Tuesday, December 3, 2019


Being an excellent Realtor is about much more than showing properties, listing homes and writing contracts.  Being an excellent Realtor is about solving problems, discerning value and developing an exceptionally high level of "EQ", or emotional intelligence.

When it comes to huge financial decisions, understanding emotional intelligence and the way humans process information is every bit as important as logic, reason and numbers.  

Many years ago, when fax machines were the breakthrough technology and I was just starting out, my managing broker in California imparted some wisdom that has stayed with me for 25 years.  

People make decisions based on how they feel.

Internalize this, and you will solve problems that other people cannot.  You will hold deals together that otherwise would die.  And you will earn loyalty and faithfulness from past clients that will sustain your business for years to come, no matter how many discounters and tech-based disruptors and disintermediators enter the market.  

If you can be attuned to how people feel, and then help them work around their fears and insecurities, you (and your clients) will win.

There are many reasons people fail as real estate agents, but I would say the two leading "causes of death" are as follows:

1.  Lacking a work ethic commensurate with what it takes to succeed in an insanely competitive market, and/or;

2.  A lack of emotional intelligence sufficient to put and hold deals together.  

Most of my clients will tell you that I over-educate, over-anticipate and over-manage almost all aspects of their real estate transactions.  And I'm not apologizing.

In my view, I am responsible for everything that happens in a real estate transaction.  I am responsible for doing my job, the other agent's job, the lender's job, the appraiser's job and the title company's job.  I am the filter for all information coming in and going out.  If anyone drops the ball, I simply own it as if it was my fault, because even though that involves taking on ridiculous responsibility, it also gives me tremendous power.  

I am not dependent on other people for my outcomes.    

So how do you function at this level effectively?

For one, you must realize that there is a huge difference in real estate (and in life) between identifying problems and actually solving them.  Great real estate agents understand that when there's a challenge, there is also a solution.  And part of your job is to figure out what that solution is, what it will cost, how long it will take, who will be most affected and what other alternatives might exist.

Don't show up at my door with problems, show up at my door with solutions.

This is one reason I document so many things with video.  I have a private YouTube channel with more than 2,000 videos I've accumulated over the past decade of leaky faucets, faulty electric panels and hail-damaged roofs.  I share information with contractors quickly and efficiently (always valuing their time more than my own, which is one of the keys to success) so I know what problems will cost, who can address them and how quickly we can get the work completed.  

Having a team of loyal, competent vendors who treat clients well and respect the value I create for them is one of the secret ingredients of effectiveness.  It's why I've spent thousands of dollars on an annual basis putting together a "Professional Services Directory" for my past and current clients, holding luncheons and networking events to bring tradespeople together and, frankly, removing people quickly from my contractor ecosystem when they fail to perform.

All to say, like any healthy and thriving business, I work hard to create value and take accountability.  I am humble enough to value others' time more than my own and confident enough to apply pressure and call in favors when I need to.  

Think of it this way.  If you're a passenger on an airplane and you experience turbulence, do you want the pilot to get on the intercom say "Ladies and gentlemen, we've hit some turbulence and I don't know what we're going to do.  It sucks.  Air traffic control was slow getting us out of DIA and now we're in this stupid storm.  Arggh!"  

Or would you rather hear, "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the turbulence.  We're going to divert to the north and we should be back on a smooth track shortly.  We may be a few minutes late to our destination, but we'll do everything in our power to make up the time.  We appreciate your business and we're glad you're with us today."  

A good pilot has well-developed skills and emotional intelligence.  Same with real estate brokers.  Emotional intelligence is about calming the waters, both in your own mind and in the minds of clients.  Take the emotion out, focus on solutions, eyes on the prize.  

But fact is, much of my professional life is spent dealing with people who want to blame, vent and argue instead of simply focusing on solving problems (which is the fastest way to a paycheck, by the way).  They would rather slap the water with a paddle than row toward dry land.  

There's a great die-off coming in the agent population, not just in Denver but all throughout our industry.  With 55,000 transactions in the Denver metro market each year and 22,000 licensed agents, there simply isn't enough business to go around.  Professor Darwin was right, at least when it comes to real estate.  Only the strong will survive.

Those who survive will be those who have mastered the art of creating value, those who are willing to outwork everyone around them and those who understand emotional intelligence.  There are no shortcuts, and in an industry that has willingly and historically embraced part-timers, dabblers and wannabes, the new market will not be kind to those unwilling to adapt.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Is no offer better than a bad offer?  

In a recent post, I explained the reasoning behind sometimes taking a pass on certain offers even when there are no other offers on the table.  Selling a house is not unlike getting engaged... it's important that you get it right the first time, and if you chose the wrong person, it's going to come at a cost. 

Same with buyers.  

If you hitch your wagon to a flaky, under-committed buyer just because no other offers have materialized, you are taking on a ton of risk.  Because when a house goes under contract and then comes back on the market a week later, everyone automatically assumes something was wrong with the house, when in reality the buyer may not have even done an inspection.  

(There's no box to check for "cold feet" in the MLS, by the way)

So in the past few days I have once again swerved into an unusual set of circumstances around a new listing.  In our new tire-kicking, wait-and-see market of 2019, I've had really good activity for this property, with eight showings in the first week and several interested parties.  

In fact, that interest eventually manifested into four different offers... three that came in within 24 hours of each other and a fourth that came in after I had shown offers one, two and three the door.  

Here's a synopsis of what those offers looked like:

Offer #1:  Full price, but with a contingency to a home built in 1902 which has been on the market for 46 days and shows no indications of selling anytime soon.

Offer #2:  Full price, but in this case the buyer is in a lease through March and wanted us to wait almost four months to close (seriously).

Offer #3:  $10,000 below list price with a first-time buyer using down payment assistance programs and who is maxed out at this price point.

Given the three options, the only one that felt workable was #2.  I asked the agent what her buyer was paying in rent ($1,600 per month) and said if we could figure out how to bridge that divide, we might be able to patch something together.  

