These common sense steps can help you cut your winter utility bills down to size

While much of eastern Colorado has only recently began to experience winter in its most well-known form – snow – the cold has been here a while, and that means the furnace is kicking on and the utility bills are climbing.

About.com offers these common sense and affordable – if not free – steps to keeping those bills from climbing too high (though they may not have the impact new windows would have):

1. Bundle up! OK, so Coloradans are used to the cold, but we don’t have to run around in shorts, a tank top and sandals in the middle of winter to prove it. Instead of turning the heat up to accommodate summer wear, don on a sweater or sweatshirt, sweats, socks and fuzzy slippers. Keep a fuzzy blanket nearby to cuddle up in while watching TV, reading or chatting with friends, and lay down throw rugs on hardwood and tile floors to eliminate the shock of the ice cold surfaces. Then turn down the heat!

2. Cover up the windows and doors with plastic that aren’t used during the winter months. Window kits sell for about $5 per window and can help eliminate drafts to keep in the heat. If kits or plastic sheeting aren’t in the budget, hang blankets to help insulate.

3. Turning the heat down to a reasonable 60 degrees at night and when no one is home can make a big difference on your bill. Adjust the thermostat manually for free, or spend a few bucks on a programmable thermostat, in case you’re liable to forget adjusting the thermostat.

4. After baking cookies or making dinner in the oven, leave the door open a crack. There’s a lot of heat in that oven, so letting it escape puts the heat to good use by warming up the kitchen and surrounding rooms, and the furnace won't have to run quite as much.

5. Use a space heater only in the current room you are hanging out in. This will take the nip out of the air to make you feel more comfortable without heating all of the other rooms in the house and wasting energy.

6. Use silicone to fill any cracks in doors, windows, etc., including the basement floor and walls. You would be surprised at how much heat is lost through cracks that seem insignificant. A tube of caulk or silicone will only run you a few dollars and it’s an easy weekend project.

7. Close any doors and vents to rooms that are not used regularly, such as the guest room that sits empty most of the time. Doing so can easily cut 100 to 200 square feet off of your energy footprint.

8. Put weather stripping around windows and doors, especially in an older home, as the seals around doors and windows can deteriorate over time.

9. Cover up the attic entry with plastic, pieces of insulation, old blankets, weather stripping, saran wrap, painter drop cloth or even a few old shirts. Any of those materials will help to slow – if not, stop – the drafts and warm air from floating away through the roof. Heat rises and may get sucked up through the attic, so you may not notice a cold draft even though your expensive hot air is floating away.

Don’t be deceived by sales stats; 2010 ended on a positive note

Comparing Boulder County communities’ real estate sales statistics for November with the numbers from a year ago or even October might send some into a panic.

But if compared with a year with similar circumstances – 2008, specifically – 2010 actually had strong end, according to Ken Hotard, Boulder Area Realtor Association senior vice president of public affairs.

Only 195 single-family homes and 66 condos/townhomes sold in Boulder communities in November, compared with the 252 single-family homes and 84 townhomes that sold in November 2009.

However, Hotard points out that at this time last year, people were under the impression that the homebuyer tax credit was set to expire at the end of the year. It’s a much more accurate comparison to look at November 2008, when homebuyers had no tax credit to take advantage of by a certain time. Then, like now, the bottom fell out of the housing market.

In November 2008, 149 single-family homes sold and 50 condos/townhomes sold. In comparison, this November’s sales are an improvement, he says.

Another positive fact is the fact that all but two Boulder-area markets – Boulder and the plains – saw increases in average home sales prices ranging between 1.1 percent and 15.3 percent, and all but three – Boulder, the plains and Lafayette – saw increases in the median sales price.

“Prices are holding up extremely well,” Hotard says. “We’re still working on balanced inventories of homes for sale, resulting in healthy absorption rates in most market areas.

Prices and the increasing number of home sales compared with November 2008 paint a picture of an improving market, he adds. The area has a balanced absorption rate, it isn’t over-supplied with inventory and more jobs are coming, he says.

Some of the recent announcements regarding potential job growth include:

• Loveland-based Abound Solar, which has a 200-person manufacturing plant near Longmont, closed on a $400 million federal loan, which will allow the maker of thin-film solar panels to ramp up production and hire 200 more employees in Colorado within the next two years, according to the Boulder Daily Camera. The majority of those new hires will work at the Longmont photovoltaic array manufacturing facility. Abound currently has 350 employees in Colorado.

• Colorado high-tech firms are getting a boost from NASA to speed up manufacturing in hopes of providing 10,000 new jobs over the next five years. The new program will promote manufacturing of new products like thin film solar cells developed in Colorado. An agreement with the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology will help build a technology park somewhere between Loveland and Boulder.

Hotard called the announcements “very positive” and “a great fit for this area in terms of the University of Colorado, all the federal laboratories and the new energy economy.”

He adds, “This is the kind of news that has the ability to trigger consistent market expansion and growth we have been waiting for. People should be feeling relatively good, looking to celebrate a joyful holiday season and launch very positively into the New Year.”

While it’s not clear exactly what steps Congress will take to help the economy over the next year or two other than not raise taxes, Hotard says, consumers should have a bit more money to spend and may be more willing to make longer term investments such as buying a home.

“We’re starting to see more positive economic news setting up for a good end to 2010 and we should be in relatively good shape going into 2011, with the expectation of a healthy market going forward,” he says.

Boulder scores highest out of 200 U.S. metros on Portfolio.com’s brain-o-meter

Need Boulder residents be reminded of just how smart they are? Probably not. But in case the world didn’t know, Portfolio.com ranked Boulder the smartest metro in the U.S. after analyzing the nation’s 200 largest markets.

Boulder is the home of the University of Colorado and is a “burgeoning hub for high-technology, electronics and aerospace companies,” and is therefore blessed with an economic mix that places a premium on education, according to the online magazine.

The result is a broadly educated workforce: five of every six adults in the Boulder area (82.5 percent) have attended college – the strongest concentration in the study group –  while26 percent of Boulder’s residents hold master’s, doctoral or professional degrees – also the highest figure in the country, Portfolio.com reports.

The online magazine says that the U.S. Census Bureau data shows a worker with an advanced degree will earn 31 percent more than a colleague with a bachelor’s degree and 128 percent more than somebody who never went beyond high school.

Portfolio.com determined the rankings based on point values assigned to five rungs of an educational ladder, from high-school dropouts to holders of advanced degrees The score for a given market depended on the percentage of residents age 25 or older on each rung. The higher the score, the stronger a market’s collective brainpower.

Fort Collins (with Loveland included), home to Colorado State University, also joined Boulder on the list, coming in at No. 5 and making Colorado the only state with two cities among the top 10.

At the opposite end of the rankings are several Texas and California markets where college graduates are outnumbered by high-school dropouts, according to Portfolio.com. Last place belongs to Merced, California, with a score of -2.558. Thirty-four percent of Merced’s adult residents left high school without receiving diplomas, and only 11.3 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

The Portfolio.com study encompassed the 200 metropolitan areas with populations greater than 207,000. If the rankings are confined to markets with at least 1 million residents, the five areas with the strongest brainpower are Washington (third in the overall standings), San Jose (seventh), Boston (eighth), San Francisco-Oakland (10th), and Raleigh (12th).

The top 10 brainiest metros in the top 10 are:

Boulder follows Pueblo among Colorado and metros nationwide for home-price appreciation

It’s been a while since Colorado didn't make an appearance among the top 20 states for home-price appreciation on the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Quarterly House Price Index. But it happened in the third quarter of 2010 despite most of the state's metros improving their ranking.

With a drop in home prices of 2.88 percent from the third quarter of 2009 and a 2.08 percent drop from the previous quarter, Colorado ranked 28th among 51 on the index. It came in at No. 14 in the second quarter with prices dropping 0.25 percent from the second quarter of 2009 and falling 0.98 percent from the previous quarter.

Although Colorado’s home prices as a whole didn’t perform as well on a national level, its cities’ prices held their own among the 299 metros surveyed. Boulder’s ranking jumped from 74th in the second quarter to 53rd in the third quarter and Denver-Aurora-Broomfield’s climbed an impressive 48 steps from 122nd in the second quarter to 74th in the third quarter.

But perhaps the most impressive improvement in home prices came from Pueblo, which jumped from the 242nd slot in the second quarter to the 47th rank in the third, making it the top-performing city in Colorado - even beating out Boulder, which has held that honor in more recent quarters.

Except for the top 11 states ranked, all states experienced declines in home prices for the year and most for the quarter. The District of Columbia ranked No. 1 aong metros with an appreciation rate of 5.29 percent for the year and 6.79 percent for the quarter.

Here’s a look at how Colorado and its cities ranked for home-price appreciation in the third quarter compared with the nation and the second quarter of 2010:

Forecast presenters: economy continues to struggle but showing signs of recovery

How do consumers feel about the economy?

Awful.

