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

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, 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.”