Xeriscape in Colorado

In a dry state like Colorado, Xeriscaping is an environmentally friendly style of landscape design that is easy on the wallet (once it’s in place) and aesthetically pleasing. 

What is Xeriscaping?

“Xeros” is the Greek word for dry, and our very own Denver Water coined the term Xeriscape in 1981 to describe the style of landscaping with water conservation as its fundamental principle. It emphasizes the use of native plants, larger mulched areas, soil improvement to improve retention and drainage, efficient irrigation, plantings, and limited use of turf or grass. 

I see beautiful xeriscaped yards in Denver every day in my  neighborhood and around town. Check my Pinterest board here for more pictures of this style. 

Advantages of Xeriscaping

Lower water bills – reduce landscape water use by 50 percent or more 

Less depletion of natural resources

Less mowing for less turf (and less gas for lawn mowers) 

Plants fare better during drought or water-restricted times

Native plants thrive in their own habitat

Attractive to wildlife, friendly to insects and fauna

Quality landscaping improves property value 

Less fertilizers or pesticides required with native plants

Drawbacks to Xeriscaping

Rougher vegetation – less lush green grass

Weed control is a must

Design requires proper layout and good planning — which can mean pricier upfront costs for long-term effectiveness

“Hydrozoning” requires grouping like plants together so they can be watered together – may require more complex irrigation system 

The Skinny on Carriage Houses, or Accessory Dwelling Units in Denver CO

An ADU, or accessory dwelling unit, is a small, habitable structure situated on a residential lot, usually behind the “primary” house. Utilities are tied in, making it easier and cheaper to build than a house. It’s a place where another person can live on the property with a little breathing space — they have their own bathroom and usually a small kitchen.

The setup can be ideal for multigenerational living, allowing an older parent or relative to live close. And an owner who wishes can rent out the place and take in income on the property.

ADUs are popular in many cities as a way to increase housing options and allow folks to “get more” out of their property, in a time when high real estate costs are a challenge for many.

ADUs are Great Because… Conservationists like ADUs because this type of infill building allows for increased density without really taxing the infrastructure. Community and housing organizations like them because it’s good for families and communities – making child care easier for younger families and allowing relatives to live together, share expenses, and hold onto their real estate. The use is flexible, so it can be great for a boomerang child for a few years and then might allow for rental income later on.

ADUs in Denver In 2010 the city of Denver revised its zoning code to allow for the construction of Accessory Dwellings (they had been banned since the 1950s). Interestingly, the trend hasn’t really take off yet, and fewer than 200 units have been built as of 2018. 

While ADUs won’t cure the housing shortage in Denver, it seems that more of them would help alleviate some of the demand. So while the city has “unbanned” ADU construction, the zoning code is cumbersome, as many lots are still only zoned for a single structure. It’s possible to file for rezoning if the lot size is large enough, but it may take a long time, cost money and be an arduous process to get through the neighborhood and city red tape. 

ADUs Can cost from $90-$150K or more. Most commonly, people will use a new construction loan or a home equity loan to pay for it. The plus side to taking a loan: if the accessory dwelling is going to earn income, it’s like an investment in your backyard.   

West Denver Renaissance Collaborative Neighborhoods in West Denver, like Athmar Park, Barnum, Sun Valley, West Colfax and others, have seen steep home price increases and, as a result, steep property tax increases. This has caused strain for some longtime residents in these traditionally Latino communities. Fortunately many of the properties in West Denver have smaller houses and larger lots, and are zoned for ADU or tandem house construction.

The organizationwas formed to promote ADUs and help residents build them, which in turn helps them live more affordably and stay in their properties. The program offers guidance throughout the process by helping with financing, providing ready-made designs to build, and connecting homeowners with contractors to do the work. 

Whether or not you live in West Denver, this handout offers some extremely helpful insight and information on the process of building an accessory dwelling in Denver. If only there were more such programs! 

