’t replace the real estate bubble with a real estate Bubble-head.