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.

Denver Real Estate and COVID-19

It was shaping up to be a banner spring market… until March and the virus started to take hold. Many would-be sellers are waiting this out — we had a high number of withdrawn listings by the end of the month and many on hold. If homes are occupied, it’s probably the best way. 

So inventory is lower than it would be, but it’s still up about 4% over last year. 

While many buyers are on hold too, it appears that the new listings coming on are going under contract, many in 10 days or less. Demand is keeping up with supply. Some buyers may be taking advantage of the ridiculously low rates on home loans (and Fannie Mae’s recent increase on conventional loan limits, now up to $510,000 for non-jumbo terms). There’s great buying power in this market — and less competition. 

There’s no doubt a real estate closing these days will be stressful, with a lockdown in place — but it’s doable, with inspections and contingencies to protect both sides.

As the fallout continues, we may lose some buyers due to economic uncertainty and insecurity. Many workers are out of work or short on work. No doubt landlords are feeling the effects too as renters struggle to come up with rent. And investors using the Airbnb model are certainly hurting right now, as demand for short-term stays has all but dried up.  

All that said, it’s hard to imagine a bubble or extreme loss of value in Denver’s real estate market like we saw in 2008. Most homeowners have good equity in their homes, and Denver is still a highly desirable location with a strong underlying workforce and economy. So in that respect we’re on solid footing. 

I’d expect spring’s market activity to get pushed back a few months, to when we return to a less “quarantine-y” world, or as we adjust to whatever the new normal will be. 

For most people, it’s probably a good time to make plans and prepare — do you have any real estate moves to make in the next year or two or even five? 

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out. I weathered the Great Recession (2007-2009) and have seen my share of up and down markets… and while I don’t have all the answers, I may be able to provide some perspective on your specific situation. Feel free to set up a time to chat. Or just give me a call at 720.514.9540.

Here are some ideas and tips for DIY home improvement activities to do while waiting out the COVID crisis. 

Prepare to Sell

Selling your home doesn′t just mean hiring a Realtor to post a sign out front. There are a lot of preparations you should make to ensure you get the best offer possible in the shortest time.

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 too. If you have hardwood floors that need refinishing, be sure to get it done—hardwood is a huge selling point. Buyers like to snoop around, so be sure to fix any sticky doors or drawers as well. Finally, don’t forget to address any issues with the exterior—fences, shingles, sidewalks, etc. 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 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.

How to Sell Your Current Home and Buy a New Home in Denver

You own a home. But it’s getting small. Or you want a better school district. Or you are tired of your commute. Or you want a yard. (Or you don’t want a yard!)

There are so many reasons to want to move! But you own your place, so it’s complicated, right?

It doesn’t have to be. As long as you’re prepared with the right information and know the right steps, you can get through it successfully. People do it all the time!

Ready to list your Denver home? Or just have questions? Schedule a call today to chat with an experienced real estate professional.

The situation can usually be broken down into two different scenarios:

1. You’re ready to buy your next place (and have the means to do so) before selling your current place.

2. You must sell your current place in order to buy the next place.

The first scenario is a bit easier. If you have enough funds to make the next purchase, then you find the next home, enter into a purchase contract without a home-sale contingency, and close on the deal. Once you own your next place, you move, list your former home while vacant, and take steps to secure a purchaser.

Your Realtor should be able to advise you on timing and your home’s value. You’ll want a careful market analysis and a good listener who hears your needs to help you get the best price within a comfortable time frame.

Option 1 is great — but unfortunately it’s not always possible. Many people have the equity for their next purchase tied up in their current home.

There is one option that may still allow you to buy before selling — it’s called a bridge loan, and it’s when a lender gives you a short-term loan on your equity to make a downpayment on next house. TIP: Many lenders don’t do these type of loans, but many credit unions still do! Ask me for a good one if you want to explore this option.

If a bridge loan isn’t right for you, then you’ll have to sell your current place in order to buy the next. This adds an element of uncertainty, which is stressful when you’re talking housing. But with good planning and knowledge of market conditions, it’s usually not so hard.

If you have to sell in order to buy your next place, you will need a few things:

  • Market value of your current home and how much you can expect to walk with
  • How to price your home in order to get an offer in the time frame you want
  • Finances lined up, so that when you get a contract, you’re ready to move
  • Knowledge of active inventory for your potential next house

What if the deal falls through and messes up my next purchase?