Now You Want an ADU in Denver, right? With home prices in Denver at record highs and the rising popularity of “house hacking,” there’s new buzz about ADUs in Denver. To find out if you can build on a lot, enter the property address on the Zoning Map here to check your zoning code.  

If you need help, just call 720.514.9540 and we can help you through it. If your place is not compliant, it may be possible to rezone and we can connect you with experts who can do a feasibility study. 

If you are looking to buy Denver real estate zoned for an ADU, tandem or duplex, let us know here now and we’ll set you up with a customized search based on zoning codes

Location and Transportation Matters in the Greater Years

Where you live makes a big difference to how well you live. And for seniors, this is especially true.

It’s great to have a friend or family member who can help you get places. But to rely solely on them may limit your mobility. Fortunately, in Denver, there are good public transportation options. With some forethought, you can situate yourself to enjoy good access and independence.

As you contemplate your future, give thought to how easy your location makes it for the activities you both want and need to do.

Cultural and recreational attractions. Maybe you enjoy visiting the Denver Art Museum or seeing a play or musical at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. You might be a diehard fan of the Rockies, Broncos, or Avalanche. Perhaps you love seeing movies on the big screen. How easy is it for you to engage in your interests?

Medical care. Keeping trips to the doctor as easy and efficient as possible will have a big impact on your quality of life. Give thought to where you primary doctor is located, as well as the locations of medical specialists, testing, and treatments.

Self-care. Hair salons, nail salons, massage and spa services: think about all the places you visit to keep yourself looking and feeling your best.

Social Activities. How close do you live to your friends? How about the organized activities you enjoy, whether that’s yoga, bridge, or mahjong? Would you like to take painting classes or French lessons? How convenient is it for you to take part in these pursuits?

Family. Being close to children, grandchildren, siblings, or other relatives is a big consideration for many seniors. Whether you want to get together for holidays, birthdays or just Sunday dinner, it’s nice when it’s an easy trip.

Public transportation. Light rail, commuter rail, and buses can make it easy to get around. And the options are expanding, thanks to Denver’s FasTracks transit expansion program. How easy is it for you to access public transportation?

Does your current home have adequate transportation options? Do you want to situate yourself somewhere more mobile? Call Jessica at 720.514.9540 to find out more about senior-friendly neighborhoods and locales that can help you enjoy convenience and connection.

When it’s Too Loud at Home

Photo by Yura Lytkin on Unsplash

I recently read an article about sound — or, rather, NOISE — and how many of us notice it more since we’re spending more time at home thanks to the Pandemic. Here are a few of the points discussed in this month’s issue of Realtor Magazine.

There are professional and DIY ways to reduce sound, some of it costly, some easier on the budget. The measures you take will also depend on whether you’re battling interior sound (like your spouse, kid or roommate) or exterior noise, like traffic. Here are a few good ways to mitigate sound:

Cover Hard Surfaces — hard flooring amplifies sound. Cover it with area rugs (and a sound-absorbing pad underneath). Use fabric-covered furniture for more sound absorption.

Reduce Echoes in Open Spaces — Today’s popular open floor plans don’t allow for much privacy, and sound bounces everywhere with fewer walls. You can use fabric hangings on walls, or tuck foam behind a canvased artwork for extra padding. Companies Sound-Sense and Audimute produce such sound-absorbing panels. A bookcase stacked against the wall or used as a room divider can also help.

Seal Doors and Windows — Soundproofing companies offer acoustic door seal kits to fit snugly around doors or windows and reduce sound coming through cracks.

Add Drapes or Shades — Roman shades with heavy fabric, cellular shades or plantation shutters are thick and heavy and can absorb or block sound. Heavy drapes made of velvet or suede can also absorb noise, and when done right, can look beautiful.

Green Up — A houseplant next to a wall creates an additional surface to catch sound, before it hits the wall and bounces. A tall, potted Norfolk pine in a corner is recommended.

Property values are definitely affected by a noisy street or other other unwanted sound, and home buyers are even more aware of it this year. If you have a house to sell on a loud street, or other sound issues that may affect your resale potential, these are some measures you can take to improve your performance on the market.