But that’s no different than they felt about the last couple of recessions the U.S. experienced, Dr. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, told about 475 attendees at the fall Re/Max of Boulder Inc.’s 2010 Real Estate Conference on Nov. 18.

“Consumers are saying that things are rotten in this country,” he says, adding that their confidence about the future is not good, but it’s not as bad as it was in the early and mid-1980s. “If people do not believe in the future, are they going to be confident about making a major decision such as the purchase of a home?”

Yun pointed out other issues holding back from the “Recovery to Normalcy,” or a balanced market, such as businesses keeping their purse strings tight even though their profits are improving.

Federal Housing Administration loans are performing well, but Yun says the “residual impact” of overly enthusiastic lending – foreclosures – will continue through 2012. “All bad loans are made in good times,” he says.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae loans made since 2009 are doing well – better than pre-bubble times and perhaps too well – because they are being made only to “super high-quality” individuals, he says. People with reasonably good credit and looking to stay within their budget are being turned away, and that’s stifling the market.

“That’s what we are working on,” he says, noting the NAR is in discussions with the FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Reserve to lift some of the restrictions on lending.

To reach “normal,” Yun says, the U.S. needs robust job creation. Adding only 100,000 jobs per month is only treading water, and to add more, businesses need to start spending again.

Yun noted that locally, Fort Collins is doing better at creating more jobs compared with 10 years ago, but Boulder is about the same.

Now that the tax credit for first-time and move-up home buyers is over and the winter months are here, the nation will get a better idea of whether the real estate market is returning to normal, he says. That means generally low sales activity during the winter but the spring could bring a normal buying season.

Builders who want to stay in the industry are finding niche and wanting to get back to building – something they weren’t doing because of competition with foreclosures – but they can’t get back to work because they are unable to get government loans, Yun says.

Yum warns that inventory is low and if not enough homes are on the market when people are ready to buy, that means prices will start rising again – which is good for property owners but not buyers. “Under normal lending criteria, people will be priced out,” he says.

And, true to form, Yun stressed that even in the new “normal” economy now developing, home ownership is still the key to financial stability.

“The long-term path to self-reliance may be helped from long-term housing wealth gains,” he says. “That’s the old fashioned way and I think we’ll be returning to the old-fashioned way of building wealth.”

He predicted moderate expansion of the Gross Domestic Product in the next year, mortgage rates rising to 5 percent in 2011 and 5.9 percent in 2012 and no meaningful change to home values.

Local real estate forecast 

D.B. Wilson, president of the Boulder Area Realtor Association and manager of Re/Max of Boulder, Inc., describes the last few months following the homebuyer tax credits as a “hangover.”

Now that the “hangover” has passed, it’s time to look for signs of recovery in the local real estate market.

Here are some of the highlights from Wilson’s presentation:

• Home values have returned, for the most part, with a nearly 8 percent increase in the median and average sales prices of Boulder County’s single-family homes in the first nine months of 2010.

• The average sales price of attached dwellings dropped less than 2 percent.

• Expect housing inventories to continue in a fairly stable range and home prices to drop little, if at all.

• Boulder County saw a 7.7 percent increase in the number of single-family homes that sold in the first nine months of 2010 compared with the same period last year.

• Sales of attached dwellings dropped nearly 7 percent through September 2010 compared with 2009.

• Boulder County has about a 10.5 percent absorption rate of new condos and plenty of supply.

• Foreclosures for the area were down 18 percent through September but they increased slightly in October.

• The good news for sellers is that values have held study, in part because of limited inventory, but that’s not so good for buyers because they don’t have much from which to choose.

• At the end of the third quarter of 2010, Boulder County had 1,988 single-family listings, compared with 1,969 in 2009, with 2,054 sales compared with 1,907 in 2009 (a 7.7 percent increase);

• Indicating the importance of pricing a home right, 33 percent of new single-family listings sold in the first nine months of 2010 compared with 50 percent selling the previous year.

• The number of active attached-dwelling listings was down from 725 through September 2009 to 704 in the first nine months of 2010; sales were down 7 percent.

Wilson also advises that with how low interest rates are now, people who are considering buying need to think about what will happen to their buying power if the interest rate goes up.

“You don’t live with your price … but you have to live with your payment,” he says.

Denver-Aurora lands on 'best of' list with jobs, affordable homes

Cities with low crime and good schools have taken a back seat to places with jobs and affordable homes for those looking to relocate, according to BestPlaces.net.

But the sprawling metro of Denver-Aurora meets the latter criteria, as well, landing ninth on BestPlaces.net’s 10 Best Cities to Move to in America. Pittsburgh, Penn., took the top slot.

The list takes considers a wide range of data, from cost of living to crime rates, the number of colleges and how healthy the population is, as well as access to museums, shows, sporting and other events as well as stability. The latter refers to modest, controllable growth, minus the big booms that lead to disruption and big busts in time and livability.

Denver-Aurora scored high on stability and affordability as well as for its attractive downtown.

BestPlaces.net noted Denver has plenty to offer in the way of arts in museums and public art, as well as four professional sports team - the Denver Broncos football team, the Colorado Rockies baseball team, Colorado Avalanche hockey team and Denver Nuggets basketball team. It also recognized the mountains surrounding Denver-Aurora for both their beautiful and plethora of outdoor activities.

Aurora also offers shopping and cultural events, as well as more than 1,800 acres of park land, at least a dozen golf courses and a 200-acre nature center.

The unemployment rate is 7.4 percent, below the national average of 10.2 percent, and lands Denver-Aurora as the No. 11 job market, according to Indeed.com, with two job seekers for every job available, according to BestPlaces.net.

Pittsburgh, says BestPlaces.net, has transformed from a major industrial steel town into a hub for education, health care and the arts yet has remained affordable, with a cost of living 12.2 percent below the national average and an average home price of $116,400, well below the national average of $171,700.

Its crime rate is low, it ranks high on both arts and colleges, and it's at low risk for a natural disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane or tornado. With three professional sports teams – the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team and the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team – it has its share of loyal sports fans.

Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, and Indeed.com has named it the No. 18 job market.
Here’s a look at all the cities appearing on BestPlaces.net’s 10 Best Places to Relocate to:


Source: BestPlaces.net

Local real estate market keeps to its slow pace in October

October’s real estate statistics for Boulder County offered both good news and bad news, depending on your point of view.

“The bad news is the market hasn’t changed much from last month,” says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association. “The good news is the market hasn’t changed much from last month.”

With 230 single-family homes and 66 condos/townhomes selling in October, compared with 227 and 72, respectively, selling in September, sales are holding steady though at a low level, he says.

If that “good news” isn’t good enough, Hotard points out the “solid improvements and minor declines” of Boulder area average and median home prices.

The average sales price dropped in only three communities, and then only slightly, and the median sale price dropped in only two communities – again, only by a slim margin. That means home values increased in most Boulder communities last month.

Hotard also notes that inventories of homes for sales of decreased over the last several months, which means it takes fewer months for the houses on the market to sell and keeps prices stable or improving slightly.

“That’s good news, that the market has taken that shape, because it helps to maintain values,” he says.

But for homes priced at $1.5 million or higher, the absorption rates begins to climb into the double digits (10 months or more), Hotard says.

New home construction projections recently fell almost 12 percent from 600,000 units annually to 519,000, nationwide. That helps bolster the resale market by keeping the supply low and absorption rates in balance, he says. “Buyers looking for homes today are most likely looking at re-sales.”

For people considering putting their home up for sale, “they’ve got a stable market in which they should have an opportunity to sell a quality home that’s priced well. They won’t see as many low-ball offers from buyers trying to take advantage of a weak market,” Hotard says.

Hotard points to the lack of mortgage financing and the over-tightening of credit standards nationally to the lackluster performance of the real estate market.

“It’s gone beyond point of credit tightening for good reason to the point of credit tightening just for the sake of credit tightening,” he says.

Quoting Bloomberg.com, Hotard says, “'We’ve gone from silly to stupid,'” captures lenders’ recent behavior."

For the time being, not much will change, he says.

“I’m not encouraged that the outcome of the recent elections will yield much in the way of dramatic action to improve our economy in the short run,” Hotard says. “I think we have a real possibility of gridlock and inaction for a period of time.”

Hotard says he expects some reduction in sales volume through the end of 2010, but inventories will continue to decline and prices will hold well.

“The first quarter of next year will be very instructive as to what to expect going into springtime when markets usually accelerate,” he says. “I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. This downturn has been deeper and longer than has been expected by the best experts and has exceeded my expectations as to its duration.”

Many still believe buying a home is smart decision

Although the economy has put a damper on the buying and selling of homes, it hasn’t changed the fact that most people still believe buying a home is a wise financial decision.

That’s according to nearly eight out of 10 respondents to the 2010 National Housing Pulse Survey, which the National Association of Realtors released in October, reports the NAR’s Realty Times.

