The importance of property rights and good governance

The Boulder City Council’s recent handling of their attempted “emergency” vote to limit “McMansions” provides an excellent opportunity to step back and consider the importance of property rights and principles of good governance.

Why do we as a society care about property rights?

Primarily, we care about property rights because they are inextricably linked to increasing our collective prosperity.  “On average, GDP per capita, measured in

Blue and Gray Concrete House With Attic during Twilightterms of purchasing power parity, is twice as high in nations with the strongest protection of property than in those providing only fairly good protection,” according to a study of property rights published by the Heritage Foundation.  The reason this is so is because people are more willing to improve their property to its highest and best use when they know their rights are protected.

Conversely, when people do not feel secure in their property rights, when they feel the government can change or remove their rights without due process and fairness, people are not as willing to make improvements to their property and collective prosperity falls.

Good governance

From the above, we see that good governance is critical to protecting property rights and improving collective prosperity, but what is good governance made of?  According to the United Nations, the characteristics of good governance include participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, and accountability, among others. Standing in opposition to good governance are arbitrariness and capriciousness.

Let’s look at the definitions of these words and consider which terms most aptly describe the City Council’s recent actions.

Arbitrary:

• Definition:  based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system; (of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority.

• The term arbitrary describes a course of action or a decision that is not based on reason or judgment but on personal will or discretion without regard to rules or standards. An arbitrary decision is one made without regard for the facts and circumstances presented, and it connotes a disregard of the evidence.

• Antonym: democratic

Capricious:

• Definition: given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior; unpredictable and subject to whim.

• Antonym: consistent

A summary of the facts

On Oct. 15, Councilwoman Lisa Morzel requested that the council consider the following day an “emergency” temporary ordinance to stop the city from processing permits for homes over 3,500 square feet on lots 10,000 square feet or larger (clearly, a “McMansion” is much smaller than an actual mansion).  At the time, Morzel declined to articulate the cause of the emergency; nevertheless, the council added it to their agenda for the following day.  On Oct. 16, the City Council considered the motion and heard from 22 people, almost all of whom spoke in opposition to the motion.  Apparently because Councilwoman Cindy Carlisle was absent and an emergency motion requires a two-thirds majority to pass, council declined to vote on the measure, but noted that the issue may be considered again in December.

Evaluating the City Council’s actions

It does not appear to me that the above actions were consistent with the good governance principles.  One day’s notice did not allow all interested stakeholders to participate, lacked transparency because no reason for emergency action was articulated, and appears to have been taken in an attempt to avoid accountability.

Instead, the City Council’s apparent ambush-style attack on property rights appears to meet the very definitions of arbitrary and capricious — two terms that most governing bodies would not seek to embody.  First, rather than having an articulated reason that the issue of “McMansions” is suddenly an emergency, the decision to consider the issue on one-day’s notice appears to be based on a “personal whim, rather than any reason,” perhaps better explained by a “sudden and unaccountable change of mood.” Second, applying the moratorium only to homes over 3,500 square feet on lots 10,000 square feet or larger seems arbitrary (disregarding the facts and circumstances) when one considers that a person owning a 9,999 square foot lot could still build a 4,100 square foot home.

An appeal for good governance

Reducing the potential value of people’s property (likely their most valuable asset) is a serious diminution of their rights, and while the City Council likely has the authority to do so, such action should only be taken, if at all, after a process conducted in accordance with the principles of good governance.

 

Originally posted on BizWest. Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.

Posted on October 31, 2018 at 3:00 pm
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3 trends that could ruin your home sale plans this summer

Sellers in the Front Range housing market enjoyed a blistering spring season.  Everything seemed to be breaking in favor of sellers — brisk appreciation, multiple offers, favorable terms, and generally quick sales.  However, several trends are emerging that could derail (or at least diminish) a seller’s summer home sale plans.  Here are three of the biggest trends likely to affect our summer market:

1. Rising Interest Rates. For the past several years, economists have been predicting that interest rates will rise from their historic lows (in the 3.5 percent range for a 30-year conventional fixed mortgage).  It turns out that  the eggheads finally got it right. Compared to this time two years ago, interest rates are at least a percent higher — and with the Fed raising their Funds Rate again at their last meeting (and with more raises on the horizon), it seems that even higher rates are coming. It seems now is an appropriate time to refer back to my article discussing the 1 percent Equals 10 Percent Rule, which is a rule of thumb that for each 1 percent increase in mortgage rates, your buying power decreases about 10 percent.  When you consider this with the fact that average home prices in Boulder County have risen about 21 percent in the past two years, it means that the same buyers from two years ago can now afford 31 percent less than they could have back then. 

If you’re thinking, “but I’m a seller, it doesn’t affect me.”  Think of it in these terms: that pool of buyers who would have bought your 2,000 square-foot, three-bedroom house two years ago? They can now only afford a 1,380 square-foot, two-bedroom condo.  That is, the pool of buyers for your home is significantly smaller today.

2. The market hates uncertainty.  To say this has been the least conventional presidency of the modern era is an understatement.  Setting aside the human side of the geopolitical uncertainty caused by the Trump administration (alienating the G7, backing out of the UN Human Rights Council, separating families at the border, etc.), the president has decided to wage trade wars on multiple fronts. And while these acts might be appeasing his base, they are starting to have a negative effect on the economy.  As of mid-June, the stock market has given back all of the gains it made in 2018, due in large part to the trade wars started with China and other countries.  Speaking of China, its investments in the United States have dropped 92 percent this year, and less foreign cash means less money to invest in the housing market.

The effect of this is straightforward — when people feel uncertain and less wealthy (i.e., watching their  world turn topsy-turvy and stock portfolios drop), they are less willing to take risks and make changes. And while home ownership might be the best investment you’ll make, it still represents a risk, especially if you’re a first time home buyer. Thus, the uncertainties in the economy will produce fewer buyers than a steadily rising market.

3. What the frac? The fracking industry in Colorado has flourished since a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in 2016 held that state laws trumped local bans and regulations limiting fracking.  In Weld County alone, there are approximately 23,000 fracking wells, and fights are currently raging over applications to drill near highly populated parts of Boulder and Broomfield counties.  Wells are being placed within 1,000 feet of schools, and this encroaching boom has generated growing health and safety related concerns, from a Colorado School of Public Health study reporting that living near fracking wells may increase the risk of cancer, to a home in Firestone that literally exploded from a leaky underground pipeline.

As the concerns grow, so will buyers’ reservations about buying homes near fracking, which could slow demand in these areas.  Longmont took the extraordinary step of paying two oil and gas companies $3 million to leave town and prevent future drilling.  To be sure, there are competing property rights at issue, but if compromises are not reached that make people feel safe, then homeowners could see their home values fall.

In sum, our market has been red hot this spring, but there are issues on the horizon that could dampen summer sales prospects.  Some of these are likely beyond our direct control, but I encourage you to make your voice heard where you feel you can make a difference.  Your home’s equity (and your conscience) will thank you.

 

Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.

Originally posted by BizWest on Wednesday, June 1st, 2018. Original found here.

Posted on June 28, 2018 at 5:15 pm
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