Questions on this or any other real estate matter? Get in touch.

Sell Your Denver Home for Top Dollar

Selling your home doesn′t just mean hiring a Realtor to post a sign out front. A good Realtor will help guide you through the process. Here’s a rundown of the basics, to make to ensure you get the best possible price.

Repairs. Just because you’ve gotten used to the cracks in the walls and the rattles in the radiators doesn’t mean a buyer will not find fault. Buyers like to snoop around, so be sure to fix any sticky doors, drawers or leaks. Don’t forget the exterior—fences, shingles, walkways…after all, without curb appeal, some buyers may never get to see the inside.

Neutralize. You want buyers to see themselves in your home. Remove your personal items and “neutralize” with colors such as gray, “greige,” beige, tan, or white. Repainting and reflooring will make everything look fresh and new, and help prospective buyers imagine all the possibilities. I do like a few splashes of color here and there for visual interest, but this can be done with accents like pillows and tchotchkes.

Stage. Once your house is clean and updated, it’s time to play dress up. Home stagers will add details and décor that help bring out the possibilities in the various spaces in your home. Home staging can be particularly useful if your home has challenging spaces. Think of it as a little mascara and rouge—if it’s done right, you notice the beauty, not the makeup.

Questions about this or any other real estate matter? Get in touch.

Prepare to Sell

Selling your home doesn′t just mean posting a sign out front. There are a lot of preparations you should make to ensure you get the best offer possible. And a fresh set of eyes will help you see things you may be missing. It’s almost never too early to call in a professional for advice on this.

Repairs. Just because you’ve gotten used to cracks in the walls or rattles in the radiators doesn’t mean a buyer will be ok with it. Plus, when you sign a contract you’ll be responsible for disclosing any material defects with your place. So, no, you can’t just hope they won’t notice. Do a walk-through of your house in and out with a professional qualified to give advice so you can get a jump on any repairs you need to make. You might also decide to make an improvement or two during this period. It’s a wonder what a fresh coat of paint will do for almost any space, and a landscaping spruce-up is usually worth it.

Neutralize. You want buyers to see themselves in your home. Remove collectibles and personal photographs, and replace any bold color choices with a neutral palette. “Greige” is the new beige, and whites work well, with occasional pops of color for interest. Repainting is fairly cheap and hugely impactful, and refinishing the floors or adding new carpet will also go miles in improving your appeal to buyers.

Stage. Once your house is clean and updated, it’s time to play dress up. A good home stager will add small details and décor touches that will bring out the possibilities in the various spaces in your home: lamps, mirrors, throw rugs and pillows, flowers, decorative soaps and towels, patio furniture.

Do Solar Panels Pay Off?

The popularity of roof solar panel systems is on the rise, and the fast-growing industry now offers a few different options for purchase and installation. Different ownership models provide different benefits, advantages and disadvantages, so homeowners should do their research before deciding whether and how to install and pay for their panels.

It’s hard not to feel good about solar panels. They provide electricity for your household from a renewable energy source (the sun), at a lower cost than your typical electricity provider. What’s not to like?

Let’s take a closer look at the most popular solar energy panel offerings on the market.

1. Leasing, or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) – With either of these options, you’re allowing the solar company to install a system on your rooftop at their cost and you’re purchasing the energy (at reduced cost) from them. Your bill is lower than what the utility company would charge you, and you can feel good about using clean energy as opposed to fossil fuels. The solar company owns, services and maintains the system and, assuming fossil-fuel produced energy costs continue to rise, your energy bills will continue to get cheaper in comparison to the standard offerings.

2. Purchasing the system — If you have cash on hand, equity in your home to tap, or want to take out a loan for a system, you can purchase a solar panel system outright rather than enter into the no-cost-upfront leasing model. A typical 5kW system will cost about $20K, including installation. This option creates potential for a return on investment, as you actually own it and the energy that gets produced. Of course, the risk to you as an owner is greater — and you have to maintain and service the system.