The survey measures how affordable housing issues affect consumers. Despite the unstable economy, 68 percent of those surveyed believe now is a good time to buy a home – down from 75 percent last year but up from 66 percent in 2008 and 59 percent in 2007.

According to the Realty Times, more than 25 percent of renters are “thinking more about buying a home than they were a year ago,” perhaps because of lower home prices and record-low mortgage interest rates. And 63 percent of renters responding to the survey said that owning a home is a future priority and nearly 40 percent said it was one of their top priorities. Lower home costs resulted in only 57 percent of renters reporting fear that they could never buy a home because of affordability, compared with 63 percent in 2007.

However, 79 percent of respondents still consider having enough money for a down payment and closing costs to be among of the biggest obstacles to buying a home. Another obstacle is a lack of confidence in their ability to be approved for a loan, reported by 73 percent of respondents, the Realty Times said.

Move or improve? Ask these questions

Most families eventually grow out of their first homes as they add more members or their children get bigger, or perhaps they add a business or more cars. It’s at that point that they need to decide whether to sell their house and buy a bigger one, or if they should remodel and perhaps add on to their existing home.

Bradley Tuttle of Real Estate Loans 4 You offers these four questions to determine whether you should improve your current home or buy another. He advises that homeowners who are happy with their current neighborhood and school district (usually the top two owners' priorities) are wise to weigh answers to the following:

1. How long do you intend to keep the house?

It doesn’t make much sense – financial or otherwise – to pour money into a house only to sell it. If you've ever lived around and through a remodeling project before, you’ll want to get enough joy out of the improvements to offset the emotional upheaval wrought by the construction.

2. Will you be able to recoup the cost of improvements when you sell?

Even if you aren't thinking of moving in the near future, be sure to do the math before wading knee-deep into a project. A real estate agent or appraiser can show you comparable properties (comps) of recent sales to determine how much, if any, the improvements will increase market value. If you make improvements that don't add to market value, be prepared to walk away from what you've spent, especially if selling in a short period of time (less than five years on the average, depending on the type of improvement.)

3. Are the improvements you're considering logical given the age, size, and location of the house?

Just as you wouldn't install a new sunroof on a dilapidated car, don’t make expensive additions to a house littered with obsolete functions and features. Appraisers would tell you that it's much tougher to recoup the investment from home improvements if they aren't similar in style and design/era to the existing home.

4. Could additions/changes over-improve the house?

A house at the top of the market for the neighborhood can take longer to sell since buyers often purchase on the low side, hoping to maximize equity and improvements made over time. And certain buyer segments don’t welcome some additions, such as families with young children are likely to shy away from home with a swimming pool, since it's the No. 1 cause of death for children under age 5. And retirees will not want a master suite in a third-floor loft, even if it has been remodeled.

Even though you may want to make additions/changes based on your immediate needs and desires, it never hurts to consider a potential, future buyer to avoid over-improvements you can't recoup.

The answers to these four questions may not provide all the information you need to adequately weigh improving the house versus moving to another, but they will serve as talking points to get you focused on solving your housing needs in an organized and cost-effective manner.

Real estate conference offers perspectives on navigating market, economy

If you’re looking for insight into how to navigate today’s uncertain economy and real estate market, then you won’t want to miss Re/Max of Boulder Inc.’s 2010 Fall Real Estate Conference.

Federal Housing Administration Commissioner David H. Stevens headlines this year’s conference keynote speakers. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, and Brad Blackwell, retail national sales manager for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, will round out the keynote speaker panel.

The conference is set for 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Millennium Harvest House Boulder, 1345 28th St. The cost is $59 and includes lunch. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and a reception at 4:30 p.m. will wrap up the day’s events.

Re/Max of Boulder is also honored to welcome Larry Kendall, chairman emeritus of Fort Collins-based The Group Inc. Real Estate. He will speak on strategies that will serve Realtors well when selling real estate in this economy.

Other topics covered at the conference include:

Commercial/Residential: Opportunities on the Horizon: Smart investors should look beyond today's headlines for real estate opportunities that will mature throughout the next decade. We'll look at developments such as ConocoPhillips, North Park and others, including redevelopment and infill projects, with an eye toward maximizing investment returns.

Residential Track: Transit-Oriented Development: FasTracks eventually will change the dynamics of real estate in the Boulder Valley. This panel will discuss projects such as Boulder Junction and other transit developments in Broomfield, Louisville and Longmont.

Commercial Track: Rent or Buy? Is your company in the right-sized space? Is it time for you to purchase a building for your business? Our expert panel will discuss how you can take advantage of the current market and get the best value for your company's dollars.

During the Real Estate Forecast, Boulder Area Realtor Association President D.B. Wilson, who also manages the Re/Max of Boulder office, and Lynda Gibbons, chief executive officer of Gibbons-White Inc. will talk about what the future holds for the economy and real estate for the remainder of 2010 and into 2011. They will examine both the national trends and the outlook for the Boulder Valley.

For more information and to register for the Fall Real Estate Conference visit http://www.fallrealestateconference.com/ or http://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=895283. You can also contact Tom Kalinski of RE/MAX of Boulder, Inc., at 303.441.5620 or e-mail tomkalinski@mindspring.com; or Chris Wood of the Boulder County Business Report, 303.440.4950, or e-mail cwood@bcbr.com.

Four hours of Continuing Education Real Estate Credit are available from VanEd. Contact the BCBR if you are interested in being a sponsor or having a booth.

Relationship building key to successful banking

If you have lived or worked in Boulder long enough, you may remember it as Boulder Valley Bank and Trust, a private bank founded in the 1980s.

Or perhaps you’re more familiar with Mountain Parks Bank or its successor, Community First National Bank.

No matter what the name and parent company, the bank known as Bank of the West since 2004 has stood on its original foundation: building relationships with customers.

Owned by BNP Paripas in Fargo, N.D., Bank of the West was founded 135 years ago, and its philosophy today is the same as it was then, says Lisa Evans, vice president and Boulder market manager.

“We have always focused on the customer relationship,” she says. “It is all about the customer experience.”

To ensure that the bank is true to its cause, Bank of the West employs a third-party survey company that calls customers randomly to see how their experience was and whether the bank met their needs, Evans says. Third quarter results showed that more than 94 percent of our customers at the two Boulder locations were "extremely satisfied" with the customer service they received.


“Banking in general is a people industry,” she notes, adding that its service is what sets Bank of the West apart from its competitors.

Bank of the West employs 12 people at its two Boulder branches, 3800 Arapahoe Ave., #100, and 1300 Walnut St., #100. Evans says more than half of them have been with Bank of the West for more than five years, and some have been with it – and its predecessor – for more than 10 years.

She attributes the bank’s low attrition rate to efforts to build a relationship with its employees, as well, by providing them with financial assistance for their college education, and recognizing them with incentives and rewards for different levels of achievement. “People choose to stay and grow with our company,” Evans says.

Bank of the West is also the leading sponsor of University of Colorado athletics. And the bank and its employees show their appreciation to the community they serve by getting involved, either financially or by giving of their time, with University of Colorado athletics, the local hospice program, the YMCA, Boulder Community Hospital and the Family Resource Center (Access Counseling), Evans says.

A majority of Bank of the West’s Boulder clients have been with the bank for years, she says, showing that getting to know and understand people is important in banking.

The bank is also known for its business banking, and is one of the 30 largest commercial banks in the nation.

“Both of the branches have a background in commercial banking, in being there for that business owner,” Evans says. “I think it’s about relationships – faces you know and relationships you build. Whether it’s commercial or retail banking, we’re providing what the customer needs and we’re able to grow along with them. If we have a relationship, we know what they need and can bring that to the table.”

Bank of the West’s parent company, BNP Paribas, is one of the six strongest banks in the world, according to Standard & Poor’s, with $2.4 trillion in assets. Bank of the West had $61 billion in assets as of Sept. 30, 2009, and more than $40 billion in deposits.

Learn more about Bank of the West’s Boulder branches by calling (303) 444-7771 (Arapahoe branch) or (303) 449-7200 (Walnut branch), or visit www.bankofthewest.com.

Boulder tagged for smart folks and life before and after graduation

Combine a beautiful setting and friendly people with an entrepreneurial with a major university and you get one of the smartest cities in the nation – perhaps because graduates of that university fall in love with the city itself.


Web magazine The Daily Beast recently named Boulder No. 1 on its list of America’s Brainiest Metros.

According to the magazine, America’s Brainiest Metros are a mix of large metros with a significant presence of technology and knowledge-based businesses and the nation’s premiere college and university towns. The presence of a major research university is one of the most decisive variables.

While noting that Boulder is known as a liberal enclave, the magazine touted the University of Colorado as “top notch” and home to some of the nation’s best science programs. It also recognized that Boulder is the base for several science research centers.

But it also has plenty of recreational opportunities that not only bring students to CU, but convince them to stay after graduation.

According to Liveability.com, Boulder ranks fifth on its Top 10 College Towns: Great Cities for School and Life After Graduation.

