Four straight months of improvements provide promising forecast for ’10

Market statistics for the last month of 2009 gave Ken Hotard a boost of confidence in his prediction that the market will begin improving in the second half of 2010.

“They look very good,” says Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association. “This is our fourth consecutive month to see gains compared with the same months last year.”

In December, 211 single-family homes sold, compared with 196 in December 2008, while 73 condos and townhomes sold last month compared with 63 in December 2008. In all, 3,069 single-family homes sold from Dec. 1, 2008, through Nov. 30, 2009, while 3,606 sold in the same period the year before. And 1,193 attached units sold in the last year compared with 1,345 the previous year.

Hotard says that while median and average sales prices continue to drop in many Boulder communities, the strongest market is that with homes priced in the middle, with the weak end being the upper-end homes. However, that market is stabilizing and improving.

“When I look at the quarterly data, I’m encouraged to note that when I compare the fourth quarter of ’09 with the fourth quarter of ’08 in single-family sales, I see a nearly 24 percent increase in sales volume and a 28 percent increase in sales volume in condo and townhomes," Hotard says. “Both of those numbers are encouraging considering what a poor fourth quarter we had in 2008.”

Brokerages are also reporting that home showings and other real estate activity has increased substantially in the New Year, so Hotard says he is expecting strong statistics for January. One Boulder office in particular had 180 showings on a Saturday in January - the most it had had on one day since 2007.

“I’m encouraged going forward,” he says. “I believe the second half of this year will tell us that we have moved beyond the recession and entered sustainable market growth, albeit modest. Credit continues to be an issue, particularly on the higher end, as does job growth.”

Interest rates are still quite low, but the inventory of homes for sale needs to increase to provide competition and selection, Hotard notes.

Seminar offers information on including real estate in retirement investments

When most people think of IRAs, SEPs, 401ks, etc., they usually think of investing in the stock market, mutual funds and more.

However, using a self-directed retirement account, your retirement plan can include real estate, along with a variety of other real estate- related investments, such as notes. Everyone can use their retirement plan to invest in real estate; they just have to have the proper plan set up. Learning about this method of investing can potentially benefit the growth of your retirement account greatly.

Using retirement funds for investing in real estate has been allowed since the ‘70s. It was just the plan administrators that restricted the investment in real estate; it was never the IRS that restricted it. In fact, the idea of real estate not being allowed is so entrenched that many CPAs are just now learning about the concept and “approving” it for their clients.

The first step is to find a plan administrator that is set up to provide self-directed plan services. Then determine which type of retirement plan fits your situation best. The next step is to fund the account. Then, in turn, use those funds to purchase allowable assets.

To learn about the process and how it might benefit you, attend the real estate-related investments in IRAs and qualified plans seminar at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, at RE/MAX of Boulder, 2425 Canyon Blvd., in Boulder. Sign up for the seminar through Duane Duggan’s office, (303) 441-5611.

Resolve to become more 'green' in 2010

Like most resolutions, becoming more environmental friendly is just a matter of changing habits.

The Natural Resources Defense Council offers several tips on how you can make a few changes within your home and lifestyle to become a better friend of Mother Nature in 2010. Here’s a look at a few of them:

1.Give up paper and plastic bags
Cost: $1
Neither paper nor plastic is a good choice for bagging groceries. Last year 12 million barrels of oil were used to make the 88.5 billion plastic bags used in the United States. And it takes four times more energy to make paper bags. Instead, buy reusable shopping bags made of cotton, nylon or durable, meshlike plastic. If you forget your reusable bags, paper is the next best choice – if you recycle it – or make sure to reuse or recycle your plastic bags.

2. Stop buying bottled water
Cost: $14.98 for aluminum water bottle

It takes 26 bottles of water to produce the plastic container for a one-liter bottle of water, and that doing so pollutes 25 liters of groundwater. Use reusable water bottles made from materials like stainless steel or aluminum that are not likely to degrade over time. If you must use a plastic water bottle, check the number on the bottom first: plastics numbered 3, 6 and 7 could pose a health threat to you, so look for bottles numbered 1, 2, 4 or 5.

3. Stop receiving unwanted catalogs
Cost: $0

Each year, 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers, requiring more than 53 million trees and 56 billion gallons of wastewater to produce. Visit to put a stop to unwanted catalogs.

4. Give up conventional clothes detergents
Cost: $10.25 for one 112-oz box

Many natural detergents today are made to clean clothes just as effectively in cooler water temperatures. Choose detergents and other laundry products that are plant-based, concentrated and biodegradable.