Advantages, Disadvantages and Caveats

• Federal Tax Credit –if you purchase a system this year (2020) you get a healthy tax credit for 26% of the cost of system and installation. With the average cost at $20,000, this will mean several thousand dollars in tax savings. With leasing, you don’t get the tax credit.

• Performance payouts from the utility company –this happens when your panels produce more than what you use, and the electric company buys it from you or gives you credit back for it. You’ll benefit as an owner, but not with the leasing model. This is where you get better cost savings and return in the long run as opposed to leasing.

• Upfront Costs – if you want to purchase, you have to have cash or take out a loan. Obviously this is an expense, but the system pays for itself over time once you factor in the savings.

• Insurance – When you own, the risk is yours. If panels are damaged in a bad storm, it’s on you to fix them (or file a claim).

• Service & Maintenance – you’ll always be tied to the grid, and you’ll need a solar company to monitor and provide maintenance from time to time. You’ll need Internet service so they can alert you if the system ever has a problem.

• Lease Commitments & Terms – with the leasing model, homeowners must pass a credit check and sign a rather extended lease – 20 to 30 years – which is typically attached to the house. Homeowners will want to examine this agreement closely and read the fine print.

Solar Panels and Real Estate

Do solar panels add value to a house?

It’s likely that the panels will stay on the house longer than you plan to own it. If you purchase a system, the value in a sense is there, since you paid for it. In some cases the solar company can actually take the panels off and install them at your next house. But it’s probably easiest to leave them with the house, and so you may or may not have to pay them off if you took out a loan to pay for them.

An informal poll of agents tells me that solar panels are thought of as an attractive feature for buyers, but most, at this point, won’t going out of their way and won’t pay a whole lot extra for solar energy power. You can be sure they’ll be reading the paperwork involved and curious to know what the risks/rewards are — so you’ll want to keep meticulous records.

As for leases, the solar company tells me that lease transfers to new owners happen all the time, and it’s just a matter of the new owner passing a (non-stringent) credit check with a 650 score or higher. This sounds great, but some homebuyers may be hesitant to assume a long-term lease for a fixture on the property.

Real Life Story

I’d been hearing a few rumblings, from lenders and agent friends, about solar panels, which is what prompted me to research it. One agent shared her story of ALMOST purchasing a house in Maryland, which had a 30-year solar panel lease on it. After reviewing the lease, she found that the energy costs were scheduled to increase over time. She was not comfortable with the terms and so she backed out of the home purchase; the seller took the house off the market — presumably to deal with the situation and make the house marketable again to buyers.

From my research it seems that not all leases are bad, and, in a market gaining popularity and competition, there are more options to choose from. The best arguments for the lease option are low upfront costs, reduced risks of ownership and lower energy bills. But from an investment standpoint, the better energy savings and eventual return are achieved with purchasing.

As with any long-term commitment, you’ll want to do homework, get to know the offerings from competitors in the industry, and make sure not to lock into a bad arrangement that could threaten the sale-ability of your house.

Prepare to Sell Your Denver House — Prioritize Repairs and Improvements

A Seller client needed help selling his place — a rather large, semi-detached house — that had been lived in for quite a while by several mid-20s guys in a roommate/group house situation. You’d be correct to assume that the place was run-down and in need of cosmetic updates, maintenance upkeep, and general love.

The house was in a great location,had large open rooms, good flow, and, even though the fixtures and features were dated, it was quite livable.

The owner was prepared to get some work done before we listed, but he didn’t want to spend a fortune. We walked the place and I gave him perspective on what aspects potential buyers typically might notice or appreciate. We then decided what repairs and improvements to prioritize.

I referred him a great contractor who helped him develop a plan of action which worked for his budget. We decided to clean up the front porch and paint it, clear out the vines and clean up the backyard, and paint the top two floors of the interior along with some other minor repairs.