My seller's home is vacant and she has moved out of state, so she wants to sell quickly.  But like all sellers in this market, she really has just one shot to "get it right" when choosing a buyer... because as we go into the holidays, should we be off the market for several days (or weeks) and then end up coming back on the market (for whatever reason) in December, it's likely going to be a cold, lonely Christmas season.  

I asked the agent for Buyer #2 to talk with her client and try and figure out a plan, whether that meant breaking the lease early, subleasing, even offering up the rental on Air BnB for a few weeks (if approved by the landlord) to make the deal work.

Instead, I got this.

"My client is making a 20% down payment and so for each $5,000 we lower the price, he'll keep an extra $1,000 in his pocket," she said.  "Since he needs $4,800 to cover the rent through March, he needs to lower the price $20,000 for it to work."

And with that, she sent me an offer $20,000 below the offer she had submitted two days earlier.  

Hammer, meet forehead.

If that's the best problem-solving you can come up with (and apparently it was), there's 0% probability that I want this agent within 100 miles of my seller's home.  

Fortunately for us, as the aspirin was kicking in and my headache was finally subsiding, the showings kept coming... and within two days, we had another seriously interested party.

Full-price, no contingencies, four week escrow, 20% down.  

Yes, yes, yes, yes.  

And now we're under contract.  

But the lesson here is that in 2019, good agents have had to develop (or re-develop) the discipline to say no to things that don't make sense.  Even when there's nothing else on the table.  

The process sucks, and frankly, some desperate agents are upset with me because I won't accept their marginal offers.  Which I attribute to the fact that, in this market, there are a whole bunch of starving agents who need these deals worse than their clients do.  

But please, do some thinking and come up with solutions.

For the agent dependent on the contingent sale for the home struggling to sell built in 1902, put some teeth in your offer.  Let $1,000 of earnest money go hard every 7 days until we've maxed it out, or perhaps let some portion of it go hard after the inspection, or give yourself 15 days to get the contingent home under contract concurrent with an immediate price reduction.  

Do something, but don't just serve up a garbage offer.  

To agent #2.  The ball was at the one yard line.  We were talking about a $4,800 issue in terms of how to cover the buyer's rent for three months.  Maybe you throw some money in, we throw some money in, the buyer takes the home "as is" and we close in four weeks.  There was a path here, and you gave us absurdity.

And to the first-time buyer stretching to come in $10k low, you're just not going to get that deal five days into the process on a home drawing lots of interest.  Find a home that's been sitting for 46 days (I know of one built in 1902) and maybe that seller will be open to a $10,000 chop.  

The point is, the whole real estate ecosystem is in transition these days and there is plenty of wreckage to go around.  A much larger than normal percentage of transactions are falling apart because buyers are nervous and agents don't know how to solve problems.  

I guess this is why my phone keeps ringing and my services are in demand.

It takes discipline (and faith) to say no.  But increasingly in 2019, "no" is a much better response than saying yes to something that's ticking with a fuse sticking out of it.  

Monday, November 4, 2019


A changing market ushers in changing realities. 

For one, selling a home in a weekend with multiple offers is far from the reality for most sellers these days.  More often than not, it's taking longer, sometimes a lot longer, to achieve a desired outcome.  Depending on price, condition and location, your timeframe for getting a home under contract can range from a few days until... never.

I recently listed and sold a home for past clients whome the market had treated well.  Just five years ago, they purchased a starter home for $270,000 in a solid neighborhood close to a regional park with excellent Jeffco schools.  It was less than 1,600 square feet of finished space, though, and with two small kids now part of the family equation, moving up to something larger made perfect sense.

We listed the home at $429,000, a number supported by neighborhood comps and a full 59% higher than the price they paid just five years ago.  The equity from their gain would provide a hefty down payment on their larger replacement home and I had no concerns about their situation.  In current Denver housing parlance, they are what is known as "winners".  

Of course, the process of selling a home today is often very different than what we have known for the past seven years.  No more multiple offer shootouts, no more over-the-top escalator clauses and no lines of people forming in the driveway an hour before the open house.

Even so, with two young kids and a smaller floorplan to begin with, I recommended that they clear out for our first weekend on the market.  Sticking around is not worth the hassle of being chased out of your home repeatedly and having to live you're in the display case at Neiman Marcus.

So over that first weekend, we ended up with a handful of showings and good feedback, but no offers.  With my clients returning to town Monday afternoon, we had planned to meet that evening to review anything that might show up, or if nothing materialized, to strategize going forward.

I circled back with agents Monday morning who had shown over the weekend to gauge prospective interest, and as it turns out, we did have two buyers with some legitimate interest.  Both had homes to sell, and that's where it got interesting.

"My clients don't want to end up homeless and so they don't want to put their home on the market until they have a replacement property under contract," said the first agent.  

"Okay," I said, "but give me something to work with here.  Where do they live now?  What price point are you looking to list it at, and what's your professional opinion about how quickly it might sell?"

Our conversation continued and eventually the agent did provide the address, as well as a proposed list price.  As I am prone to do, I pulled this agent's sales history from the MLS and found a transactional desert... five lifetime transactions, one listing in 18 months as a licensee.  

The second agent I spoke with also had a client with a home to sell.  This time, however, the home had been on the market for several weeks without a contract.

"What's wrong with it?", I asked.

"It's a great home, my clients just haven't been that serious about getting it ready because they haven't found a home they love.  And they really like your home."

"So you listed it, it wasn't market ready, no one bit, and now your sellers are suddenly going to get serious if we accept your offer?"


Shortly thereafter, as I was walking out the door to present our first wobbly offer, the second wobbly offer came through.  Five thousand dollars over list with a contingency asking for 45 days to put their heretofore unsalable home under contract.  

45 days?

I drove to my sellers' home and we sat down at the kitchen table.  

"In the old days," I began, "we spread offers out on the table, we would talk through the pros and cons of each, remove the bad ones, keep the good ones, and eventually settle on a winner.  Tonight, I don't think I want to take either of these offers out of my briefcase."

I explained that despite the fact we had two offers, both at or over list price, they were a long way from sure things.

"Both of these properties have issues, and both of these agents do not inspire confidence.  It would be easy to say yes to one and try to make it work, but honestly, if we go under contract and come back on the market three weeks from now you're not going to be happy, and most people are going to assume there is something wrong with your home."

So we did something I can't recall doing in my 13 years in Colorado.  We dropped our only two offers in the shredder.

It's better to wait for the right buyer than to cross your fingers and hope that clueless people get it together.  As I explained to both agents the next day, there were and are all kinds of ways to put this deal together.  All you have to do is let 50% of the earnest money go hard after inspections and guarantee us you'll have a contract in 15 days.  Just step up, somebody.  .  


So that's all we needed to know.  People who are committed, or who have agents who are committed, figure out how to get things done.  The indecisive, uncertain or non-committal end up in a ditch. 

With 23,000 agents in the Denver metro area, we are drowning in freshly-minted licensees but thirsting for good old-fashioned competence.  

My clients stayed on the market and another weekend passed.  Then, on Monday, we received the call we had been waiting for all along.

"My buyers love the home and their kids go to the school just down the street.  They're willing to do whatever it takes to make this work."

Full price, non-contingent, quick closing and nice people.  Check, check, check, check.

Three weeks later we closed, and we even secured a short-term rentback that gave my clients time to close on their replacement home and move in an orderly manner.  Everybody got along famously and all parties were treated fairly and with respect.  

Not every transaction turns out so well, but the lesson here is that it is wiser to do your diligence up front and get the right people on board from day one rather than hitching your wagon to the first pack mule that comes along and hoping things work out.  

In life and in real estate, more often than not, competence, patience and faith will yield the right results.  

Friday, September 6, 2019


After a good run spanning several years, the Lucky Sellers Club is officially...closed.

We're sorry to break it to you, all those who loved tossing a home on the market at any price in any random condition.  Owners and agents alike, it's been a great seven years, and we hope you enjoyed it.

When most habitable listings would draw 30 - 40 showings and five to 15 offers in a weekend, putting your home on the market with shag carpet, wood paneling, popcorn ceilings and laminate counters wasn't an issue.  Sure, it might cost you a few bucks off the bottom line, but when the buyer pool was deep and listings were scarce, it only took one desperate first-time buyer tired of losing in multiple offer shootouts for you to cash in.

Agents, too, enjoyed being a part of this unique club, while it lasted.  Because if you could somehow persuade a seller to sign a listing agreement with you, regardless of how bad the inside might smell or how totally lacking your own skillset might be, you could be a part of the Lucky Agents Club.  

Listing agreement has been signed, let's book that vacation to Mazatlan!  

The problem now is that, if you list a home with obvious defects, the market is no longer interested in assuming someone else's liabilities.  In fact, with active inventory having nearly doubled since the start of this year, a lot of buyers are downright insulted that you wasted their time with a home that offers so little value.  

As I've been saying to my sellers for the past several months, going forward you have two choices... compete on condition, or compete on price, but to compete in neither category leaves you in no man's land, right alongside 11,000 other active listings that can't find buyers in today's transitioning market.

We've got a lot of bad habits to correct that have taken root over the past several years, and with the licensed agent population now north of 23,000 in the Denver metro area, the truth is a large number of our fellow agents have never said "no" to anything.  

You see, historically speaking, selling a home takes time, money and effort.  Sometimes, historically speaking, it's not a very enjoyable process, for the agent or the seller.

That's one reason so-called iBuyers have a model that may get traction over time.  If you're sitting on a $400,000 home you've owned for 31 years and you know that you have ripped and padless carpet, nicotine-stained walls and a collection of yellowing and stained sports pages from the Rocky Mountain News featuring John Elway headlines piled high in the basement, it may not appeal to today's more discriminating Millennial buyers.  If that's you, why not sell it directly to Open Door or Zillow for $350,000 and close on your terms?

Heck, five years ago it was worth $275,000, so $350,000 may feel like a gift!  

Agents face a real challenge right now.  Sadly, for the 12,000 new, so-called "real estate professionals'  who have taken out licenses since 2011, no one told you that one day you would actually have to create value.  That you would need to solve problems and compete in a shifting market.  That you might one day need to make hard decisions about working with certain types of personalities, because while anyone can deal with a headstrong seller for a few days in a market where homes would sell in a weekend... working with Mr. and Mrs. Difficult for months on end (while not being paid a penny, nor being assured of any compensation at all) might not be your cup of tea.  

(Sidebar:  HGTV, when you're ready to launch that new show called "Impossible Sellers", give me a call.  I know people!)

I have seen firsthand the magic of the Lucky Sellers Club, when it was a thing.  I've turned down listings when sellers have insisted on over-the-moon pricing, only to see them cash in (on occasion and against all logic) when partnered up with a member of the Lucky Agents Club.  

I've also seen a bunch of these listings sit for weeks or months, take multiple price cuts, change agents or brokerages, and eventually turn into rentals or VRBO's - grateful that I had the discipline to say no to the forehead-whacking hammer hits that other agents signed up for in pursuit of a buck when the market made everyone feel like a genius.  

Going forward, attrition is going to replace delusion as the primary driver of our market.  It's going to be a war of attrition for agents, and truthfully, for sellers, too.  Putting a home on the market guarantees little any more.  Agents must be prepared to compete, and sellers must also be prepared to compete, because for the first time in years not all inventory is good inventory.  

The Lucky Sellers Club is being replaced by the Logical Market.  It's a market that will have winners and losers, and it will take work and skill, not good fortune or a greater fool, to get your home sold in a price-flattening environment.  

Sunday, July 28, 2019


How does it feel to be living through the age of disruption in real estate?  For decades, the real estate template was mostly untouched.  In the past decade, change is taking place all over.  

Welcome to the beginning of the iBuyer era, which is simply a generic term for huge corporations stepping in and buying homes directly from individual sellers for cash.

For many years, “fixers” were the domain of HomeVestors, We Buy Ugly Houses and traditional mom and pop real estate investors who scoured the landscape looking for old people (usually) willing to sell their dated, dirty and smoky homes for cheap.

Throw some paint on the walls, recarpet, drop in some new countertops… and bam, an instant $60k - $100k of profit was just waiting to be had!