Liveability.com says besides CU, Boulder also offers its students and graduates “mountains and eye-catching scenery.” The average age of its residents is just 29, and it has more than 36,000 acres of open space, where students can test their skills in hiking, mountain biking or climbing. Boulder residents also have relatively short trips to hit the slopes at Eldora Mountain Ski Resort to ski, snowboard or snowshoe, and plenty of hot spots in town where they can warm up or shop and socialize.

Here’s a look at the top five in The Daily Beasts’ Brainiest Metros:


Market stats reflect sobering economic conditions

The economy is just barely chugging along, and the local real estate statistics reflect it.

Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association, says that 227 single-family home sales for Boulder County is “a fairly revealing number. Things really did slow down quite a bit after the homebuyer tax credits expired this spring.”

During the second quarter of this year, 1,103 single-family homes sold, compared with 765 during the third quarter – a 30 percent drop. And 416 townhomes/condos sold in the second quarter while only 225 sold in the third quarter.

Boulder – along with the state and nation – will face ongoing challenges as the government continues to struggle financially, he says.

“It’s not clear what this, now temporary, foreclosure freeze will do in the market; it could have an additional dampening effect,” Hotard says.

He notes that 31 percent of home sales nationally in the third quarter were homes that were foreclosed on. It is important to keep the processing and sales proceeding and to move these distressed properties out of the market. Recently, Bank of America and GMAC lifted their freezes, debunking negative speculation regarding processing oversight.

“I also think the election coming up has had an effect on the economy and real estate market because of uncertainty about future federal policy,” Hotard says. “Hopefully whoever prevails in the elections nationally will instill confidence in consumers and markets, providing a positive boost to economic health and housing nationally as we enter 2011.”

Virtually nonexistent job growth – unemployment nationally is at 9.6 percent and may drop to 9.2 percent next year – and the lack of an economic expansion also will take its toll on the real estate industry, he says.

“I don’t think anyone ought to panic,” Hotard says. “No one is anticipating a double-dip recession. While we’re not experiencing a rapid expansion, for months we’ve been on a slow and measured positive trend in terms of economic growth. It’s just very, very slow.”

Despite the low home-sales volume, Boulder’s home values and sales values remained solid across the market in September, “reflecting stability even in the face of challenging financing and rising numbers of foreclosures that we have seen in Colorado and nationally,” Hotard says.

Another bright spot is that “historically low, unbelievably low” interest rates are available on mortgages. “Mortgages couldn’t be cheaper,” Hotard says.

Hotard also sees a positive energy from area Realtors who are “retooling, reorganized, more efficient and expanding services,” instead of reducing them, to bring more value into transactions.

“It’s really encouraging to see how the real estate professionals are responding to the challenges this market is presenting to them,” he says. “From my exposure at national and state meetings, while there are fewer Realtors, there is an energized level of professionalism and value in the industry and confidence that profitability will return as a result.”

Pending home sales rise for second consecutive month

The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index ended the summer on a positive note, rising 4.3 percent in August from July to 82.3 based on contracts signed that month.

The data reflects contracts put on homes, with closings following in one or two months. Markets had expected the index to increase 3 percent.

July’s index rose 5.2 percent to 79.4 based from a downwardly revised 75.5 in June, making August the second consecutive month that pending home sales have increased.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the latest data is consistent with a gradual improvement expected in home sales in upcoming months.

“Attractive affordability conditions from very low mortgage interest rates appear to be bringing buyers back to the market,” he says. “However, the pace of a home sales recovery still depends more on job creation and an accompanying rise in consumer confidence.”

Although Yun expects a continuing steady rise in home sales, he cautioned any sudden rise in mortgage rates could slow the recovery.

“Current low consumer price inflation has helped keep mortgage interest rates very attractive this year,” he says. “However, recent rising trends in producer prices at the intermediate and early stages of production, along with very high commodity prices, are raising concerns about future inflation and future mortgage interest rates. Higher inflation would mean higher mortgage interest rates. In the meantime, housing affordability is hovering near record highs.”

According to Reuters, home sales and building activity are stabilizing after a steep decline following the end in April of a popular tax credit for home buyers. The rise in pending home contracts may indicate a modest gain of existing home sales this fall. However, high unemployment and a glut of homes on the market indicate recovery will be very weak.

In the West, which includes Colorado, the PHSI rose 6.4 percent to 101.1 but remains 19.6 percent below a year ago. The Northeast index declined 2.9 percent to 60.6 in August and remains 28.8 percent below August 2009. In the Midwest the index rose 2.1 percent in August to 68.0 but is 26.5 percent below a year ago. Pending home sales in the South increased 6.7 percent to an index of 90.8 but are 13.1 percent below August 2009.

RE/MAX of Boulder, Inc. Offers Four Mile Fire Assistance

The Boulder Valley Community and RE/MAX of Boulder, Inc. have banded together to help with the devastating aftermath of the Four Mile Fire which burned 165 homes.  Please contact your RE/MAX Realtor (or Broker/Owner Tom Kalinski 303.441.5620 Email Tom) to obtain contacts of trusted architects, contractors, attorneys, lenders, insurance agents, material suppliers, demolition/deconstruction companies or assistance with navigating the County Building and Planning Department.

Rental Properties available from RE/MAX of Boulder:
1. 1240 Cedar, Apartment Building 12 vacant 2 bedroom units, $1300-$1400 mth - Bill Allen 303.441.5690
2. Boulder - 4 bedroom / 3 bath home $3200 mth - on market to Dec. - Dave Osborne 720.566.2681
3. 487 Rifle Way Broomfield new home $2000 - Ted or Carolyn Manzanares 303.666.8115
4. 135 Stone Canyon, Lyons $800 mtn , 3 bedroom, 2 bath, all appliances - Dan Sidall 303.918.8400
5. 3140 29th 4 bedroom, 4 bath, office $2300 - Chad St. Onge 303.895.7190
6.1667 Zamia, 2 bedroom, 2 bath townhome $2000 - Ed Schultz 720.495.3889
7.AGR Building- Niwot and Front Range -  Lisa Jacobs 720-375-1092

(Rental questions can also be directed to Todd Ulrich Property Management RE/MAX of Boulder 303.441.5672 or cell 303.5645.4762)

Other websites with rentals:
PGRentals 

Upcoming Community Meetings Boulder Green Building Guild: 
Location: East Boulder Senior Center
Dates: Thursday September 23 - 7-9  pm and
Sunday October 3 - 1-6 pm

Clinic seeks to provide affordable acupuncture in a group setting

Jen Alberti and Caroline Adams took starkly different paths to get there, but they both ended up in the same place: helping people from all economic backgrounds heal with acupuncture.

The women are partners in Left Hand Community Acupuncture in Lafayette, offering acupuncture on a sliding payment scale in an environment in which people know they are not alone in their pain and discomfort.

Joining forces
Jen, from Quincy, Mass., just outside of Boston, has been a believer in acupuncture to treat her chronic seasonal allergies. She knew she wanted to provide the same relief to others and came to Boulder with her partner, Greg Williamson, to finish her degree at Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder. The couple fell in love with Colorado and the mountains and decided to make it their home. “I feel like we’re a lot more active here,” Jen says, noting she and Greg didn’t have access to hiking trails and couldn’t bike to work in Boston. “I think it’s great.”

A native and lifelong resident of Colorado, Caroline became interested in health care after touring the Boulder Massage School in 2000. At the time, she was working as a librarian – researching engineering issues, but became dissatisfied with her job. She wanted to do something more fulfilling to help others. “I thought hard about (massage therapy), but the idea of being with someone and not talking to them seemed really odd to me,” she says. The mother of two – Zoe, 7, and Charlie, 5 – attended an open house at Southwest Acupuncture College after being laid off in 2004 and “got hooked.”

Knowing she wanted to offer community acupuncture and needed a partner, Caroline asked Jen to join her after observing not only Jen’s dependability and punctuality, but her compassion and knowledge. “I just knew from her character in school that she was someone I’d like to work with,” she says of Jen.

The women opened Left Hand in Lafayette in May because it was one area of Boulder County that didn’t have community acupuncture services. They are growing their practice to serve patients from the other area towns such as Erie, Louisville and Superior.

A community of healing
Community acupuncture means patients are not led to a private room where they get undressed and don a robe before undergoing an all-over body treatment. Instead, several patients may receive treatment at a time in the same room where Jen and Caroline focus on the elbows to the hands and the knees to the feet. So all most patients have to do is roll up their sleeves and pant legs.

The room is filled with white noise and music, and Caroline and Jen speak quietly and discreetly with each patient about their issues before beginning treatment. The patients usually respect the need to do the same, Caroline says.

By providing treatment in a community versus private environment, Jen and Caroline are able to keep costs down and provide acupuncture on a sliding scale, making it available to a wider section of the population.

“We’re set up for people who normally couldn’t afford $70 a treatment,” Jen says. A treatment at costs between $20 and $45, “which brings this medicine to so many more people who couldn’t afford it otherwise.”