He was a busy guy, so when the contractors started their work, I served as a liaison and helped them work through some of the issues that came up (as they do) during the day, keeping him informed throughout the process.

The paint and improvements really cleaned it up and made it approachable for buyers who might have otherwise overlooked it. We staged it (lightly), with a few pieces of furniture and some brightly colored towels, vases and ornamentals, which made for beautiful pictures and presentation during the active listing phase.

Ultimately we found a great buyer, and all parties were happy at closing (always the best outcome!)

How to Buy a Home Quickly and Confidently

Yes, Denver is a competitive market, but if you’re committed to the process you can find a home fairly quickly. Let me give you an example…

A lovely couple contacted me one spring to ask for help buying a home to move into by summertime. The catch was that they lived in California at the time and, obviously wanting to save on flight costs, really only had one long weekend for house hunting. No problem!

We did a buyer consultation over the phone, and I put them in touch with a trusted lender to get finances lined up. They came to town with lender preapproval letter in hand, and we took the weekend to look at properties which fit their criteria.

We explored properties in various neighborhoods so they could get a feel for their purchase power. By the end of the second day we had two great properties lined up that met their needs.

It was summertime and demand was very high, so we submitted a strong offer on their first choice home — and it was accepted! We even finished the home inspection before they had to fly back to California, and then we negotiated the rest over phone and email. One month later they flew back to sign closing docs and take ownership of their new place!

I’d actually argue that the short timeline helped us stay focused. There wasn’t time to agonize over the details, and they trusted me to take care of things they weren’t able to do, (like make sure repairs were completed properly).

It just goes to show that when you work with qualified professionals you trust, it’s easier to move forward confidently and swiftly when the time is right.

Selling a Condo in a Self-Managed Building

“A self-managed condo will be as sane as its craziest owner” — Anonymous Online Commenter

If you are thinking to sell a condo in Denver and live in a self-managed building, you’ll want to make sure your condo association is ready to face the public. If a buyer sees red flags from your association — usually in the form of questionable finances, record keeping or poor communication — you could lose a deal, which is never fun, and it could even affect your condo’s value.

Once you receive a contract, you have to deliver condo docs to the buyer fairly quickly. Since the Buyer can cancel a contract upon review of these docs, you’ll want to make sure your ducks are in a row before you list Denver condo, so you’re sure to give a good impression to potential buyers and, most importantly, keep that contract in place.

Make sure your condo association “shows well” by checking these points.

• Have Condo Docs Ready – Make sure docs are organized and complete. You’re required to turn over the association docs as well as budgetary information, insurance details, financials, expenditures and condo association meeting minutes. Make sure all these items are included in a nice, friendly format.  

• Keep Business License Current

• Designate a Communicator – Someone has to answer inquiries from Realtors and/or potential buyers. This person is your voice to the public, so make sure they are fully available, “with it,” and friendly. 

Cautionary Tales – How to Lose a Contract on Condo Docs

Don’t Let This Guy Be in Charge of Docs Delivery

My buyer clients were under contract for a cute condo in a 10-unit building, and the person responsible for delivering documents to the buyers happened to be on vacation. When we managed to talk with him, the guy was unpleasant, resentful and rude in our interactions. To make matters worse, even though dogs were allowed in the building, he hinted that there might be a problem with their dog at some point. And, most unfortunately, the unit these buyers were looking to purchase was right next door to this rude specimen.The whole episode left a bad taste in their mouths, especially the dog issue, and they cancelled the contract.

Don’t Be the Main Point of Contact on Your Own Sale

A buyer was under contract in a four-unit building, and upon reviewing the condo association docs, he had a few questions about the reserve funds and some of the condo expenditures. It was awkward that the president and main point of contact of the association was actually also his seller. She was slow to respond (because she was getting married) and there was no one else to talk to. He was left without answers, and also wondering who would be in charge once she was gone. In the end it was more than he wanted to bite off, so he cancelled the contract.

Before you list your Denver condo, it will save you money, time and stress to give your association a checkup and make sure it’s in good shape.