Over the past few years, Wall Street has become very fond of the housing market, and new startups like Offer Pad, Open Door and Knock have jumped directly into the space of making cash offers to longtime owners who don’t want the headaches of fixing up and marketing a home for sale and those willing to leave (lots of) cash on the table in exchange for convenience.  

With their success, others have come rushing in, with Zillow, Redfin, Keller Williams and (soon) even RE/MAX quickly putting platforms in place to play the iBuyer game.

It’s important to understand how these models work, however, as now that Zillow (in particular) is going mainstream with their iBuyer product (open their app to check the Zestimate for your home and the first thing you see is an invitation to sell your home to Zillow directly), consumers are suddenly being inundated with iBuyer awareness.

I recently showed a home in Boulder that was being offered for sale through Zillow directly.  It was listed for $745,000 and had new (unimpressive) apartment-grade carpet and fresh stock eggshell paint.  No staging, and a yard that was more dead than alive. 

Public records showed they had “purchased” the home for $725,000 just a few weeks earlier, which didn’t seem right.  So I did what the old reporter in me always does… I starting digging deeper.

In this case, the path to the truth was to reach out to Zillow directly and ask them about buying my own home.  I clicked on a button and within about two minutes the phone rang – it was a polite, courteous, well-trained Zillow sales associate who asked me a few questions and then asked me to upload pictures of the kitchen, baths, Master bedroom and front/back yard spaces of my home.  

Within 48 hours, she said, someone would reach out to me with a “preliminary” offer for my home. 

I took a little time to clean up, took about eight different photos, and emailed them to my concierge.  She called me to confirm receipt (excellent customer service, by the way) and told me I would have that preliminary offer within two days.

I noticed repeatedly that she kept saying the word “preliminary”, so I asked for an explanation.  In short, she said, Zillow will evaluate your home based on the pictures, consider the health of your market area and then factor in their “convenience fee”, which is the grenade sitting in your living room about to blow up.  

The convenience fee is the amount Zillow is going to charge for the "convenience" of selling your home directly to them, without Realtors, marketing, staging or showings.  In my case, that convenience fee was a markdown of about 8% below what my home is worth in today's market (which has little correlation with my Zestimate, by the way).

At this point, my concierge told me that the next step would be to send out their home inspection service.  If they found additional deficiencies (old furnace, leaky water heater, a bad roof or other major mechanical failures) she said my offer would be adjusted “accordingly”.  Realistically, there's probably another 2%-5% markdown coming after the inspection, depending on condition.  

By now, I pretty much had the information I needed to understand their product and so I opted out of additional follow up. “My job’s looking a little bit more secure,” I said.  “I think I’m going to stay put.”

The takeaway here is that working with Zillow, Offer Pad, Open Door or any of the other iBuyer options in our market today will likely result in a chop of somewhere between 12% - 15% of your home’s value. That’s pretty severe. 

But the severity of that markdown won’t be found in public records.  It will be found on the sellers’ settlement statement.  To the case of the home in Boulder, Zillow offered $725,000 for the home, which is not far removed at all from the $745,000 they re-listed it for in the MLS.

Looks pretty enticing, eh?

But in reality the seller paid a convenience fee that may have been $75,000, and that’s something that doesn’t show up in public records.

I would be very careful about getting too cozy with any home offered through an iBuyer program, because with the extraordinarily strong market we’ve had in Denver for the past seven years, why would anybody sell at that kind of discount?  Unless there were some very serious and negative issues going on, whether we’re talking structural problems, mold issues, or someone getting shot in the living room during a drug deal gone bad. 

All of these iBuyers have a few things in common.  They are well-funded, they train their sales and service reps at a high level, and they are going to raid your equity. 

Is there a market for this product?  Yes, absolutely.  If you’re 82 years old, widowed, a smoker and overwhelmed by the thought of renovating 50 years of neglect and enduring weeks of showings to get your home sold… then this might be your ticket.

But those instances are going to be rare and, more often than not, a last resort. 

I’ve always said that when you buy a home, you also buy history.  And if I’m paying a retail price for a home that’s been treated like garbage, there had better be a compelling reason (and commensurate discount) to do so.

Paying retail for a product that somebody didn't want - especially when that former owner knows more about that house than anyone else - is asking for trouble, in my opinion.  

And with 40% more homes on the market in Denver today than just one year ago, there certainly are plenty more choices.  

It's been said that, at a poker table, if you can't figure out who the sucker is within two hands, it's probably you.  Big corporations are not looking to sell these homes to shrewd, savvy buyers.  If you sit down at the table with an iBuyer company and can't quickly figure out who's being duped, you might want to think about excusing yourself and getting the heck out of there.   

Monday, June 10, 2019


If you were thinking about putting your home on the market in 2019, you may have missed your best chance for a quick and easy sale.  The spring market is officially done and over.  

As I've chronicled before, the Denver spring market hits early, and the absolute best time for anyone to get a home on the market is between mid-January and Memorial Day.  The market traditionally downshifts after Memorial Day, and the summer slowdown is already very much underway, even though summer doesn't "officially" arrive until June 21.

With 9,149 active listings on the market, the number of homes for sale is up 29.3% from one year ago, and up 45% from the beginning of the year.  Listing inventory figures to continue increasing right through until Labor Day, when the number of homes on the market traditionally peaks.  

It's a very different world than what we have experienced over the past six years, and both buyers and sellers need to adjust their expectations going forward.  

A total of 7,969 homes did go under contract in the past 30 days, which actually reflects a 2% increase from a year ago, so demand is holding up.  That's key, because if demand were to crater, prices would be at risk of falling. 

As it is working out right now, the increase in listing inventory simply means buyers have more choices, less urgency and are less likely to write "over the moon" offers.  That will dampen, but not extinguish appreciation.  

But the days of 10% appreciation and multiple offers on any moderately attractive listing are over.  The era of extreme market velocity is over, and what that means is that sellers must realistically expect to spend a much longer period on the market before receiving an offer.  

It also means we're going to have to correct a lot of bad habits that have been allowed to take hold during this epic market run.  

The number of real estate licensees in the Denver metro area has doubled since 2011, which means more than half of the agents in this market have never experienced anything other than "sold in a weekend with multiple offers".  

