CU among 3 Colorado colleges considered ‘best value’ by Kiplinger

Three of Colorado’s public colleges ranked among the top 100 of Kiplinger’s Best Values in Public Colleges 2011 list.

The Colorado School of Mines, Golden, was the top-ranked Colorado public school on the list, coming in at No. 59 out of 120 for in-state value and No. 65 for out-of-state value.

The University of Colorado, Boulder, was ranked 85th for its in-state costs and 97th for out-of-state costs, followed by Colorado State University, Fort Collins, ranked 90th and 99th for in-state and out-of-state costs, respectively.

According to Kiplinger's, the ranking is based on a combination of academics and affordability, using the data from Peterson’s/Nelnet on more than 500 public four-year schools. Kiplinger's narrowed the list to about 120 schools based on measures of academic quality including SAT or ACT scores, admission and retention rates, student-faculty ratios, and four- and six-year graduation rates, which most schools reported for the class that entered in 2003.

Then Kiplinger's ranked each school based on cost and financial aid, giving more weight to academic quality than costs, the latter of which includes total expenses for in-state students (tuition, mandatory fees, room and board, and books); the average cost for a student with need after subtracting grants (but not loans); the average cost for a student without need after subtracting non-need-based grants; the average percentage of need met by aid; and the average debt per student at graduation. To determine out-of-state rankings, Kiplinger's ran the academic-quality and expense numbers again, this time using total costs for out-of-state residents and average costs after aid.

Here’s a look at how the three Colorado colleges that appear on Kiplinger’s Best Values in Public Colleges 2011 list compare with the top three-ranked institutions:

Boulder sees a dip in unemployment in December

Colorado’s unemployment rate dropped slightly from 8.7 percent in November to 8.6 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in December, while the Boulder-Longmont MSA saw its unemployment rate fall 0.3 percent from 6.8 percent in November, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

“… we’ve had over-the-year wage and salary employment growth in Colorado for the first time in almost 2½ years,” says Ellen Golombek, executive director. “And we’ve added jobs four consecutive months.”

With an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, Boulder-Longmont has the lowest rate for metropolitan statistical areas in the state.
The unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) increased in 32 of Colorado’s 64 counties, decreased in 23, and remained unchanged in nine. The lowest rate was 4.0 percent in Cheyenne County and the highest was 18.5 percent in Dolores County. In December 2009, the unemployment rate increased in 50 counties, decreased in eight counties and remained unchanged in six. Last year, the lowest rate was 2.6 percent in Cheyenne County and the highest was 16.3 percent in Dolores County.

Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent in December.

Employment increased in four of Colorado’s eleven major industry sectors over the year. Education and health services increased 9,600, leisure and hospitality 6,200, professional & business services 3,800, and trade, transportation and utilities 1,400. Construction, down 5,700, continues to post the largest decline of all industry sectors. Information declined 3,500, financial activities 3,100, manufacturing 2,800, government 700 and other services 100. There was no change in mining and logging.

Here’s a look at the unemployment rate in some of Colorado’s biggest metro areas:

Economists predict Boulder real estate prices will return to peak within two years

Real estate prices in Boulder County could return to the peak levels they reached in 2005 and 2006 before the year 2013, according to Fiserv, which provides the statistics for the quarterly Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

Larimer and Pueblo counties are also predicted to rebound before 2013, and Fiserv expects El Paso County will see its prices return to peak numbers between 2013 and 2014. Most of the Denver metro area, Weld and Mesa counties can expect their real estate prices to rebound sometime between 2015 and 2025, according to Fiserv.

While most of the nation should see its prices rebound within 14 years, California, Arizona and Florida have the most markets that won’t catch back up until well after 2025.

Source: Fiserv Case-Shiller map

Boulder single-family housing market finishes 2010 on a high note

It may have sounded more like a “pop” than a “bang,” but the Boulder County real estate market ended 2010 on a high note.

“We’re continuing this trend of seeing some modest improvement, especially in the single-family market,” says Ken Hotard, senior vice president of public affairs for the Boulder Area Realtor Association.

In December, 231 single-family homes sold, compared with 211 in December 2009 and 195 in November 2010. But the number of homes that sold isn’t the only positive aspect of the month’s figures, Hotard points out.

“Every market area had a increase year-over-year in single-family median home prices through Nov. 30,” he says, adding the average sales price also increased in every market but two (the mountains and plains) during the same period.

On the other side of the coin, “attached dwellings didn’t do so well,” Hotard says.

While December’s sale volume was close to 2009’s, most Boulder County markets saw declines in average and median prices.

“I think that’s the weaker part of the market right now,” he says. “It’s much more of a buyer’s market than the single-family home market, and there is continued difficulty in lending in the condo market.”

At the same time, lending volume across markets has increased “very modestly, which I think is more related to increased demand rather than easing credit,” Hotard says.

While qualifying criteria for loans has not loosened up, lending volume has grown with more homeowners refinancing and a modest increase in loan applications, he says.

Hotard says that while it’s possible that Boulder County home prices could reach their peak levels from 2005-2006 within a couple of years, as Fiserv Case-Shiller recently predicted, the market will have to gain more momentum than it has thus far. Home prices have dropped as much as 20 percent from those peak years.

“Inventories continue to be tight, sustaining prices, but once prices move up, there’ll be more homes for sale and that could hold back home prices somewhat,” he says. “It’s difficult to be precise. … There’s a lot of moving parts in the market right now; it’s tough to make broad general statements you can spread across the market. I do agree that this area (Boulder County) of Colorado … is likely to recover much sooner than most of the nation.”

But owning a home is still the American dream for which many people are still reaching, Hotard says, pointing to a National Association of Realtors study that shows 95 percent of home owners and 72 percent of renters believe that over a period of several years, it makes more financial sense to own a home than to rent. And 93 percent of those home owners say they would buy again.

“Even though we’ve gone thru this period of tremendous uncertainty and actual loss in many markets, American attitudes toward home ownership continue to be strong,” Hotard says.

The top 10 ways you can save on your home remodeling project offers these suggestions for saving money on your home remodeling project:

10. Avoid using second mortgages, personal loans and credit when you can.

If you’re building an addition, it’s likely you’ll need a home equity line of credit or second mortgage. But you don’t want to pay for years for those new doors, so you’ll want to avoid personal loans and credit cards when possible. Cash is your best and cheapest choice.

9. Use existing structural elements as finish surfaces

If it works into your decorating style, refurbish interior brick walls, ceiling beams, concrete floors or wood floors that may be “decoratively aged” rather than building up new finish surfaces.

8. Build the addition up or in

It costs less to build up than to build out, as foundation work for building outward is expensive. It costs even less to build inward than upward if you have any spare rooms you can repurpose for other uses. If function rather than space is what you need, seriously consider building inward.

7. Avoid moving the plumbing

Plumbing work is expensive on its own; moving the plumbing can double – or more – the cost. But avoiding moving the plumbing is easier said than done, since half the reason for remodeling is often to redesign the kitchen floor plan.

6. Do your own work

It’s almost always cost less to do your own work versus hiring a professional – if money is your only concern. If it isn’t, then consider that the learning curve could be so steep or the need for specialized tools so great – or you’re in so much misery – that you end up hiring a professional anyway.

5. Use existing electrical work as much as possible

Like plumbing, electrical work is expensive. Instead of completely abandoning and redoing your current wiring, explore the possibility of supplementing it.

4. Live at your worksite

If you can find a way to live in your home while you’re remodeling, you’ll certain save money than if you’re renting an apartment to live in. It does help to take certain measures, such as maintaining a “clean zone” and using dust barriers.

3. Avoid the big remodeling contractors

Seek out the one- or two-person operations, which don’t have the unemployment taxes, worker’s compensation, advertising and sales commission costs you’re paying for. The smaller operations will negotiate, and you'll probably get a better level of service. Make sure the remodeling contractor is licensed, and the smaller the operator, the more you should concentrate on finding many local references. You will gain even more knowledge about that contractor’s quality of work by visiting examples of the contractor’s remodeling work. It should go without saying that if the contractor is stingy about showing examples, cross that contractor off the list in a hurry.

2. Use the ‘free’ home remodeling consultants

Even if you don't plan on using them, use the kitchen planners at The Home Depot, Lowe’s and local home improvement stores, who will provide you with a nice printed kitchen design layout. You can get product samples of siding from siding companies, hardwood and laminate flooring chips from flooring companies, and, for a short time commitment, flooring installers will come to your house and give you a dead-on floor measurement. These services come with a cost: the sales pitch, but you're not shelling out any bucks (though make certain that they're not charging you for the estimate, as some companies have begun to do recently).

1. Reduce your need for contractors

Contractors add 18 percent and more – usually more – for their services, which can amount to a staggering amount of money on big projects. They provide immensely valuable services for complicated, multistage projects, but carefully examine what you’re using the contractor for and question whether it’s worth another 25 percent.

• Are you paying them to perform easy work? Consider what projects for which you can hire a small contract to do, such as laying a brick patio when the addition is done.

• What about materials? There are materials you can easily get yourself and not have to pay the 25 percent markup, such as the set of towel bars that cost $100 if you swung by the store.

• Is there simple, non-building work you can do yourself? You can probably clean up the site when they’re done, or get the permit yourself.

You can find many avenues to save money with contractors, but get their estimate first and then start knocking off items.



Recent development proposals keep city office busy with reviewing projects

The City of Boulder’s Department of Community Planning and Sustainability is keeping busy – and may be for a while – with a long list of proposed and approved developments on its plate. Here’s a look at what developments the city has recently approved, is reviewing or is waiting for submissions on in 2011: