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Denver is a crazy-hot real estate market right now with low inventory and multiple offer situations, especially in desirable neighborhoods like Park Hill. Whether you are buying, selling or both, you’ll need to be very prepared and your first step is finding the right Realtor®. Listen to what the Bernuths have to say about their experience.

Jim and Mary Bernuth wanted to downsize from their beautiful Congress Park bungalow to something smaller but with the same charm.We looked at many homes but the heat turned up when their Congress Park beauty went under contract. Like most current sellers, they were nervous about finding the right replacement home and timing both transactions to make a seamless move. We found “The One” and quickly put in an offer… which was rejected. The sale of their home was complicated on the buyers’ side, adding to the stress. Thank you, Jim and Mary, for sharing how it turned out for you and why you recommend TracysDenverHomes for your real estate needs. Click here for more information on the current Denver market.

I hear the question “Is it still a good time to buy a house in Denver?” quite often, as potential home buyers wonder whether they’ve missed the market. My answer is that yes, it’s still a good time to buy a house in Denver, though it’s going to take resilience, and let me tell you why. Even though the dream of getting a screaming deal on a foreclosure got on the bus and left the depot, the strength of today’s market and home affordability show that buying a house in Denver is still a great idea.

It looked for a moment that the Denver Real Estate Market was slowing down toward the end of the summer and into fall, but what I’m seeing now, we still have a very strong market! Showing activity is high meaning that buyers are out there looking, and inventory as of January 1 was still very, very low at one month of inventory  [meaning if no other homes came on the market it would only take a month to sell them ALL].

Buyers will need to be prepared to pull the trigger in this tight market; pre-qualified, well qualified and ready to present a strong offer to win in the ever-so-common bidding wars.  This can mean a number of things I’d be glad to go over with you specifically. Many Buyers will conduct a home inspection solely for informational purposes without asking the Seller to repair or credit for inspection items. This relieves the Seller of the anxiety of a major or costly issue coming up and being asked to pay for it, and though the Buyer may feel similar anxiety over having to assume a house “AS-IS” they can, if done properly, still terminate the contract should the home prove unsatisfactory. Reasonable buyers, sellers and their agents would rather work out a fair negotiation than lose a good contract, even with this stipulation. Another strategy I’ve seen applied is for the buyer to offer to make up some or all of any difference between the contract purchase price and the appraised value of the home should it come in low. As bidding wars force prices up, last month’s comps may not provide the appraiser with enough information to value at contract price, or the home might have exceeded current market value. The market is moving so fast, many buyers would rather kick in some extra cash than go back out looking once they’ve found and been accepted on a home they love. Of course, you’ll have to have the cash to do this so a bit of planning might be in order if you decide to employ this.

The good news for you Buyers is that real estate still offers great wealth building potential. Using standard assumptions (5% annual appreciation), a home purchased today for $250,000 with a 10% down payment and a 4.5% interest rate can produce about $200,000 in equity in a decade! Those of you who are renting may want to think seriously about investing in yourselves.  Even if you don’t have a full 10% for the down, there’s still $$$ to be made.

There are two myths in real estate that are not holding up in today’s Denver market. One is that real estate runs in seven year cycles; statistics show the last up-swing lasted for seventeen, plenty of time to build equity.  The second myth is that condos are the last to rise in value and the first to tank. Right now we are seeing condominium values appreciating similarly to single homes. Overall home affordability remains attractive when you factor in interest rates, home prices and average rents (up 40% over the past five years). A very good time to buy, but before you do I advise investing in some good running shoes.