You can’t control all the moving parts, but a good agent helps the ship stay on course. You’ll need a smart price in order to find a buyer within the right time frame, and you’ll want to be reassured that the buyer has been fully and thoroughly vetted. Your real estate agent should stay on top of contingencies and keep you informed throughout the process.

Where will I live if I sell my place and don’t find the next one in time?

With contract in hand you’ll focus on finding your next home. It’s great if everything lines up perfectly, but sometimes market conditions don’t allow for it. That’s why you’ll need thorough knowledge of current inventory so you’re ready to jump when you get your contract.  

A few clauses in the contract help and protect you while working through the process of selling a home and buying your next home in Denver:

  • Rent-back clause – This would be included in the contract for the house you’re moving out of, and allows you to rent your home from the new owner after you’ve sold it, if you need a little more time to close on your next purchase (typically up to 2 months).
  • Home of Choice contingency – this provision allows you to delay closing on your current home until you find your next home. Time limits are negotiable and at some point the buyer will have the right to call it in, but this should give you enough time to find your next place.
  • Home Sale contingency — allows you to write an offer with closing contingent on the sale of your current home. Depending on market conditions, this may or may not work.

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.

Homebuyers & Renters: Financial Questions Answered

Shakira Pollard is a neighbor and friend of mine, who’s also a financial representative with a practice at Northwestern Mutual. With 2016 nearing a close, I wanted to pick her brain on the questions I hear most from clients and people out and about that I talk with. Here are her responses.

Is buying better than renting?

This is a great question, and to keep it simple there’s no hard and fast rule. A person’s choice depends on personal circumstances, access to capital and the time horizon for living in the home. In essence, one is not universally better than the other, but there are pros and cons to each choice. Check this link for a useful guide from Shakira’s firm.

I have student loans. Should l pay them off or buy a house first if I can swing it?

Again, this depends on circumstances. Here’s an example of how I recently assisted a client with a similar situation:I met with a newly married couple. The husband is a practicing physician who just completed his fellowship and the wife is a law student. Their major objectives are to strategically pay down student loans from medical school and also save for a home together. They would like to purchase a home around $500k and would like to have 20% of the purchase price saved. My recommendation to this couple was to continue to attack the student loan debt with aggressive payments while continuing to set aside funds for the home purchase. However, I also instructed them not to become distracted by the goal of saving 20% of the purchase price lest they miss an opportunity to purchase in a low interest environment. In summary, continue to pay student loans but don’t forgo an opportunity to purchase if for the sake of aggressively paying student loans.

Is it a good idea to use my retirement for a down payment?

I don’t think this is a question that can be answered in a vacuum. More information is needed to assess the person’s financial situation before my team could be comfortable making any recommendations. For example, an early careerist, mid-career professional, or pre-retirement professional would have different considerations. This could potentially be a very viable option to assist a newly married young professional couple with being homebuyers. On the flip side, a mid-career professional who has accumulated equity in the form of “cash value” through a permanent life insurance policy can access the equity in the policy for a downpayment.

So while there are not hard and fast rules, one thing is certain: Professionals such as Shakira and myself like to help out when you have questions. Even if you’re using us for information, it gives us a chance to foster a relationship and gain your trust and hopefully work with you or one of your friends one day. Contact me if you’d like to talk, or if you’d like an intro to Shakira.

Selling and Buying Real Estate and Bridging the Gap

Recently had a client who was ready to move. She needed to sell her place — a 1-bedroom condo — and then find and purchase a house. Selling and buying real estate simultaneously can seem like a daunting task, but it happens all the time, and the sooner you hire a Realtor the sooner you can start getting pieces in place to make it work.

She knew what she wanted (a house) and had an idea of the neighborhood where she wanted to end up. It was a high-demand area, and we lost on the first offer to competition. By the second round she was ready. She wrote a solid offer and beat out two other buyers for the contract. She closed on the house in January, and with her current abode not yet sold, had time to line up a few contractors and get some work done before moving in.

After the purchase, the clock was ticking to sell her condo. After all, she didn’t want to pay two mortgages any longer than necessary. We’d begun prep work in December — which largely consisted of decluttering, clearing space and sending stuff to storage — and made finishing touches in January. She still lived there, but she was a good occupant and kept it very neat for the time we were actively listed.

After just two open houses, the right buyer came along and we got a contract signed. In a month she was was signing closing docs and handing over the keys.

She was lucky that she was in a position to buy first before selling her place. But what to do if you can’t afford to buy before selling?