Jenn Superka is used to realtors asking her — in person, over the phone, via snail mail — if she'd be willing to list her home in Sunnyside. Just west of Interstate 25 from RiNo, it's a popular neighborhood that served as a streetcar suburb in the late nineteenth century. In 2007, the average home in Sunnyside was valued at $222,000. Today, it's about $434,000.
The inquiries Superka receives are usually polite and straightforward, she says. For example, a realtor will tell her that her home's value has increased — by nearly $300,000 from when she bought in 2010, in fact — and that now would be a good time to sell. But a letter she got in the mail in October had a different tone. Superka calls that tone "offensive."
"My name is David Lee and I am a Realtor working closely with several prominent developers here in Denver," starts the letter (see it at the bottom of this post). "Your home has been zoned for development, and my clients may be interested in purchasing it."
"In my mind, I'm like, 'What the hell do you mean?'" Superka recalls. "When I read this letter, I was like, 'What is he talking about? What don't I know?'"
Absent of context, the letter seemed to suggest that the zoning for Superka's home had recently changed. But the last time her property was rezoned was seven years ago, according to Community Planning and Development spokeswoman Andrea Burns. "However, it did not change substantially in terms of what can be built there," Burns writes in an email. "It was 'R-2' zoning, which allowed for duplexes and multi-unit development, and it is now TU (two-unit) zoning, which allows up to two units."
"To stir up that sort of anxiety in people," Superka says of the letter, "when it feels like our neighborhood and city is changing before we can blink, I think that's just terrible. For someone to send a letter and say, 'Your house is ready to be scraped, and that's the plan we have for it,' it's just so offensive."
On Thursday, RedT Homes LLC, the real estate company Lee works for, issued a statement regarding the letter:
RedT Homes recently mailed out a marketing letter that contained information that created confusion for the letter’s recipients. Our letter regretfully, and inadvertently, made some individuals think there was a recent zoning change to their property and that there may be some new and forthcoming impact to property owners.
RedT Homes has high standards for the professional and transparent manner in which we operate as a company. In reviewing our recent mailer, we acknowledge the language in our letter should have been clearer in communicating that we were referencing the last rezoning in 2010 that left many properties with a zoning designation that allowed for redevelopment. Any redevelopment is, of course, solely at the discretion of property owners, but we were correct in informing owners that the development potential may have increased property values. That said, we would like to offer our sincere apologies to all property owners and the community members who may have been confused or upset by our lack of clarity.
As a brokerage representing many locally-owned development firms, our intent in marketing to property owners is always twofold:
1. We are committed to educating property owners about the real estate market by letting them know that the zoning of their property may make their property valuable for its development potential. We want owners to be fully informed about their property’s value.
2. We want to let property owners who ARE interested in selling their property know that we have developer clients who may want to engage in a discussion to explore the potential of a mutually agreeable sale and price.
As with all our marketing, the intent of our letter was to communicate these two messages.
We take pride in our success connecting property owners who want to sell with developers who want to buy and we have established a long track record facilitating mutually beneficial transactions from which both parties walk away pleased. We always inform property owners of their options to seek out a 3rd party agent or attorney, and have no respect for individuals or companies that use scare tactics or those who intentionally and illegally deceive property owners about the value of their property.
We believe all real estate transactions should be mutually beneficial and are committed to honest and professional business practices. We have added a second layer of review to all our marketing letters and are committed to ensuring language in future marketing meets our high standards for clarity.
In his original letter, Lee identified one of his buyers as Adams Development, and pointed Superka to the company's website: adamsdevelopmentllc.com.
Adams Development builds exactly the kind of structures that Denver FUGLY and some Denver City Council members rally against: multi-family units whose architecture doesn't jibe with older neighborhoods such as Sunnyside. Some of the photos on Adams Development's website depict "slot homes," or multi-family dwellings arranged side by side and sometimes perpendicular to the street "in patterns that can detract from the design quality and sense of community in Denver’s neighborhoods," according to the definition on Community Planning and Development's website. They go up fast and turn a lot once occupied by just one family into a property that can hold multiple families, adding to the area's density...and adding revenue for the developers.
New slot homes have been banned while a city-appointed task force works on a proposed amendment to Denver's zoning code, set to be released in early 2018, that will address the controversial buildings.
Superka has yet to call Lee herself, though she thought about picking up the phone right after she read the note. She's concerned that some of her neighbors who aren't as savvy might take the letter at face value, call Lee and sell their homes.
"I know people in the neighborhood who have no idea what their homes are worth," says Superka, who serves on the neighborhood board. "To rely on someone who wants to make money off them to tell them how much their home is worth by telling them it's been zoned for development, I don't trust that at all. It certainly sounds like they're setting up cones and orange fencing any day now.
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"I get that there are different viewpoints," she continues. "That people out there who are like, these hundred-plus-year-old houses aren't going to last forever and we need more density closer to the city. But in my mind, the neighborhoods have a look and feel to them. I think about Jefferson Park and how that neighborhood has been decimated by development. In my mind, I don't think Jefferson Park exists anymore. I won't let that happen to Sunnyside."
The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies investigates real estate advertisements. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.