new-year-2015As the clock ticks toward year’s end, it’s time to review the 2015 real estate market.
When someone asks me how the real estate market is, the cocktail party answer is that it’s been a very pleasing 12 months and future looks bright and shiny. Because the economic news is good our Denver Metro real estate market is projected to stay strong but not overheat. I’ll share some of the metrics I use to evaluate the market and understand it better, describing what 2015 looked like and where I think we’re headed.
Market strength–2015 was an extremely strong seller’s market. The market strength peaked in the spring when the bottom dropped out of our inventory and multiple offers were all the rage. Frustrating for buyers who felt they had to give away so much to stay competitive, the good news is that the market reacted appropriately and became more balanced as the year progressed. With prices on the rise, sellers were motivated to sell as we approached the fall so the market cooled with the start of school and the weather. It is still a strong seller’s market, but far more in balance. I expect 2016 to continue along this line and see no sign of a major imbalance that could lead to any sort of ugly peak and crash. Sellers should get a good price for their homes and replacement properties should not be as hard to find.
Buyers– Real estate website Trulia says that buying an average home in Denver is a whopping 38 percent cheaper than renting a home! For the average home, the interest rate would have to skyrocket to 11 percent for renting to become cheaper than buying, meaning that it is currently MUCH more affordable to buy than to rent. Even with current prices and current rents, interest rates would have to nearly triple to make renting more affordable than owning. (Call me if you want to talk about this.)
Sellers-Can’t say this enough: the most important thing to prepare your home for sale is to get rid of clutter. This includes furniture. You may have learned to live with that cherished armchair stuffed into the corner but a professional stager will often times whisk away half of your furniture. The house looks so much bigger for it, leaving space for a buyer couple and their agent to tour the home without bumping into each other, and space for their imaginations to make it their own. You don’t have to go “Stager drastic” but take a hard look, be objective, and see what you can live without. Painting always pays for itself and statistics show that springing for a staging company is often a good investment.
Rental Vacancies– The rental market is stronger than it has ever been in metro Denver. The vacancy rate for 1- to 4-unit properties is an extremely low 2 percent. That’s a drop from the already 4.7% we’d been experiencing for the past few years. On top of this, rents are rising faster than ever, up 30% in the past three years. With rents equaling a mortgage payment, we’re seeing more renters making the decision to buy. Why live waiting for another rent increase, tough competition and another application process without building any equity? Many homeowners who lost their homes in the downturn and have been renting, are becoming eligible to purchase once again. This is great news for the market and will certainly lead to more sales in 2016, though the influx of buyers insures a continuing seller’s market.
Interest rates– No one knows exactly what interest rates will do in the future but my best guess is that they may rise a little in 2016, but only a little. Remember that the Federal Reserve has control over only short-term, not long-term interest rates. Even if the Fed raises rates, that doesn’t directly affect the 30-year home buyer interest rate you are concerned with. Long-term interest rates are affected by the bond market (as bond prices decrease, interest rates increase) which, frankly, is not predictable. Understand though that interest rates are at near 50-year lows so they are highly unlikely to fall any further. All we know for sure is that someday they will go up.
The Economy– No matter what you may hear in the months leading up to the election (places hands over ears), right now the metro Denver economy is very strong. This is fueling our terrific real estate market and the rising population of our city. The unemployment rate is extremely low, about 3.5 percent. Inflation will stay in the range of 1-2 percent, our population is rising at a rate of 50,000 people/year and consumer confidence continues to rise. Nothing can be better for the housing market than a strong and steady economy.
Mortgage -The single most important number for a home buyer is their FICO score. For good or bad, your FICO plays a major role in your ability to finance your home purchase. Your credit score is a snapshot taken by the three leading credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, to help lenders determine what sort of credit risk you are. Your FICO is a number between 300 and 850 and is calculated by a complex algorithm assessing your past credit history. Most home lenders will consider a score over 700 to be excellent while scores below 600 are considered poor. The better the score the more credit will be extended, at better terms, with a lower interest rate. The best credit terms are extended to consumers with scores above 740. Therefore, it’s critical to understand what your FICO is and what you can do to improve your score. When I work with buyers I help them understand the factors affecting their score so they can work to improve them. I can’t think of a better investment in your future than to spend a little time working on your FICO score.
Here are a few tips I give my clients:
1.Don’t max out your cards, try to keep them under 50% of available credit. Running high balances can severely impact your FICO.
2.Continue paying your bills on time.
3.Don’t apply for new credit or cancel an old card because length of credit helps.
4.Pay down high balances.
5.Dispute and resolve any inaccurate items in your credit report.
6.Invest in a credit monitoring company to track the changes to your score.

Sitting in a real estate marketing seminar in a downtown Denver hotel, fluorescent lighting, those stiff, stacking chairs…The peppy presenter popped off a proposition. “What if you are more than their agent? What if you become their ‘Realtor for Life’? Still new to the whole real estate thing, I pondered this process and then…Matt and Kelly at home
I met Kelly on a late summer Denver day. We discovered, as we played in the park, that her eldest daughter would be joining my first son at an elementary school come fall. What we didn’t know was that we’d spend our lives together.
Then I met Felipe. He was Kelly’s husband. Of an autumn afternoon at the schoolyard, we chatted to the strains of swings on metal. He learned I was in real estate, I learned he was a hairdresser. We met a few weeks later to talk about selling their rental property, which I did. It was my first listing appointment, and he became my hairstylist.
The kids moved up a grade or two, we’d had some backyard barbecues, another child was born… ya know… life. I was offered a seat at their kitchen table. It was time to move along down romance road, time to sell the family home. Which I did.
Felipe met Molly. Molly need to sell her home. So I did. Kelly moved in to a rental, Molly and Felipe moved into a rental. We changed schools, I changed hairdressers—not for any particular reason, just because that’s what women do— we exchanged numbers and kept in contact. No… we kept in touch.
And where were we then, a pool, maybe? I remember Kelly in the sunshine, loading the kids into the van and waving from the carpool lane. “Call me” she motioned. And I did. It was time to buy a place of her own, where she could build a home and some equity. We found it.
Then Kelly met Matt. He was a software developer and you could see by the look in her eyes that something extraordinary was developing. (You know what’s coming don’t you?) They weren’t really looking when the called me, but they saw this home… 1391459_10202143854259316_2076064518_n (1)She has her three, Matt has two of his own, so it had to be roomy. And special. And it is.
So special, in fact, that they got married on the steps of their City Park South home and threw a block party reception that people are still talking about! The evening was magical; Matt and Kelly dancing in the marquee-lit street to the Trubelos, the young ones are rapt by the aerial ballet, the teenagers wrapped in one another, and the Governor chatting with the townsfolk.
Sitting at a table, Molly and Felipe hold hands as he catches up with his past life and the people who people it. Three days later we closed on their new home together.
Ah, you can’t beat love.