Effectiveness in differences 
The partners both attained their master’s degree from Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, and they are both Nationally Board Certified and hold Master’s of Science in Oriental Medicine.

Both women practice a Japanese form of acupuncture that focuses on gentle needling techniques. However, Caroline says Jen’s experience makes her more effective with sports injuries, while Caroline is more of an internist. Jen says the beauty with acupuncture is any style of treatment results in the patient’s improvement.

However, Caroline says Jen’s experience makes her more effective with sports injuries, while Caroline is more of an internist. Both women practice a Japanese form of acupuncture that focuses on gentle needling techniques, though Jen’s internship work with Charles Chace makes her style somewhat different than Caroline’s. Jen says the beauty with acupuncture is any style of treatment results in the patient’s improvement.

Caroline took three semesters of Chinese at the University of Colorado as well as Asian art history and Buddhism classes, giving her a fondness for and insight into the culture of the Orient that helps her as an acupuncturist.

“There’s definitely a different mindset between Asia and the West,” she says. “It’s hard to come at Japanese and Chinese medicine from the West with an open mind. I was able to adopt that more readily.”

Left Hand Community Acupuncture is located in Old Town Lafayette at 409 S. Public Road, at the northwest corner of Public Road and Emma Street. Call (720) 248-8626 or e-mail info@LeftHandacu.com. Visit http://www.lefthandacu.com/ for more information.

The size of the American dream is shrinking

Perhaps Americans are finally learning that bigger isn’t always better – especially when it comes to home size.

The U.S. Census Bureau American Housing Survey reports that the median new home size fell to 2,135 square feet in 2009 after reaching more than 2,300 square feet earlier in the decade.

Apparently home buyers are cutting back on options as well as size, asking for multi-use rooms instead of rooms devoted to single purposes, according to CNNMoney.com. The most common number of bedrooms in today’s new home is three – half of a home’s total number of rooms. The average number of bathrooms in today’s new home is two or more, and they aren’t as big as they once were.

However, Americans may give up size but they are not giving up certain appliances: 90 percent of new homes are built with central air conditioning already installed, and 63 percent of all homes now have AC. That’s a significant increase compared with only 52 percent of owner-occupied homes – nonrental properties or second homes – that boasted of central air 10 years ago. More than 75 percent of all homes now have dishwashers, up from 65 percent in 2000.

The survey also showed that of the more than 76 million owner-occupied homes in 2009, 63 million were traditional detached, single-family residences. And many more homeowners live in the suburbs than in cities.

Home to two universities, Boulder No. 1 college destination

Boulder topped the American Institute for Economic Research’s 2010-2011 College Destinations Index, a quantitative ranking of the 75 best towns and cities to live in if you’re a college student, for small cities with populations between 250,000 and 1 million. Boulder is home to the University of Colorado as well as Naropa University.

AIER chose the locations from an analysis of the 222 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with college student populations of 15,000 or more based on data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Science Foundation.

Fort Collins, home to Colorado State University, came in at No. 10 while Denver came in 12th on the list of major metros with populations greater than 2.5 million. San Francisco took the top slot on that list. Denver boasts of University of Colorado Denver, University of Denver, Regis University, Colorado School of Mines, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and several community colleges and for-profit schools.

The CDI analyzes the areas in which the schools are located, including the overall academic environment, quality of life, such as cost of living and arts and leisure activities, and professional opportunities, according to AIER.

“Deciding what school to attend should involve more than what the school itself has to offer,” says Keming Liang, AIER’s lead researcher on the project. “Where to attend college is just as important, because like the colleges themselves, the towns and cities in which they are located vary widely in the opportunities they offer students and recent graduates.”

Among the criterion AIER used to rank college cities:

• Student Concentration: number of college students per 1,000 residents

• Student Diversity: percentage of all students holding foreign passports

• Research Capacity: academic R&D expenditures per capita

• Degree Attainment: percent of the 25-34 year old population with college degrees

• Cost of Living: based upon average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment

• Arts and Leisure: number of cultural and entertainment venues per 100,000 residents

• City Accessibility: percentage of workers over age 16 who commute on foot or by public transportation or bicycle

• Creative Class: percentage of residents working in the arts, education, knowledge industries, science and engineering, management and other fields

• Earning Potential: income per capita

• Entrepreneurial Activity: net annual increase in total number of business establishments per 100,000 residents

• Brain Gain/Drain: year-over-year ratio of college-educated population living in the area

• Unemployment rate.

Here’s a look at the top 10 College Destination Index cities:

Look for these hidden health hazards in older homes

Home ownership is a big part of the American dream, but it’s also the big American responsibility. Here are some hidden issues to look for in the home you are considering buying or that you’re already living in, courtesy of Associated Content:

1. Clogged dryer exhaust ducts. Regular vacuuming of the dryer’s exhaust will help prevent the lint from catching fire. Dryer lint can also accumulate and possibly ignite in the exhaust ducting under the floors or behind the walls. Use a DIY dryer duct cleaning kit remove lint those hard-to-reach ducts.

2. Dirty chimneys. If you want to avoid your chimney flue exploding in flames, clean it out at least once a year. If the creosote is allowed to build up, a single floating ember could cause an explosion.

3. Mice droppings. When cleaning up mice droppings, wear latex gloves and a HEPA face mask and wet down the flooring before cleaning to avoid Hantavirus. This deadly disease is breathed in while cleaning up after the rodents.

4. Water heaters. Lower the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees to avoid accidental burns, especially of younger children, and lower energy costs.

5. Lead paint. If your home was built before the 1970s, check with your city's hazardous waste office first to learn the safe way to prep an old house for a new paint job to avoid environmental and health hazards.

6. Radon gas. One out of 15 homes in the United States has high levels of cancer-causing radioactive Radon gas, which originates from the uranium found naturally in the soil. Test for Radon with a DIY testing kit but call in a professional to fix any problems you find.

7. Bad DIY wiring. A home inspection by a certified inspector will catch a not-to-code wiring job and other unsafe DIY improvements in an older house.

8. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide – an odorless, colorless and flammable gas poisonous to humans and their pets – can build up from a faulty gas furnace or oven, a camp stove or even a chimney. Fixing the escape of CO gas into your home is a job for the professionals, but a home owner can install CO alarms throughout the home to protect its occupants.

9. Icicle buildup on the eaves. Melting icicles can drop from the eaves of a house and injure unfortunate souls who are standing around. Avoid injury from icicles by knocking them off with a shovel.

10. Squirrels. Attic dwelling squirrels love to nibble away at all the electrical insulation, which increases the risk of home fires. Check the roof and eaves periodically for signs of gnawing by critters, and then repair open areas with steel mesh after the squirrel has been trapped.

Boulder real estate sales remain flat in August

Real estate activity in Boulder County in August remained in line with July’s, showing just a slight improvement.

Despite the drop in sales the last two months in comparison with the spring and early summer months, sales remain ahead of what they were the previous year: 3,324 single-family homes sold in Boulder between Aug. 1, 2009, and July 31, 2010, compared with 3,041 the previous year. And 1,228 condo/townhomes sold Aug. 1, 2009, through July 31, 2010, compared with 1,184 the previous year.

A total of 267 single-family homes and 75 Boulder County condos/townhomes sold in August, compared with 303 and 110, respectively, in August 2010. July saw 258 single-family home sales and 74 condos/townhome sales.

Some Boulder communities’ average home sales prices gained ground in August – 10.8 percent in Louisville, 7.1 percent in Lafayette and 0.8 percent in Boulder – but some continued to drop (a 7.7 percent decrease in Broomfield). Erie saw a 13.3 percent increase and Superior a 9.5 percent increase in their median sales price in August, while the communities of Boulder, Broomfield and Lafayette all saw small decreases.

Inventory of homes on the market also remained fairly steady from July to August, though some areas including Boulder and the mountains saw a reduction of more than 25 in single-family homes for sale.

Colorado, metros continue to rank high in nation for home price appreciation rates

Colorado was one of only eight states where home prices actually appreciated in the 12 months ending March 31, earning it a placing among the top five states for home appreciation, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The District of Columbia had the highest one-year appreciation rate in the nation, with its homes’ values increasing 14.2 percent. It was followed by North Dakota with a rate of 7.48 percent; California third at 2.85 percent; and Vermont rounded out the top five with a rate of 1.44 percent.

Boulder was the highest-ranking metro area in Colorado, coming in at No. 50 with a one-year appreciation rate of -2.28 percent. Grand Junction was the lowest ranked Colorado metro at 254, with an appreciation rate of -10.9 percent.

While none of its metropolitan statistical areas made the top 20 for their home prices for the period, the FHFA ranked five of Colorado’s seven metro areas in the top 100 out of 301.

Here’s a look at how Colorado and its metros’ home prices ranked nationally:

Opportunity to help community and environment is a 'Climb' for entrepreneur

In providing transportation that serves the residents and businesses of Gold Hill – which sits on a mountain northwest and more than 3,000 feet above Boulder – Phill Carter may have discovered pure gold.