That means they didn't need to devise marketing plans, they didn't need to promote listings and they have never experienced the joy of meeting with disgruntled and disappointed sellers week after week to explain why there's little or no activity on their home.  

The exodus of so-called agents is underway, and will only intensify going forward.

For sellers, the reality is clear.  You have one shot at a first impression, and if think your home "may" need carpet, paint or new appliances, it probably does.  And maybe a new roof as well.

When prices were going up $30k per year, buyers would overlook things just to get a property under contract.  Now, with prices at all-time highs and mortgage payments for lower down payment buyers clearly higher than rents, the incentive to take a bad deal is gone.

Buyers' remorse is also now a real thing.  I've listed seven homes in the first five months of the year and four of them lost buyers after going under contract.  That's not fun.  

In the "old" days (pre-2019), having a pile of offers in one weekend allowed a good listing agent to sift through the buyer pool and screen candidates like an employer reviewing job applications.  It was easy to go through the offers and assess which buyers were best qualified and which agents had a track record of success.  It was a game of odds and percentages, and your odds of getting to closing in one piece and without drama were obviously greatly enhanced when you could put the best qualified people on the bus. 

Now, it's much more random.  When offers are scarce, you simply can't be as picky.

That means sometimes saying "yes" to buyers and agents you would not have agreed to contract with in the past.  And more often than not, marginal agents have questionable buyers.  Which leaves sellers in a precarious position.  Do you take the only offer in front of you, and hope you can hold it together?  Or do you stick it out and endure the continued inconvenience of sporadic showings and an uncertain future in hopes a better buyer comes along?  

The decisions are not so easy, and the headaches are much more frequent.  To survive this process, you need wise counsel, strong communication skills and a real strategy that goes beyond putting a sign in the yard and getting out of the way.  

For years, the hard conversations in this market have been with buyers.  Starting now, the hard conversations are happening with sellers, and that's one reason why the agent pool is going to continue thinning as the listing inventory keeps increasing.     

Friday, April 5, 2019


As April arrives and we hit peak selling season, the overall state of the Denver housing market is still relatively healthy.  Our local economy is strong and robust and our demography remains positive... but after several years of booming prices, it's my contention that values are flattening and the market is reaching a point where many first-time buyers are simply priced out.

This has ramifications, because demand "from the bottom up" has been the driver that has created the equity boom that has created the wealth effect which has made Denver one of the most economically vibrant cities in all of America. 

For as long as I have been in real estate (which is now going on 25 years), I have described market demand as a pyramid, which simply means there are always more buyers and more demand at the bottom of the market... and because of this, there is almost always built-in price protection for entry-level buyers because demand exceeds supply.

That premise - that demand is always most strong at the entry level - is now being tested.  

I measure demand in terms of "absorption rate", which is defined as how many months it would take, at the current pace of sales, to sell every home on the market, assuming there was no new inventory coming online. 

The real estate industry has long posited the axiom that six months of inventory reflects a balanced market, favoring neither buyers nor sellers.  

I personally feel that the real number for equilibrium is more like four months, because the way real estate is transacted in the digital era is very different than they way homes sold 15 years ago.  It used to be that open houses, sign calls, newspaper ads and postcard mailers were how people found out about homes.  Selling a home was like marinating a steak - it took time and results often came slowly.

In the digital age, everything happens quickly.  A new listing hits the market, and within minutes smart phones are pinging all over Denver.  Listing activity is front-loaded to the first few weekends a home is on the market, and if you can't sell a home within a few weeks, you have a problem.

The thought that six months of inventory reflects a balanced market is totally dated convention, but then much of the legacy thinking in our industry is aged and flawed.

For context, here are current absorption rates for all prices brackets I track in Denver:

$0 to $250k:  1.82 months of inventory
$250k to $400k:  0.76 months of inventory
$400k to $600k:  1.42 months of inventory
$600k to $1M:  2.21 months of inventory
$1M and up:  3.82 months of inventory

But back to the original premise... from the time I began selling real estate in Denver in 2006 until the end of 2016, we without fail had the quickest absorption rates in the sub-$250k price category.

Predictably, as you worked your way up the pricing ladder... the $250k - $400k range was the next tightest market segment... followed by the $400k - $600k range... followed by the $600k - $1M range... followed by homes priced at a million dollars and up, which often sit on the market (even in good times) for many months before selling.

More buyers at the bottom, fewer buyers at the top, the demand pyramid made perfect sense.

Starting in November of 2016, however, we saw a change.

At this point, homes in the $250k - $400k range actually began selling faster than the sub-$250k range, and the reason for this is that while the move-up buyers were flush with equity, the incoming crop of entry-level buyers was finding it harder and harder to both qualify and come up with down payment money.

While demand for homes at all price levels has remained strong during our housing boom, the stress on first-time buyers hit another last milestone last February (2018), when for the first time in all the years I have been tracking numbers demand was actually stronger in the $400k - $600k range that the sub-$250k entry level.

Increasingly, it has become apparent that the housing party in Denver is mostly reserved now for those who already have significant equity, which is the kind of elitist market dynamic I left when I departed California at the end of 2005.

Put another way, if you've owned a home since 2011, you're flush with equity and living a much more secure financial life than the younger people coming into our market today.

And for that generation of owners who won the housing lottery simply by taking action at the right time... they have significantly more options and opportunities than those recent college graduates coming out of school with $100k in student loans looking at median home prices pushing $500k.

That's one of the reasons Colorado Springs (historically much more affordable than Denver) is now ranked as the #1 housing market in American for 2019 by Trulia, and why Denver no longer appears on that Top 20 list.  

So while the established owners are able to use their equity toward down payments on larger move up homes, emboldened by their own balance sheets and the feel-good headlines we've grown accustomed to... the first-time buyers in our market have been falling further and further behind, or giving up on the dream of home ownership altogether.

The issue here, as I see it, is that push in our market has always come from the bottom up.  And now that housing is out of reach for many would-be first timers, you simply don't have the farm system in place to keep driving prices higher as you work your way up the pricing scale.  

The word I have used to describe our market, repeatedly, over the past nine months or so is "fragile".  When interest rates suddenly spiked into the 5's last fall, it hit our market hard and fast.  The types of homes that had sold in the spring in one weekend with multiple offers suddenly began sitting 15, 30, 45 days before any offer would materialize.

And without the frenzied bidding wars that characterized the spring market... sellers started seeing offers that were less than full price.  And then buyers (the nerve!) started asking for repairs.  And you started running into more valuation issues with appraisers.  And by the end of the year, there was grounds for reasonable doubt about whether you would see any appreciation in 2019 at all.  

The good news, at least from our standpoint, is that all of our political dysfunction and drama in Washington has caused interest rates to drop back down in to the low to mid 4's - for now - which significantly helps affordability and breathes life back into our market.

But active inventory is still up 36% from a year ago.  More homes which go under contract are coming back on the market than I have seen in many years.  Buyers' remorse is a real thing, and the "get a home at all costs" mentality that drove the market from 2012 - 2017 is transitioning into a mindset that is much more cautious and deliberative in nature.  

If you pay attention to other markets which have boomed in recent years (Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Austin, etc)... you see a steady thread of headlines.  Inventory is up and prices are flattening, not because people don't desire houses in high-cost markets.  They simply can't afford them any more. 

And that means you should be adjusting your thinking accordingly. 

I have become much more conservative with my buyer clients in 2019, to the chagrin of my managing broker and to the detriment of my bottom line.  I'm not interested in people bootstrapping their way to minimum down payments with monthly mortgages $300 to $600 higher than rents.  Why does that make sense, especially if prices are flattening?

If your reputation is the currency of your business, you always think in the long term, even when it costs you money.  My commitment has always been to the "happily ever after", and not the quick buck so many others are chasing.  

Owning a home is an expensive proposition.  Roofs age, furnaces quit, sewer lines break and exteriors need painting.  For most people, it's still worth it.

But if you don't have reserves... if you are fully dependent on two incomes... if you're not prepared for the unpleasant financial surprises that sometimes come with home ownership... you need to be thinking long and hard in a grown-up way about whether or not it really makes sense to commit to this market right now.  

If you have cash, equity, plenty of reserves and a good, stable job... by all means, buying is almost always logical and a financially-sound decision.  

But I spend a lot of my time these days having lengthy conversations with young people who seem intent on bootstrapping it, and for those who are not receiving solid advice, I worry that an uncomfortable percentage of today's bootstrappers may be tomorrow's short sales.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


Confession time.

Over the past eight-plus years, when the platform was first invented, I’ve made a lot of money off Zillow Reviews. Hard-earned money.  

In the summer of 2010, I was among the first to learn that Zillow was planning to set up a platform for clients to post reviews about agents.  Up until this point, the real estate industry had a love-hate relationship with transparency.  In fact, there’s another post out there somewhere about all the blown opportunities Realtor.com had to assume the market leadership position Zillow has today simply by being transparent with data and taking down all the paywalls and registrations it used to take to get the most basic real estate questions answered online when it was the only game in town. 

I’ve always said transparency is your best friend, or your worst enemy, depending on how you roll.

And so from the word “go”, I jumped in and decided Zillow Reviews would be my friend.  I quickly reached out to past clients and rapidly built a profile… first 20 reviews, then 30, then 40, then 60, then 80.  By 2014, I had the third most “five star” reviews of any agent in Colorado.

To date, I have 120 reviews. 118 of them are positive.

Today, potentially against my better judgment, I want to talk about the two that are not five star reviews.  And all the damage those two negative reviews have done, not only to my precious “reputation”, but also to my psyche.

I’ll let you in a secret. 

This job is not easy.  It comes at a price.  Ask my family about the countless missed dinners, late arrivals to my kids' events and more than occasional no-shows at family functions.  

Selling real estate in and of itself, per se, isn’t all that hard.

It’s selling 30 – 35 homes a year, being in the top 1% of agents in Colorado, being the number one producing agent in your office, and doing it all ethically and with your client’s best interests 100% at heart… that’s hard.

When I started collecting reviews on Zillow eight years ago, I was actually kind of naïve about it. 

You see, my business is and has always been referral based.  As a “96% of the time rule”, I only work with people I know, like and trust… who also know, like and trust me. 

It’s that 4% that trips you up.

Because every now and then you start down the path with someone and realize that it's not a good match.  Whether it's differing ethics, differing word views, or differing beliefs about what makes a "good" real estate transaction... I've always preached that if it doesn't feel right, you shouldn't be doing it.  

But every now and then, you find yourself dancing with someone when your instincts are telling you to run away.

Sometimes I will gently suggest those people partner with another agent.  Sometimes I ride it out to the bitter end, where either things get better or things get worse.

But it’s a complete fantasy to think you can sell 300+ homes in a 12-year period and not have an occasional flameout.

And that’s where this post gets sticky.

The truth is, when I began collecting reviews, my intention was not to attract strangers.  Far from it.  It was simply to create a single site where reviews, sales history and production could be aggregated… because as we declared earlier, transparency is your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on how you roll.

My naïve intent in 2010 was to collect reviews, add a QR code to my business card and marketing materials (a trendy idea at the time) and let people read for themselves how I sold more homes than 99% of the agents in Colorado, worked with people I loved and delivered results at an elite level.  

What happened, in addition to that, is a whole bunch of strangers I had no connection to started finding me online based on those exceptional reviews, and that’s where the water got murky.  

Truth is, over the past eight years I have closed deals for about 40 clients who found me off of my Zillow reviews.  Conservatively, I’ve probably had 200 or more contact me. 

Eighty percent of the time, my response is the same:  “I’m sorry, my business model is to work only in my network with people I’m already connected to.  I'm honored that you reached out, but I need to stay focused on those with whom I've already built strong relationships. Best of luck to you.”

But sometimes… whether it’s a slow week or a large home or a compelling narrative or a gut feeling that I ought to say "yes" to this one… I’ve taken the bait. 

And when you stray from your core values, results may vary.

Of my 40 or so closed Zillow clients, I would say at least 25 - 30 had great working relationships with me.  Clients for life.  Raving fans.  All that good stuff that happens when you truly put your clients' needs and desires ahead of your own, work seven days a week, solve problems at a high level and know the market like nobody else. 

