11 THINGS Every Denver Home Buyer Needs to Know Before They Buy on the Front Range of Colorado

by Pete Doty – Denver Realtor

1 HAIL

Colorado’s Front Range and Wyoming’s Eastern Plains receive the highest frequency of large hailstones in North America.  During the last 20 years, hailstorms have caused $1.55 billion in damage in Colorado.  Roofs in Colorado are especially susceptible to hail damage for several reasons, and the insurance rates for non-resistive roofing reflect this.

 Hail frequency:  Colorado averages five to six damaging hailstorms each year.

 Altitude:  High altitude increases exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.  This breaks down some roofing material, destroying its cohesion and making it far more susceptible to hail damage.

Climate:  The air in Colorado is typically very low in moisture content, which causes shingles to quickly dry out and become brittle.  Winters create further problems for roofs by exposing them to constant freezing and thawing.

Roof life:  Most parts of the country can expect an average roof to last 20-25 years.  In our area, roofs rarely last 15 years, unless properly maintained.

A solution to this problem is the recent development of impact-resistive roofing materials that are now available and are rated by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.  Not only can these materials withstand a pounding by hailstones, but many insurance companies are offering substantial discounts for using these materials.

            2 EXPANSIVE SOILS (Clay)

Swelling soils are a common problem in Colorado.  They can cause damage that includes cracked and heaved driveways, sidewalks, basement walls and floors; broken pipes and water lines; and, in some cases, severe damage to house foundations.  Although many areas in the United States have swelling soils, Colorado’s semiarid climate and geology combine to make it one of the most severely affected. Independent Explanation of Expansive Soils

Swelling soils and swelling bedrock contain clay minerals that can attract and absorb water.  As a result, these materials swell in volume when they get wet and shrink when they dry.  They are also affected by subsurface moisture which usually increases after development of an area, which is typically due to surface irrigation.

Buyers need to be aware of the distinction between the presence and potential severity of swelling soils.  The mere presence of swelling soils beneath a property does not give a definitive indication of the potential severity of the swelling hazard.  You should be more concerned about the soil’s swell potential and how the home was designed and built.  The potential severity of damage due to swelling soils can be significantly reduced if steps are taken to recognize the problem and then design, construct, landscape, and maintain the home in a responsible manner.

 Special insurance or federal emergency funds typically do not exist for swelling soils damage.  Builder’s and homeowners warranties may be available but the coverage they offer is usually limited in scope, amount, and duration.

The Seller of a resale home should be asked to fill out Colorado’s Seller’s Property Disclosure, which specifically lists the presence of expansive soil as a hazardous condition in part 4.  However, do not rely on disclosure alone.  In addition to doing a visual inspection, looking for obvious signs of damage, you might want to hire a structural engineer to assess the physical condition of the home, the soil report, and the foundation design.

It is not possible to tell if a new home or undeveloped property will be affected by swelling soils using visual inspection alone because movement and damage have not yet occurred.  The same is true for many recently built resale homes.  The only way to identify whether there is swelling soil under the house or property in these cases is to obtain a soil report (sometimes called a soil and foundation report) which would be prepared by a geotechnical engineer.  Most owners receive one of these when a home is built.

 

3 RADON GAS

Radon Gas is odorless, tasteless and invisible.  Radon results from the natural decay of radium found in soils, rock and water.  Due to pressure differences, it is drawn into structures through cracks in the foundation and other openings.  In closed structures, gas concentrations can build to levels that pose a health risk.  Radon decay products can attach to the surface of aerosols, dust and smoke particles which may be inhaled and become deeply lodged or trapped in the lungs.  State surveys show that 1 out of 5 homes have elevated radon levels.

Since Radon gas can only be detected with appropriate measurement devices, it is recommended that Radon Testing be included in the inspections being done when purchasing a home.