It’s not that the shuttle service will make Phill wealthy, since Gold Hill is home to less than 300 people. Rather, it is quickly becoming priceless to those who use it, allowing them to forego their own twice-daily treks up and down one of the steepest roads in the nation all year long, but especially in the dead of winter.

The Climb is a nonprofit shuttle serving Ward, Gold Hill and Boulder – and a variety of stops in between – providing three trips daily with one in the morning and two in the evening.

Phill, president and managing director of the service, founded it in February 2009 with the backing of Gold Hill residents Karel and Alice Starek, among others, who found it difficult to travel to and from town every day using their own transportation. Yet, with children attending private school and college in Boulder, they didn’t have a choice since no bus service was available to their community.

“There were other kids in the same predicament,” Phill says.

When he heard about their problem, the former owner of a “green” truck shipping and rental business put together a plan of action and, with the Stareks’ assistance, found the necessary backers to make it happen.

Now the 15-passenger shuttle bus that provides the aptly named “The Climb” ride is nearly full during every trip, and hauls visitors as well as several bikes passengers use to get around once their reach their destination.

It also provides rides to Boulder children attending Gold Hill Elementary School but who do not live on Gold Hill, allowing the school to maintain enrollment and keep its doors open, as well as transports students who live on Gold Hill but attend school in the valley. Gold Hill Elementary students and their parents, grateful for the service, have raised $1,200 to help fund the bus.

“Right now it’s just one bus and a spare, which we occasionally have to use,” Phill says, noting that The Climb has a reputation of being on time and dependable, even in inclement weather. “We’ve missed very few days.”

Not only is he pleased with having made life easier for the residents, businesses and school of Gold Hill, Phill is happy that he is able to do so while doing less damage to the environment than a traditional bus service would: The Climb is able to use 100 percent vegetable oil and biodiesel during the summer months, and 50 percent in the winter months.

“We take at least 11 to 20 cars off the road per day, so we’re also saving wear and tear on those vehicles,” Phill says. “I think I’m the only regularly scheduled bus service that runs on 100 percent vegetable oil and biodiesel. We’ll get six months in of 100 percent (this year).”

Phill says he takes care of his buses to make them more efficient, and a computer chip installed in their engines makes them more powerful to take on the climb to Gold Hill. He obtains his fuel from the Boulder Biodiesel Co-Op and, since he is the primary user of vegetable oil as fuel, he has enlisted the help of college students to collect and process it.

It costs $3 per trip to ride The Climb, but members of the community who use it on a regular basis can pay between $120 and $500 or more for an annual pass depending on what they can afford. Phill has accepted as little as $40 for the annual pass because “we just want people to ride it.”

With a bachelor's degree in environmental biology from Applachian State University, a master’s in business administration from East Carolina University and experience working for oil pipeline services, Phill was ready to drive his career down a different, more environment-friendly road.

“I wanted to do anything that made oil irrelevant after that,” he says.

He moved from Boone, North Carolina, to Boulder three years ago on the advice of a friend who called the community a “green-tech wonderland.” Phill started a green trucking company, Green Truck Roadway, and logged 240,000 miles without the use of petroleum, giving him the experience he needed when he saw the opportunity to start up The Climb.

With the access to engage in his hobbies - mountain biking and snowboarding - so near and the many successful green start-ups in the area, “Boulder fits me like a glove,” Phill says. “I'm amazed at how friendly and supportive and positive people are. The community is the biggest support.”

Phill says he is putting his hobbies on hold for now while he focuses on running The Climb and getting married this winter to Caitlin Lepper.

For more information about The Climb, visit http://www.the-climb.com/.

Colorado's colleges make Forbes' 2010 'Best Colleges' list

Forbes recently named 11 institutions of higher education in Colorado among its list of America’s Best Colleges for 2010.

The University of Colorado at Boulder came in at No. 185 out of 610, the second-highest placing for a Colorado college. The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs was the top Colorado university on the list, earning a rank of No. 11.

Forbes bases its selections on the quality of the education they provide, the experiences of the students and how much they achieve. The ranking is designed to meet the needs of undergraduate students and help them evaluate what many of them believe are important criteria when selecting a college:

• Do students enjoy their classes and overall academic experience?

• Do graduates succeed well in their occupations after college?

• Do most students graduate in a timely fashion, typically four years?

• Do students incur massive debts while in schools?

• Do students succeed in distinguishing themselves academically?

Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., took the top slot on Forbes’ list with Princeton and Amherst College following at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

Here’s how Colorado’s universities and colleges compared with institutions nationwide:





Some renovations may break the deal

For some, all that’s needed to turn their house into a castle is a swimming pool or hot tub, or perhaps a home office or monster garage in which to work. But what makes one person’s house a dream home may make it tacky and dysfunctional to someone else.

According to Mainstreet.com, the risk of not getting your money back when you make improvements is always there, but it increases substantially with certain “upgrades.”

Here are some home improvements that won’t improve your chances of selling your home and may even deter buyers:

Pool/hot tub

According to a poll of 500 remodelers, real estate agents and contractors by Angie’s List, the project netting the lowest investment return was a pool installation.

While in-ground pools cost between $20,000 and $60,000 to install, a homeowner wouldn't even recoup half of that. And the same is true for smaller pools, hot tubs or whirlpool baths. If the homeowners ever considered moving, such additions may take their house longer to sell, as some buyers don’t want to deal with the maintenance, costs and liability that come with having a pool.

Home office or monster garage

Returns on adding on a home office or monster garage are usually only around 60 percent and could make a house more difficult to sell, according to the Angie’s List poll. That’s because either of these improvements put a home in a niche market. Big families need a bedroom, not an office, while not every auto owner is an auto enthusiast.

Too much interior decorating

Whether you build that home office or are remodeling another part of the house, keep it simple in terms of decorating and choosing paint, countertops, lighting and more. The desk in the home office should be easily removed like any other furniture. Wood paneling – if you didn’t get the e-mail – is a no-no.

Illegal repairs

Major renovations require permits from the local jurisdiction, even if you plan to live in your home forever. If you were to move or your family is responsible for selling your home after your death, home inspectors or appraisers will flag illegal improvements, making the home difficult to sell. Contact the local building inspections department before completing any major renovations to ensure proper permits are obtained and you understand the safety codes thoroughly.

Unprofessional structural or electrical repairs

If a project requires a professional, get a licensed and insured professional, or you’ll have to pay for a professional to correct shoddy work anyway if and when you have to sell your home. It’s also a matter of safety for your family, guests and neighbors.

Fiddling with the floor plan

Leave your home’s floor plan in its original form by not tearing down or putting up new walls, making rooms too small or too big. And make your additions appropriate to the overall scale of the house.

Forgetting the necessities

Just because you don’t use your oven doesn’t mean future owners won’t. The moral of the story: when you remodel, include the minimum standards the average person would expect to find.

Matching home and neighborhood

If you out-do the Joneses when it comes to remodeling your home, you’ll probably never see a return on your investment. Your home’s selling price is based on the value of the neighborhood homes – not just yours. So if granite countertops or marble floors aren’t the usual in your neighborhood, refrain from installing them in your home.

You also don’t want to combine two discordant styles that make the rest of the house look old and shabby, like those granite countertops. Instead, invest in new appliances that add flash and are also functional.

Best bets
Angie's List recommends a proper remodel of a kitchen or a bathroom, which costs around $20,000, provides a decent return on investment of about 85 percent. Decks are also good investments, allowing homeowners to recoup about 80 percent of the cost, as well as new, energy-efficient windows or upgraded exterior siding.

Home sales for July ‘sobering’ though not unexpected

With the exit of the first-time and move-up home buyer tax credit, the decrease in home sales in July came as no surprise. However, the fact that sales dropped so dramatically was “sobering,” says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association.

In Boulder County, where the real estate market has remained steady despite the recession, single-family sales dropped 28 percent compared in July compared with July 2009, and its townhome/condominium sales dropped 57 percent. Compared with June, July’s single-family home sales dropped 30 percent while condo/townhome sales fell 44 percent.

Within the city of Boulder, 30 percent fewer single-family homes sold in July compared with the previous year, and 39 percent fewer sold in July compared with June 2010. Nearly 64 percent fewer townhomes/condos sold in July compared with July 2009, and 53 percent fewer sold in July compared with June. Longmont saw 37 percent and 57 percent drops of single-family home and townhome/condo sales, respectively, in July compared with July 2009.

“We really expected a pretty significant pullback,” says Hotard. “We hoped for a bit stronger sales. I think we’re looking at the new normal for the time being.”

Hotard attributes the drop is sales to the end of the first-time and move-up home buyer tax credits that “front loaded” home sales in the spring. Yet the increase in sales this spring and early summer proved the tax credit was needed and helpful, he says.

“If we try to make sense of marketplace, there no significant signs that would point to any kind of rapid growth in terms of home sales,” he says, noting that the national unemployment is at 9.5 percent and credit is still tight, further exacerbating the issue. “Unless and until unemployment comes down, housing sales are going to be stuck at these levels going forward until the end of the year.”

Hotard says that with other end-of-the-year indicators – such as the normal slowdown in the real estate market and holidays that provide a sense of consumer confidence – will provide clearer picture of the market’s immediate future. Until then, lack of consumer confidence, tepid job growth and tight credit will prevent many from entering the market, he says.

On the bright sales, sale prices of Boulder homes remained steady, with some communities even seeing increases in median and average sales prices for both single-family homes and condo/townhomes.

“That’s definitely a good sign,” Hotard says. “The strength of this market has never been in question in terms of the value of real estate. The issue has been people’s ability to purchase. I know there’s demand out there but barriers are preventing people who would otherwise be in the market from actually committing to a home purchase.”

Hard works translates into successful business and happiness for Clyncke

Hard work is in Chris Clyncke’s blood.

The third generation of the Clyncke family to head up Clyncke Concrete, Chris grew up on a Boulder farm, where working hard wasn't just a part of life – it was his life.

While his friends were getting in shape at a gym to prepare for the fall football season, Chris spent his summers bailing hay and doing other farm-related work that made him as big and strong as his peers.

"You did that all the time because you had to; it wasn’t like you played all day," he says. "I kind of liked it. I was big (200 pounds in the 10th grade)."

Chris followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps in the concrete business, but he once dreamt of riding the professional rodeo circuit, even though he broke his wrist in 11 places when a bull threw him when he was just 11 years old. That experience didn’t deter him from the rodeo – which he continued to participate in on the weekends during the summer – anymore than more recent injuries have deterred him from working in concrete.

Except for a two-year stint at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, during which he realized college wasn’t for him, Chris’ career in concrete was cemented from the time he started working with his father at age 14.

"I thought I wanted to do other things, but I liked doing the concrete work," Chris says, adding he enjoys the physical labor and making life better for others. "I just had fun doing it, and I still do."

And, like bull riding, a career in concrete has presented its own share of threats to Chris’ health: he’s had four surgeries on one knee, broken three lumbar in his back and had his torso punctured by a rebar, which just missed his heart. This last spring, Chris had surgery to repair a shoulder he seriously injured when he slipped on ice and put his hands back to catch his fall while working a job.

But none of these incidents or health-care providers’ warning that he would never again do the things he loved – from concrete labor to waterskiing, snow skiing and bicycling – have deterred him from the life he’s chosen. He calls his injuries the "good, ol' fun stuff" that are just part of the path he’s following.

"It’s been a long, hard life but I’ve enjoyed it," Chris says.

It's a life that is not much different than what the previous Clyncke generations lived. Chris' family emigrated from Belgium to the United States around 1860, homesteading in Boulder in 1861.

"They were farmers from over there, and (my great-great-grandfather) actually brought over some Belgium horses from there and those were the first set of registered Belgium horses brought into the United States," Chris says.

Chris' grandfather, Poliete Clyncke began doing concrete work in the late 1920s, and he and his father built ditches as part of the first Boulder watershed project. Chris’ dad, Marvin Clyncke, took over the business from his father and remains a majority owner. However, Chris is president and makes all the decisions for the business as well as does labor, serves as secretary and performs any other tasks required of running the company.

While Clyncke Concrete provides the full range of concrete work, including simple overlays, rip out and replace, residential foundations, windows and stairwells, curb and gutter, sidewalks, patios and driveways, it specializes in decorative concrete and overlays.

"That’s where the fun is at," Chris says, noting he recently paved a driveway in a sunset rose concrete, but he also does decorative stamp work on decks, patios and front entryways.

Chris, married 23 years to another Boulder native, Debbie, relishes the hard labor involved with his choice of careers. But he has successfully discouraged his 22-year-old son, Jeremiah, from going into the physically demanding concrete business. Jeremiah will soon start his fifth year at the University of Northern Colorado, where he is pursuing a bachelor's degree in forensic anthropology investigation with a minor in sociology.

In December 2001, Clyncke received national press for a Christmas display that featured, among other things, the Twin Towers and the American flag in lights in his front yard to show that his nation was not defeated. It was only three months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

But it’s not the patriotic statement he made that keeps Clyncke busier than his competitors these days, but the repeat and referred business from satisfied customers.

"Word of mouth is everything," he says. "If I’m going to do a job, I do it right. I do it not because I want to be rich; I just want to do a perfect job."

For more information about Clyncke Concrete, call (303) 901-9914 or see some of their work at here.

June’s stats may indicate market has hit bottom and is headed up

Home sales in Boulder continued their upward trend in June, giving hope that perhaps the real estate market has finally hit bottom and is headed in the opposite direction.

"Sales held up very well in June, probably continuing with the impact of the homeowner tax credit for first-time and move-up buyers," observes Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association.

Until Congress recently extended the deadline for closing on a home purchase to the end of September, buyers had to close by the end of June to qualify for the tax credit.

Boulder County saw 370 single-family homes and 131 townhomes and condos close in June, compared with 357 and 147, respectively, in June 2009. From June 1, 2009, through May 31, 2010, 3,418 single-family homes and 1,356 townhomes and condos sold, compared with 3,140 single-family homes and 1,184 townhomes and condos during the year before.

"For the first time in a quite a while, sales increased year over year and quarter over quarter," Hotard says. "That’s a good sign that suggests we’ve actually hit the bottom and leveled out and starting that slow crawl back to more historic sales volumes in the future."

And while June's market statistics are an improvement, they are far from where the market was a decade or so ago.

"These numbers look better than they are because we're comparing year-to-year numbers," Hotard says, noting 2008 was the worst year on record. "We’ve leveled out and we've begun that slow climb out of the recession. We are by no means moving into a rapid economic expansion and a robust period of growth."

However, the climb up could still have some bumps and dips.

Job growth – a major player in the state of the real estate market – is still in question, with University of Colorado economists recently revising statewide job numbers estimates substantially downward. But Vestas is adding employees to its Colorado locations – as many as 1,000 jobs at one facility – and other businesses announcing plans to locate along the U.S. 36 corridor, bringing moderate job growth to Boulder-area markets, Hotard says.

Interest rates remain at historic lows, which should spur buyers but restrictions on credit are making mortgages somewhat difficult to come by, he notes. A regulatory bill now in congress will reign in abusive practices of some lenders but will do little to free up credit.

"The numbers look very strong all around," Hotard says of the June sales statistics, noting that the downward pressure on home prices and sales volume has stabilized.

Realtors have told Hotard that activity has slowed this month compared with June, but whether that's reflected in the volume of closings won't be known until August.

"I think some people are expecting a real serious drop but I'm not of that mindset," he says, adding he expects to see a mild correction but not a dramatic reduction in home sales.

Boulder tops quality-of-life survey

For those who enjoy a lifestyle that America’s smaller – but not smallest – communities offer, Portfolio.com and bizjournals say that Boulder provides the highest quality of life out of all mid-sized communities nationwide.

The combined study of the organizations ranks Boulder No. 1 among 109 medium-sized markets, with populations between 250,000 and 750,000, in 20 statistical categories.

Portfolio.com and bizjournals gave the highest scores to areas with healthy economies, moderate costs of living, light traffic, impressive housing stocks and high-powered educational systems.

Boulder, with a population of 300,000 including the county, is a hub for high-tech industries and the home of the University of Colorado – two characteristics that have attracted a young, highly educated work force, according to Portfolio.com. It also earned high scores across the board in the quality-of-life study, placing among the 10 best markets in 13 of the 20 categories.

Among its strengths are:

• 56 percent of Boulder’s adults have bachelor’s degrees – the strongest concentration in any midsize metro. Just eight other markets are above 35 percent.

• Slightly more than half of Boulder’s workers hold jobs in the sector that pays the highest salaries – management or professional. Ann Arbor, Mich., is the only other market with 50 percent or more of their workers in that sector.

• Boulder has more than an average share of large homes, with nine rooms in 18 percent of its houses – a figure that only Provo and Ogden, Utah, can beat.

• Boulder is seventh in two key financial categories: its median household income of $65,960 is the seventh highest in the study group, and its poverty rate of 5.8 percent is the seventh lowest.

Portfolio.com and bizjournals based their quality-of-life rankings on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey, released late last year.

But Boulder wasn’t the only Colorado metro area among the top 10 for quality of life: Fort Collins (all of Larimer, actually, with a population of 292,889) ranked third and Colorado Springs seventh in the survey.

While Portfolio.com noted Fort Collins’ sizable pool of bright, young workers and that nearly 42 percent of its adults have college degrees, it pointed out Colorado Springs’ impressive growth, big houses, well-educated workers and a substantial number of young adults.