5. Give up hot water (in the clothes washer, anyway)
Cost: $0

Only 10 percent of the energy used by a typical washing machine powers the motor, while about 90 percent of the energy is used to heat the water, when most clothes will come clean in cold water. For heavily soiled clothing, change the water temperature setting from hot to warm, but otherwise try to wash and rinse most of your clothing in cold water.

6. Give up the clothes dryer
Cost: $0

The clothes dryer is the second biggest household energy user after the refrigerator, and over-drying clothes can end up costing money as well: an electric dryer operating an extra 15 minutes a load can cost up to $34 a year in wasted energy; a gas dryer, $21 a year. Clear the lint filter after each load and dry only full loads of clothes. Dry heavy fabrics separately from lighter ones, and don't add wet clothing in the middle of the drying cycle. But hanging clothing outside in the sun and air to dry is the most energy-efficient method – or use a folding indoor rack all year long.

7. Check for leaks in your toilet
Cost: $0

A leaking toilet can waste anywhere between 30 and 500 gallons of water every day, so repair any leak. To see if your toilet is leaking, put a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the dye shows up in the toilet bowl after 15 minutes or so, the toilet has a leak. Leaking is usually caused by an old or poorly fitting flapper valve – easily replaced by any amateur do-it-yourselfer.

8. Give up toilet paper (at least conventional TP)
Cost: $2.96 for 4-pack, 260 sheets

If every household in the United States bought just one four-pack of 260-sheet recycled bath tissue, instead of the typical tissue made from virgin fiber, it would eliminate 60,600 pounds of chlorine pollution, preserve 356 million gallons (1.35 billion liters) of fresh water and save nearly 1 million trees. And the best news is that a four-pack of recycled toilet paper costs about the same as a four-pack of conventional toilet paper.

8. Give up paper towels
Cost: $6.95

Paper towels create waste. Period. Buy some reusable microfiber towels, which grip dirt and dust like a magnet, even when they get wet. When you are finished with them, toss the towels in the wash and reuse them again and again. They are even great for countertops and mirrors. When you absolutely have to use disposable towels, look for recycled products. If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber paper towels (70 sheets) with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 544,000 trees.

9. Run a full dishwasher
Cost: $0

If you have dishwasher, use it. Running a fully loaded dishwasher – without prerinsing the dishes – can use a third less water than washing the dishes by hand, saving up to 10 to 20 gallons of water a day. Simply scrape large pieces of food off your dishes and let the dishwasher handle the rest. And by using the air-dry setting (instead of heat-dry), you will consume half the amount of electricity without spending a dime.

10. Lower the refrigerator temperature
Cost: $0

As one of the biggest appliances in your kitchen, the refrigerator accounts for between 10 percent and 15 percent of the average home energy bill each month. To get your fridge running in tip-top shape, first set the refrigerator thermostat to maintain a temperature between 38 and 42 degrees (F). This temperature will protect your food from spoiling while saving electricity. Twice a year, clean the condenser coil at the back of your fridge. Condenser coils tend to get dusty, making them less efficient.

11. Give up 2 degrees
Cost: $0

By snuggling under a blanket on the couch on a snowy winter night instead of turning up the heat, or enjoying the breeze from a fan in the height of summer instead of turning up the air conditioning, you can save pounds of pollution, as well as some money off your utility bills. Set your thermostat in winter to 68 degrees F (20° C) or less during the daytime and 55 degrees F (13° C) before going to sleep or when you are away for the day. And during the summer, set thermostats to 78 degrees F (26° C) or more.

12. Give up drycleaning
Cost: $0

Until recently, almost all dry cleaners used a cancer-causing chemical called perchloroethylene, also known as Perc or TCE. Traces of this toxic chemical remain on your clothes after dry cleaning and will evaporate into the air in your car or home. If you have to use a traditional dry cleaner, take your dry cleaning out of the plastic and air it outside or near a window before hanging it in your closet. To avoid the need for dry cleaning at all, make customer care a part of your clothing purchase decisions and choose fabrics that don't require dry cleaning at all.

13. Stop wasting gas
Cost: $0

Increase your gas mileage by checking your tire pressure. More than a quarter of all cars and nearly one-third of all SUVs, vans and pickups have underinflated tires, according to a survey by the Department of Transportation. If all tires were properly inflated, we could save 2.8 billion gallons (10.6 billion liters) of gasoline a year, so inflate the tires on your car or truck and continue to do so once a month or as necessary.

To learn more, viait

Architect pushes the envelope of sustainable design, living

At Rodwin Architecture, “sustainable design” isn’t just a catch phrase or a goal.

It’s simply what the firm does.