4  INSECTS

Denver really doesn’t have problems with insects due to our extremely low humidity.  This is what makes outdoor entertaining in the summer so enjoyable here.  The Miller moth does migrate through Denver in early June on its way from Kansas to the mountains and can be our one pest for a few weeks.  Termites are not usually found here, although some buyers do have a termite inspection done, and if you are living below 7,500 foot altitude, your cats and dogs should not be bothered by fleas.

5  GROUND WATER CONTAMINATION

Denver and the surrounding area were developed because of mining and processing operations.  As a result, there is ground water contamination in some areas and if you will be using well water it is recommended that you have it tested and certified.  While doing this you will want to check the following:  depth of well, permitted uses, pumping capacity, water quality, and present and future water supply.

6  SUN

At our high altitude ultraviolet radiation from the sun is increased.  As a result, the life expectancy of some outside building materials is decreased due to the stress of freezing and thawing, so you will want to have a general inspection done.

You will also want to keep in mind that driveways and walkways facing south and west will require less shoveling in the winter and south and west facing windows with overhanging eaves or some other type of shading will keep out the hot afternoon sun in summer, but will let the sun in during winter.

7  PRECIPITATION & IRRIGATION

Climate conditions in Colorado are different from most other parts of the country.  The state’s high elevation and semi-arid climate give rise to a short growing season, low precipitation, and occasional droughts.  Denver averages 14 inches of precipitation per year.  In this high desert climate, Xeriscaping has become one way of coping with our semi-arid climate.  Native plants are acclimated to our rapid temperature fluctuations and of course help conserve our precious water supply.

If you prefer traditional landscaping, then it is highly recommended that you also consider some type of automatic sprinkler system, preferably with a timer, and please remember to leave it on during vacations, because if you don’t, your landscaping may dry up and need to be completely replaced.

Colorado has clay soils that are characterized by having poor aeration and poor drainage.  This can cause flash flooding when slow moving thunder storms occur during the summer months.  It is best to check to see if a property is in a flood plain, and if it is to purchase special flood insurance.

8  WIND

The Metro Denver area can be subject to high winds at times, especially during spring and fall.  When the winds approach from the north or northwest they usually are followed by a rain or snow storm.  When the winds come up from the southeast, it is called an upslope condition, and will bring rain or snow to the front range.  And best of all, when the warm, dry winds come up from the desert southwest they brighten up our winter days and are called a Chinook wind.

Although Denver is theoretically too close to the mountains to have tornadoes touch down they have done so in the past.  Therefore, it is important to keep roofing repairs up to date and to have adequate insurance coverage.

9 ANIMALS

If you wouldn’t enjoy the possibility of seeing a bear or mountain lion in your back yard, then you probably wouldn’t buy a home in the canyons or in the foothills.  Spring, especially, is the time of year you might see these animals as the bears are coming out of hibernation and the mountain lions are also in search of food. 

If your passion is an English garden or raising specialty plants, then you probably want to avoid newly built areas on the outer edges of suburbia where the deer, rabbits and other small animals would enjoy grazing on your tender plants.

Part of the charm of Denver is its wildlife and accessibility to the mountains.  However, we must remember that we are the ones moving into the wildlife’s habitat and that we are the intruders.  Most of us enjoy sharing our space with some four-footed friends, but if you don’t, you will probably prefer to buy closer in to the city. 

10 INSPECTIONS

One of the clauses in the Standard Colorado Real Estate Commission approved purchase contract provides the Buyer the opportunity to investigate and inspect anything related to the property.  This latitude allows the Buyer the opportunity to, with experts of their own choosing, fully understands the operating qualities as well as tax, health and safety issues before ever buying the home.  Ask to see the specific clause.

11  AGENCY 

In Colorado there are 3 ways an broker can represent parties to the contract:  Seller’s Agent, Buyer’s Agent, and Transaction-Broker.  Each of these is explained in a form called Definitions_of_Real_Estate Brokerage_Relationships which the Real Estate Commission has approved.  Any licensee should be able to fully explain all of the definitions and their company’s policies regarding same, before you go out to look at houses with that person.