The Sunbelt dominates the opposite end of the quality-of-life scale, with medium-size markets from Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas holding the nine lowest positions, according to Portfolio.com. Last place belongs to Visalia, Cali., with the lowest percentage of management and professional workers in the study – 23.9 percent, which is less than half of Boulder’s 50.1 percent. Visalia is also dead last in the share of adults with college degrees at 12.7 percent.

Here’s a look at all of the metros joining Boulder on the top 10 list:



















Read more: http://www.portfolio.com/business-news/us-uncovered/2010/06/30/boulder-colorado-leads-in-quality-of-life-survey-for-mid-sized-us-cities#ixzz0sqXCrnBc.

One of Boulder's finest is also one of nation's finest now

OpenTable celebrated our nation’s independence by highlighting the Top 50 American Restaurants – and Boulder’s own Flagstaff House ranked high among patrons.

According to the Denver Business Journal, the annual list – issued in advance of July 4th – includes the 50 favorite American-cuisine restaurants of the San Francisco-based online restaurant-reservation site’s users. The selected restaurants were pulled from a pool of more than 11,000 restaurants and more than 5 million reviews.

Flagstaff House is the only Colorado eatery to make the list.

To learn more about Flagstaff House, visit http://www.flagstaffhouse.com/.

If your home isn't selling, consider these improvements

It’s true that the real estate market isn’t at the top of its game. But even so, if your home is on the market and has been for a while, here are some other reasons why from http://homesforsaleloganut.com:

Priced too high

A home priced higher than what the market indicates and potentially over what it appraises at is the most common reason a home doesn’t sell. When listing your home, keep in mind that you’re going to get the most activity within the first 30 days. If it’s priced too high, buyers who would have qualified at a more reasonable price will walk out the door and not come back. And if your home doesn’t appraise at the inflated price, you will have to reduce the price anyways.

If you can’t reduce your price, try looking at these other possibilities preventing your home from selling:

Your home isn’t putting on the best show

A higher number of homes on the market means buyers can afford to knit pick, and they don’t have to settle for a mediocre home. Give buyers something to get excited about, such as painting, cleaning the carpets and fresh fixtures. Household odors can also turn buyers away, so rid your house of stenches stemming from mold, animal urine or cigarette smoke or lose a potential buyer.

Location, location, location

Of course, you can’t really do much about where your house is located, or the schools that serve your neighborhood or the highway on which thousands of vehicles zoom past your home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And while some buyers may consider it ideal, others may not. But if its location is generally unattractive to most of the house-buying population, the best you can do to help it sell is lowering the price or, if you can’t, offer something different from the competition, such as seller financing or add furniture to the asking price.

A poor agent

If your agent tells you he or she can get you more for your home than other agents, that’s a red flag to turn to an agent who is honest and realistic. It takes more to sell a home than putting a sign in the yard and placing the home on the MLS. And a good agent will give you feedback on showings, return your calls or e-mails in a timely manner, and work congenially with other agents. If you discover that the problem with selling your home lies with your agent, you may have to wait out your contract, but most agents will release you from your contract at any time. A good agent wouldn’t force you to work with someone with whom you’re not satisfied.

Inadequate marketing

Today’s Realtor must go above and beyond the yard sign and MLS listing to including your home on a robust online marketing site, since 90 percent of buyers start their search online.

But print media is not dead when it comes to real estate, and many people who haven’t entered the world of the Internet rely on newspapers for open houses and local real estate publications.

In a nutshell, today’s best agents must take advantage of all levels of marketing, from the World Wide Web to the newspaper to yard signs, color flyers on the sign, multiple phone numbers, MSL listings, directional signs on busy streets, multiple open houses and more. Make sure the agent you hire has such a multi-level marketing strategy.

In addition to what your agent can do to sell your home, give buyers a good reason to buy it. Those in the market to buy know they have plenty of houses from which to choose, and they’re looking for the best deal as well as the perfect home. Make that your house.

Dave Query turns dream into reality with hard work, ambiance and a flair for fare


Working as a cook at Mustard's Last Stand at only 14 years of age, Dave Query knew he was destined to go into the restaurant business, whether as a chef, owner or both.

What he didn't foresee was just how much reality had in store for him.

With a collaboration of silent partners – a mix of friends and mentors who allow Dave to make the decisions – backing him, Dave has opened five restaurants in Boulder and two in Denver since 1994.

As a senior at Fairview High School, Dave wrote a 10-year plan that outlined his hopes to attend a cooking school, travel the country and work in as many great restaurants he could, then return to Boulder and open his own restaurant, for a class assignment. When the teacher sent the plan to parents' address 10 years later, Dave had satisfied most of his goals, graduating from the Culinary Institute in New York, and traveling to and working at restaurants in cities known for their high-class and unique cuisine: New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago and France, among them.

When he returned to Boulder in 1988, he implemented that last of his dream, working at if not co-owning restaurants in the Denver-Boulder area including The Lickskillet Cafe, Cliff Young's and Q's in the Hotel Boulderado.

"There’s never been anything else that I ever wanted to do," Dave says.

The seven restaurants that make up Big Red F are now among the most popular in Boulder and Denver – not only for their cuisine and libations, but for their ambiance and exemplary customer service: Zolo Grill, Jax Fish House, the West End Tavern, Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace and Happy in Boulder, and LOLA Coastal Mexican and Jax Fish House in Denver.

Dave says the fact that he grew up in Boulder hasn’t hurt. "Anytime you can do business in the town you grew up in, it’s going to be to your advantage," he says.

And most of his restaurants do not serve Mexican or seafood cuisine by chance: Dave enjoys spending time as well as eating south of the border. LOLA, with its Coastal Mexican fare, combines the best of both cravings.

Before Dave discovered his love and flair for cooking, the entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well: he owned a shoe-shining business and sold beers through his family's fence to the golfers on the course on the other side. That spirit lives on in the parent company of the seven restaurants, Big Red R Restaurant Group, and in its managers, whom Dave encourages to come up with entrepreneurial ideas to keep the restaurants fresh and exciting and customers walking in the door.

The most recent brainchild of the management at West End Tavern is to host a tour of the breweries whose beers are served at the restaurant. The Boulder Brew Bus will provide tours almost every Sunday this summer starting June 20. (For more information, visit http://www.thewestendtavern.com/TheBoulderBrewBus/tabid/597/Default.aspx/.)

"It’s just as much fun running a 16-year-old business as opening a brand new one," Dave says.

Although he has a rather successful restaurant company to run, Dave has juggled that commitment with the responsibility of raising three children – two sons now at the University of Colorado and a daughter at Fairview. Though none of them seem interested in following in their father’s footsteps, he is happy they have all found their own destinies to explore – law, business and photography.

"It's a pretty hard career choice," Dave says. "If they don’t get into it, I won’t be that upset."

For more information about Big Red F Restaurant Group or any of its establishments, visit http://www.bigredf.com/.

Stats for year, May surprise & impress; market will remain flat for summer

For the first time in at least two or three years, the number of homes sold year-over-year in Boulder County has improved.

From May 1, 2009, through April 30, 2010, 3,321 single-family Boulder homes sold, compared with 3,236 during the previous year – about a 3 percent increase. And 1,319 condos and townhomes sold during the same time, compared with 1,233 the year before – a nearly 7 percent improvement.

"It's certainly been a couple of years since we've seen that," says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association. "The month of May actually exceeded my expectations."

Hotard says he expected sales to remain strong in May, thanks to people trying to get in under the federal tax credit for first-time and move-up buyers and the amount of activity he saw in April. But even he was pleasantly surprised with just how many homes sold last month.

In May alone, 362 single-family homes sold, a 45 percent jump compared with the 249 that sold in May 2009. And 134 townhomes and condos sold in May, about a 40 percent increase from the 96 that sold in May the year before.

"The year-to-year improvements are very encouraging indeed," Hotard says. "It’s been a long time since we’ve seen those numbers improve."

Though he hesitates to rain on anyone's parade, Hotard says it won't be all sunshine and rainbows the remainder of the year.

"There are a lot of challenges ahead," he says. "We're just beginning to see the indications of potential job growth, which will be a key to sustaining strong home sales through the balance of the year."

People are considering more than just their own financial situation when looking at buying a home, Hotard says. They are concerned about what's happening in the economy and it's important to them that when they buy a house, that the demand is sufficient to maintain or increase home values. If it isn't, they are less likely to buy, he says.

"If we want to see home prices appreciate, we will have to look for job growth," he says. "We don't see it. Based on the aggregate of Colorado and regional economists, we don't see sufficient job growth that will result in substantial change in prices up or down – just enough to keep prices stable and predictable."

A healthy amount of homes for sale and hard-working Realtors is helping keep the market stable, but with the end of the tax credit – homes that went under contract by the end of April must close by the end of June – Hotard predicts a "modest pull-back" in June. However, he still expects that June's activity will be an improvement over last year's.

"We've had a couple of good strong months, comparatively," he says. "These look like normal numbers, or at least approaching normal. The balance of the summer will be relatively flat."