I am (where real estate is involved) lucky in love. I’m not talking about the beach house I got in the last divorce *winks* but how often I find Cupid at the closing table. It takes work to find a house with everything on your buyers’ wish list, but it’s nothing short of kismet when the brother and sister selling their father’s home meet the mother and the two kids who’ll soon be hanging out in the tree house their father built. Every home has a tale to tell, and when that love story moves from one chapter to the next as gracefully as a Jane Hamilton novel, you know you’ve made a “love connection”.
Manufacturing love stories between buyers and sellers… that can be a tricky matter.
Perhaps it’s the rise of social media, where everything is suddenly shared, or the result of Denver’s revived real estate market where the multiple-offer situation has made a comeback, but the latest accessory to go with an offer is not an earnest money check, it’s… The Love Letter.
I had a few of these cross my desk when the market was struggling. Sellers, desperate to sell and worn down by the reality of their diminished property values, were thrilled to hear those four little words, “We have an offer”. Until the contract hit my inbox, followed by a “We really, really love you house, we just don’t want to pay much for it” letter, which usually left a sour taste in and brought a few choice words out of the sellers’ mouths. I’d say it was the real estate equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey; lousy writing and you know someone’s about to get screwed.
Enter the hero. The market shifted, and so did the tone of this tome. With multiple offers a common occurrence, buyers (or their agents) believe if they add a bit of folksy insight into who they are— Their years in Seminary, how he fell in love with the garage, she with the garden and how the shed is perfect for their chickens— that flattery will give them an edge.
Now everybody’s got a gimmick, I get that. The homeless bear signs—“Homeless Vet” “Dog-lover”, “God Bless” (complete with Ichthus), or “Will Work for Beer” aiming at their niche market, their tribe. Buyers try and create some commonality with the stranger who currently occupies their dream home, or perhaps they’ve lost the past three offers and are looking for something other than raising their price to cinch the deal. Call me old fashioned, but isn’t that the Realtor’s job? I consider it my job— make that my sacred duty— to not only find my clients the right house, but to put together a fair and decent offer and present it to the seller’s agent, along with a persuasive argument on behalf of my buyer. That is the opening move in a strong negotiation. If I’m worth my salt, of course my clients will be over-the-moon with excitement at finding their dream home, but once we bring the personal into an already emotional business transaction, I fear the salt/wound proximity increases.
This idea of including a buyer’s note is circling around my office like a chain letter, and I don’t care if the world will end in ten days or killer bees will take over the Volvo, I’m here to break it. There are plenty of opportunities for good real estate agents to share your passion and exchange drawings of the chicken coop. To a seller the passion you feel is reflected, not through an effusive statement that your Goldens must have come from the same litter, but by strength of your offer.

And don’t we all need a little good news? Working in the real estate trenches I’ve been watching the steady turn around, especially evident in 2012 as the Denver real estate market took a sharp turn for the better. Today’s Denver Business Journal announced the data to back up my experience.

Colorado’s housing market stands out as the fifth-strongest in the country, according to the website 24/7 Wall Street.
Home prices across the state have increased by an average of 7.3 percent over the past year, putting Colorado between North Dakota (7.1 percent) South Dakota (8.3 percent). The ranking was based on a review of data from various sources, including the CoreLogic Home Price Index and foreclosure reports from RealtyTrac. 24/7 Wall Street forecasts Colorado home prices will increase by 3.7 percent between the first quarter of the year and the first quarter of next year.

Good news for the Dakotas, but we get to live in Colorado! If you’d like more information about your neighborhood or how you can make this market work for you, call, text, email or comment here and we’ll talk.

There was a time, early in my real estate career, when I would take buyers out “window shopping”, testing the waters to get a feel for what my clients liked, before they had talked to a lender. More seasoned agents would scoff, “I don’t let a buyer in my car if they’re not pre-qualified!” I felt this was harsh. After all, loans were easy to come by and “pre-qualified” lender letters weren’t worth much. (It’s a pre-approval you’re looking for, anyway.)
Those days are over.
Though interest rates are still at historic lows, loan approval is harder to get. Even those who think their ducks are all lined up may find something sneaky lurking in their credit report: that Victoria Secret card you forgot to pay in the rush to the alter, the seventeen applications you filled out to finance the wedding, the car you had to buy last month when you blew a gasket on the Civic and that FreeCreditReport.com service you’re paying for is not the same as the credit score your lender pulls. Other factors, like your debt-to-income ratio may be working against you if your credit card balances are high. Now that the market is hot, don’t let the numbers leave you out in the cold.
So when your agent tells you to talk to a lender and get pre-approved before you go house-hunting, assume she knows what she’s talking about. It will not only give you a pretty accurate assessment of how much house you can afford and what your payment will be, it will save you (and her) valuable time. I’ve found many buyers their dream home, watched them fall in love, and witnessed the heartbreak when what they thought was pre-approval didn’t pan out. Some lenders have you fill out online applications (a drag, I know) and zip out a BING! YOU’RE APPROVED! message without having enough information to be sure. Best practice is to set up an appointment, have an in-depth phone call, or follow-up on that online application with the necessary paperwork (tax returns, pay stubs, etc.) your lender asks for. Real estate agents are your best resource for mortgage brokers and lenders because we work with them all day long. We know who answers their cellphone at five o’clock on a Saturday, guides the loan through underwriting and shows up at the closing table. And we know who doesn’t.
These days, before I put a buyer in my car, I want them pre-approved. I also want them to schedule a clear window of time to look at houses and be prepared to write an offer on the first one they fall in love with, because by some miracle, in 2012 that house may not be there tomorrow.

THE TROUBLE WITH FSBO.

There are a million real estate stories in the Mile High City; this is one of them. The story you are about to read is true, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. This is a story of one girl’s nightmare. Me. I’m a REALTOR®. But I’ll try not to let that get in my way.

It was a hot summer in cool real estate market. The rolling boil of winter’s tax incentives had simmered into springtime and left the pot dry. Houses sat for weeks without a showing. Sweaty listing agents tied balloons to open house signs as potential buyers rolled by on fat-tired bicycles. My phone rang. It was the clients I’d put into a downtown duplex some years before; cute couple, new baby, good debt-to-income ratio and a spanking clean credit score. They were smart enough to see it was time for a move up, down to the bucolic suburbs. Interest rates hadn’t been this low since… well, ever.

We set out shopping, searching for nothing less than the dream home: that elusive slice of Americana where you know your neighbors, raise a family. And we found it, love at first sight, a bit like Bedford Falls but in Technicolor. The drawback? It was a FSBO. *bum-bum-bum-bummm*.

Now I’m a kind of do-it-yourself type dame, within reason. I don’t mind doing my nails or washing the dog but I have to draw the line at what I don’t know, like removing a kidney or my taxes. It’s not that I couldn’t do it if I had to, but it wouldn’t be in my best interest. Some folks get all DIY when it comes to selling a house, I mean, how hard could it be, ey? Stick a sign in the yard, a couple snapshots on the Internet, throw some poor schmuck a few clams for an MLS input, then sit back and watch that baby sell.

As my old pal, Joe Friday, once said, “Ah, sure, but just like every other foaming, rabid psycho in this city with a foolproof plan, you’ve forgotten you’re facing the single finest fighting force ever assembled.” REALTORS®
The problem here stemmed from a lack of access to accurate data. Zillow, Trulia and the CMA done by the affable agent who sent the Broncos schedule doesn’t give a true representation of home value. My hunch is that they took the range provided by the neighborhood expert, added 20 to it for ‘negotiation’ and called it a day. They missed the mark in this game of real estate pricing horseshoes. By 35k . When our offer came in at market value and the appraisal backed it up they went into a tailspin, losing sight of the larger goal of selling their house. Every part of the negotiation was tinged with bitterness as dates, deadlines, inspection items; things that are standard part of the deal became emotional and difficult because they had no neutral party working on their behalf. A house is an emotional commodity and real estate transactions are a fine balance of the human and the business transaction. A good Realtor is adept at holding the deal in balance, by being rational, informed and calm. Our high-centered sellers almost lost the sale numerous times because they lacked the two most important things in the real estate process: accurate information and an advocate. Without these things you’re left vulnerable. Very vulnerable. Just like performing that kidney transplant with a Swiss Army knife and a yard of dental floss. It seems like a good idea at the time, but then you realize how much you don’t know.

Statistics show that 81% of FSBOs sign with an agent within 30 days, at least the smart ones. Because not only do you reduce your headache and legal liability with a REALTOR®, you actually make more money. Have I made my point? So if you’re considering a move in this hairy market, do yourself a favor and call a Realtor®, hopefully me, and ask a few questions.

Oh, and that cute couple? They made it to the closing table alright and are happily ensconced in their beautiful new home.

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.