I’ve had another five to 10 I tolerated.  Didn’t dig their vibe, didn’t like their humor, didn’t appreciate their zero sum worldview.  But we got to the finish line and they were happy, as far as I know.

And then there are a handful of strangers I have truly regretted working with.

It’s hard, when you start from scratch with people and go through a process as emotionally demanding as buying or selling a home in this crazy Denver market. 

There’s stress, anxiety, pressure and self-doubt. 

And the clients sometimes have troubles too.

But, seriously speaking, if you think it’s possible to have a 100% approval rating at scale over eight years in any field, you’re delusional.

And so tonight, I’m waiting for bad review number three. 

I fired clients today who found me on Zillow a few weeks ago.  It doesn’t matter what the details are… we just aren’t a good match.  This couple has had bad real estate experiences in other markets and arrived into the Denver market with scars from previous wrecks. 

Their view of “winning” is different than mine.  They think winning is sticking it to the other side, testing the boundaries of the contract contingencies and perpetually negotiating until the ink is dry at closing.

They’re not interested in what anyone thinks of them after closing, as long as they got the best of the deal.

And that’s fine.  For them.

I’ve dealt with plenty of seek and destroy personalities in real estate.  You can’t imagine the drama that actually goes on behind the scenes when people operate from scarcity using a roadmap of threats, demands and ultimatums.  

We all have biases and we all create narratives.  While all biases and narratives have shades of gray, sometimes you swerve into people who are approaching things from an entirely different playbook.

You need to cut bait with those people.

Problem is, these people can also post reviews.  And then they are hung around your neck like a millstone, and it sucks.

As we move deeper in to 2019, I’m transitioning away from Zillow Reviews as a branding tool.  Being addicted to the approval of others is an unhealthy trap,  If the opinions of others becomes your oxygen, the words of a hater are like toxic gas.   

I’ve been trending away from aggregating reviews for the last year or so, just as I’ve trended away from social media and other bastions of fakeness in our culture today.

While 98%(+) of my reviewers love me, the 2% who don't have too much power.  

So I’m going to continue doubling down on relationships, going deeper instead of wider.  And I’m sure it’s going to work out just fine.

We live in a world where we are far too obsessed about what others think, often at the expense of what we should think about ourselves. 

I’m reconnecting with what I should think, and I think I’m done giving so much power and authority to people who mean me harm. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019


I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the future of home ownership.  

That sounds like a weighty philosophical statement, and it is, but when your business is based on transparency, honesty and thoughtful analysis of the numbers... you can't avoid looking at how societal and political trends will impact housing in the coming years.  

As you know if you've been following my narratives, either in this space or on Facebook or via the recent comprehensive 10 - 15 page market update reports I mailed out to past clients in September and again in January, our market is changing.

Here in Denver, we're on the tail end of multiple offer bidding wars, inventory shortages and what has essentially been one of the all-time great market runs for the Rocky Mountain region.  

The main reason our market is starting is to flatten out is that young people are simply tapped out.  

Years of rising prices, coupled more recently with rising interest rates, have made home ownership unattainable for a growing number of younger Coloradans.   

It's reflected in the home ownership rate, which has dropped from an all-time high of 71% in Denver 12 years ago to 62% today, and I believe it's headed for the mid 50's over the next few years as the American Dream of buying a home simply becomes a dream, period.  

It's too difficult for young people to get started now, with record amounts of college debt, a scarcity of good paying jobs and technology and globalization increasingly putting Millennials in direct competition with educated young people in India, China and a host of other countries where $5 an hour is a pretty attractive wage.

For decades in this country, tax policy and governance has been skewed in favor of the rich and the old.  And more recently, the Fed's interest rates policies allowed corporations access to unlimited capital at negligible rates, leveraging their returns and creating even more wealth at the top of the pyramid.

Change happens slowly, but change is gathering momentum.  And it's going to affect housing.  

For example, what happens if (when) the home ownership numbers dip below 50%, and we effectively become a nation of renters.  At what point do things like the mortgage interest deduction and tax-free capital gains for sellers of primary residences go away?  

Don't say that housing in this country isn't subsidized by tax policy, because it is.

For all the stupid and ineffective things NAR does with its ridiculous piles of dues-generated cash, the one thing they have done effectively is lobby.  Yes, NAR has 1.2 million members writing annual checks to fund a war chest that directed over $72 million to lobbyists and politicians in 2018.  And that fat cat system has been the first line of defense in holding the status quo.

But if the trendlines in our political culture mean anything these days, it's that the status quo is in the crosshairs.   

We have a housing affordability problem in this country, in part because a whole bunch of older people are sitting on trillions of dollars of equity that was created in large part through government subsidized housing perks and a very accommodating interest rate environment manufactured by the Federal Reserve that created an unbelievable post-Great Recession value surge.

It was great for incumbents, because it's the economy, stupid.  It was great for the Treasury, because soaring values for stocks and real estate mean higher tax revenues.  It was great for banks, because when the Fed gives you access to funds at 0% and you loan those dollars out at 4%, hey, that's a sweet deal.  And it was great for those who owned real estate because your home(s) just made your balance sheet look a whole lot happier.   

For Millennials, what did they get?  $20 trillion in debt, record student loan liabilities, rising rents, and a job market that is marked by diminishing opportunity and increased pressures caused by the twin hammers of technology and globalization.

It's not far-fetched at all that a younger, more mobilized political class would extract its revenge by taking aim at the home mortgage interest deduction.  And if a majority of the population ends up as renters, then it's a lot easier to start passing mill levy increases on those privileged snobs who own stuff to pay for public schools, roads and infrastructure.  

And affordable housing programs.

And rental subsidies.  

And maybe appliance tax credits, or transportation tax credits, or utility bill tax credits... or whatever other credits, gifts or incentives politicians can dream up to funnel toward the growing bloc of voters known as renter nation.  

If we become a nation of renters, then that bloc of voters who don't own homes might not have any problem raising taxes on and taking benefits away from that bloc of voters who do.   

While we have vulnerabilities here, it's far worse in my old home state of California, where Proposition 13 has been the untouchable third rail of politics since 1978.  This voter-passed initiative was intended to keep older Californians from being priced/taxed out of their homes by limiting annual property tax increases to 1%... which means a home that sold in 1980 for $50,000 may be worth $800,000 today, but if the owner has been there for 39 years he is taxed as if its actual value is less than $100,000.  

Guess who makes up for that funding shortfall?  

The younger guy who pays $800,000 for the home next door, who is taxed at eight times the rate of his elderly neighbor, that's who.  

If there's an affordability crisis and you want to blow up the system in a hurry, repeal Proposition 13, and overnight you'll have every senior citizen on a fixed income in the state putting their home up for sale and moving to (insert the name of any more affordable place here).  

Which means massive amounts of inventory flooding the market overnight, plunging prices due to the surging supply, and complete chaos in the housing market.  (That might work pretty well for young people, come to think of it)

That's the California example.  We have a senior property tax exemption here in Colorado, and although it's not nearly as punitive as the system in California, some revenue-hungry politicians might be inclined to look at it.  

My point is, over the next decade we are going to live through a politicized generational revolution both here in Colorado and in the United States in general, in my opinion.  As young voters mobilize and politicians pander to them, it will change the game.    

The fastest way to level the playing field between rich and poor, old and young, owners and renters... is to start taking the perks of ownership away from the have's and transferring them to the have not's.

Based on this framework of ideas, you would be naive not to at least consider the possibility that home ownership may soon become a politicized target, instead of a generational aspiration.  

We've got a broken system here.  Well, it's broken if you're young and not endowed with a trust fund or a pipeline to the Bank of Mom and Dad.  

The National Association of Realtors, the Colorado Association of Realtors and the real estate industry in general needs to stop doubling down on the status quo and needs to start having some real conversations about how housing policy can be done better.  Young people need affordable options.  And old people may have to forfeit some perks for it to happen.  

If we don't lead on this issue, politicians will.  We can lead, or we can be led.  But either way, don't expect the the world of tomorrow to look like the world of today.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


The spring market is back.

Over the weekend, I listed two homes that drew a combined 58 showings and 13 offers.  I was, honestly, stunned to see how quickly this market came roaring back to life after things went silent during the 4th quarter of 2018.

Both contracts ended up beyond list price with other significant concessions.  Having just endured a weekend with 40-plus phone calls, frantic agents and desperate buyers (where were these people a month ago?), I’m still processing my thoughts about what just happened.

And I do have some deeper perspectives about the quality of the buyer pool, the future direction of our market and what went down over this crazy weekend… but I’m going to save them for another time.

Right now, I want to talk about professionalism. 

On one of my listings, I had seven offers more than $10,000 over list price… all great offers, at least as far as the numbers are concerned.  But when there is that much competition and that much frenzy, it comes down to details. 

Appraisal guarantees, lender phone calls, proof of funds, agent production history… all of that matters.  Because what you’re trying to do, as a listing agent shepherding that many offers, is find the buyer, agent and lender who give you the highest and best odds of closing on time, with minimal brain damage, under the best possible terms.

So yes, an agent with 10 years of experience and 200 deals is going to have a leg up on a newbie who is still trying to figure things out. 

After thoroughly evaluating our contracts and letting my sellers make their decision, I made phone calls, left voice mails when necessary and then sent out an email to all of the other agents who had submitted offers.  I let them know how many showings we had, how many offers we received, and what a difficult decision it was.  I let them know (in this case) there were at least five offers that could have been chosen, but in the end, it came down to details.

A short time later, my phone rang.  It was the agent who had submitted what probably was the second-best offer, well over list price with a free rentback and a small appraisal guarantee… but no proof of funds and no lender phone call to back it up.
We easily could have chosen this buyer, and I bet we could have made it to closing and everything would have been just fine.  But in the end, as I said, the goal is to take the most complete, airtight offer on the table. 

That wasn’t his, although it was close.

The point is, instead of saying congratulations and taking the high road, this so-called agent chose to berate me.  I could hear him huffing and puffing through the phone about how we never game them a second chance or called to ask them to up their offer before making a decision.  

As I said to him, calmly, you get one shot to make a first impression.  I called for highest and best in the MLS, included that information with the showing instructinos and shared that information with every agent who called me directly.  Your offer was 90% buttoned down.  You got beat by someone whose offer was 95% buttoned down.   

The good news is, his outburst on the phone confirmed for me that we had made the right decision.  

In this type of market, who you work with matters, more than you can possibly imagine.

Reputation is the most important asset any agent owns, and I’m proud of where I stand and of how many agents want to work with me based on my track record of proven results.

Buyers often don’t understand this, and then wonder why when they chose to work with discount brokers and freshly licensed second cousins their offers end up in the trash. 

Reputation is the secret sauce of real estate.  And when you hire an agent, you are employing their reputation as much as their skillset and availability.

The screaming agent who called and chewed me out this morning blew any chance of being in second position if our first buyer bails out.  He took something that had a 20% chance of happening (moving into first position if our top contract falls) and effectively moved it to zero. 

Nice work, champ.

I understand that emotions are raw and it’s hard to work with buyers in a hot market.  Don’t you know I’ve been there myself, more times than I can count?  It’s maddening.

But the game is not over when the first contract is selected.  In fact, the game is not over until the deal closes and the process is complete.  Professionalism and basic intelligence dictate that you keep the door open, take the high road, say the right things and operate from a position of gratitude, even when you lose. 

But of course, I’ve been doing this for 25 years.. and maybe back in year two or year three or year four I was more like this guy, angry and embittered and huffing and puffing.  So I’m willing to extend some grace.

If you aren’t Captain Angry and you’re just a hard-working agent who happens to be reading this, I’m hoping you can see the wisdom in understanding how your own behavior plays a role in your ultimate success or failure. 

The best advice I can give you is, take the high road, every time.  Because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a similar situation, when three days later, my phone rings and it’s the listing agent.

“The buyer got a little wobbly and the earnest money never showed up,” says the agent whom I treated with humility and respect after initially losing out in multiple offers.

“Is your buyer still interested in the property?”