Owner and architect Scott Rodwin moved from Connecticut to Boulder in 1992, when the real estate market was not much different than it is today, on the advice to go where he wanted to live to find a job. Several people mentioned that he was a “Boulder kind of guy,” so he set off on hopes to find a home as well as a job in architecture.

When he got up in the morning after arriving in Boulder the night before, he saw the new Boulder Public Library out his window and knew he was in the right town. Scott says he was “blown away with its beauty, its sustainability, and how it blended with its setting.” And landing a job in architecture just five days later confirmed that revelation.

Scott worked for several different architecture firms in Boulder and Denver before opening his own in 1999. Today he employs seven people – four of which he hired within the last couple of months. And Rodwin Architecture is a local leader in sustainability building with a stack of design awards to its name. The firm designed the LEED Platinum-certified “Edge House” in Boulder, which received the top honor from the Colorado Sustainable Design Awards. The home is near-Net Zero Energy, meaning that over the course of a year it uses about the same amount of energy as it produces. It was only the second single-family home in Colorado to achieve LEED Platinum.

Scott attributes the company’s success (and weathering the current storm) to its focus on “green” design, and to its ability to design any kind of building. Its current project list testifies to this diversity: the Columbine Elementary School; two churches (One of which is City on the Hill at 75th and Arapahoe); 1222 Pearl St. (renovation of the Art Mart Building); the historic remodel of a large bar/restaurant in downtown Denver; five custom homes and two remodels of various sizes; and a 19-unit townhouse project. The architecture firm also offers monthly workshops on green building to building professionals as well as homeowners, teaches Green Residential Building 101 for the city and county of Boulder, and recently offered a green building workshop for REMAX of Boulder's annual retreat.

Besides being green, Scotts says he always has an eye toward creating buildings that are cost-effective to build, will resell well in the market, function well and are beautiful. While the desire to have a “green” building brings customers to his door, they ultimately choose Rodwin Architecture because of its ability to do beautiful and intelligent architecture, Scott says.

“The mission of our architectural firm is to continue to push the envelope of sustainable design while at the same time keeping a clear eye on affordability, so that the benefits of sustainability are accessible to as many people as possible,” he says.

Toward that goal, eight years ago Scott branched out into design-build, starting Skycastle Homes; two years ago he shifted its focus to specialize in small additions with deep-energy retrofits. “It’s a nice complement to everything we do,” he says.

He hires employees who have real-world experience, such as in construction. "They understand that when designing a building, it’s more than just lines on a page." He also chooses people who have a high level of knowledge of sustainable design. Both Scott and the majority of his employees are LEED Accredited Professionals.

Personally, Scott practices what he preaches: he co-founded Nomad Cohousing in Boulder, where he has been a resident for 12 years. He is a member of the Not So Big House movement that focuses on the quality of homes and not their size. Rodwin Architecture is a member of Architects and Planners of Boulder, the American Institute of Architects, Sierra Club, the Home Builders Association, the Boulder Green Building Guild, and an affiliate of the Boulder Area Realtor Association. He is politically involved in the efforts to make sustainable living the norm – not the exception – in Boulder, getting involved with green building-code development and fighting for higher-density, transit-connected Smart Growth.

“Green buildings are a good start, but in order to achieve true sustainability we also have to address our land-use patterns,” he says.

For more information about Rodwin Architecture, 1245 Pearl Street, Suite 202, or its green building workshops (coming up on Jan. 19 and Feb. 15), call (303) 413-8556 or visit

Boulder has hot commodity despite recession: jobs

Boulder is not only a popular place to live, but also to make a living.

Money magazine recently named Boulder County as No. 8 on its Top 10 Places for Jobs list. The list was accumulated based on the magazine’s list of the Top Places to Live 2009, of which Louisville ranked first among small towns.

“While many people come for the University of Colorado, graduates stay because of the plentiful job opportunities,” the magazine said of Boulder.

The magazine noted Boulder’s high-tech firms – and top employers – including IBM, Sun Microsystems and Ball Aerospace, as well as IBM’s recent announcement that it would add another 500 jobs (primarily at its call center in the Boulder facility).

Cass County, N.D., with a 3.4 percent unemployment rate, topped Money magazine’s rankings. The magazine wrote that the county is the hub for the surrounding area’s health care, retail, manufacturing and educational needs. And now Microsoft and other high-tech companies are moving in next to the county’s traditional large employers of farm and construction equipment manufacturers such as John Deere and Bobcat.

Here’s a look at Money magazine's Top 10 Places for Jobs, all of which boast unemployment rates well below the national average of 10 percent: